Risk and Loss Aversion, Price Uncertainty and the Implications for Consumer Search
Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper 16-049/VII
32 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2016
Date Written: July 4, 2016
Do the choices of consumers who search for a product's best price exhibit risk neutral, risk averse or loss averse risk attitudes? We study how in a problem of sequential search with costless recall the relation between a consumer's willingness to pay for continued search and the level of price uncertainty depends on her risk preferences. Independent of the current best price, an increase in price uncertainty encourages continued search when consumers are risk neutral. However, we prove that theory predicts an inversion when consumers are either risk or loss averse. In those cases, an increase in price uncertainty only increases the consumer's willingness to pay (WTP) for continued search if the current best price is sufficiently low.
We subsequently use this observation in an empirical test to identify between different risk preferences in a stylized problem of sequential search. In line with the inversion, we find that a reduction in price uncertainty decreases the WTP for continued search when the current best price is low but increases the WTP when it is high. While at odds with the assumption of risk neutrality, this finding is consistent with models of consumer risk and/or loss aversion. Moreover, the model parameters of risk and loss aversion that lead to the best empirical fit have values similar to those estimated for other decision domains.
Keywords: consumer search, risk aversion, loss aversion, price uncertainty
JEL Classification: D11, D12, D83, M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation