Monday, October 22, 2012
Posted by D. Daniel Sokol
Nicolas Vincent (HEC Montreal) describes Price Stickiness in Customer Markets with Reference Prices.
ABSTRACT: Price rigidity is often modeled by assuming that firms face a fixed cost of price change. However, in surveys, firms report that the main reason they wish to keep prices stable is for fear of antagonizing customers. Moreover, marketing studies show that most consumers engage in very little product comparison on a typical shopping trip. In this paper, we explore the implications of these observations for price rigidity. In our model, comparing prices and characteristics of alternative brands is time-consuming. While some consumers behave as bargain hunters with zero opportunity cost form shopping, most are loyal to firms as long as posted prices are not raised. A price increase is interpreted as a signal that a better alternative may be available and triggers consumer search. Firms do not face menu costs and are free to change nominal prices, but understand that their pricing decisions will affect their customer base and hence future profits. We show that this micro-founded mechanism is akin to a nominal rigidity and naturally generates price stickiness. It is also compatible with the observation of frequent sales at the retail level and can rationalize the decreasing or flat hazard functions observed empirically.