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Study Finds Prices Are Driven By Only One Type Of Consumer

Researchers compare multiple categories of shoppers and find the linchpin

Conventional wisdom of supply and demand dictates that if supplies of a product are scare, prices will likely be higher, and vice versa, but researchers have found it’s not always that simple. Thanks to the Internet and eCommerce, more consumers have taken advantage of going to a physical store to inspect items before purchasing them, leaving that store, and then purchasing the product at a lower price elsewhere. This is called “showrooming.”

This has led to several assumptions in the retail industry, from the thought that showrooming will put bricks-and-mortar retailers out of business, to the notion that the showrooming trend has driven prices down across the board. A new study has found that both may be untrue.

The study is called “Search, Showrooming, and Retailer Variety.” The authors are from the University of Toronto and the Center for Economic and Policy Research in London; and the Center for Economic and Policy Research in London, Pompeu Fabra University, and the Barcelona School of Economics.

“Showroomers do their research in advance,” said the study’s authors.  “They know what they want, they already know what that retailer may charge, and they go to stores with more limited or shallow selections in search of a better price.”

“Through our research and our models, we contrast three varieties of retailer relevant when consumers are initially uncertain as to which is the best fit,” said the researchers. “The first is a retailer that offers more choice through a deeper selection. The second is the retailer that offers less choice, or a more shallow selection. Alternatively, an online channel may provide little opportunity to assess fit even if there is a deep selection”

The researchers found that the first type of retailers, those with deeper selections, tend to hold to higher prices because they know that once a consumer enters the store, he or she will likely find the best fit and make a purchase.

This means that the one consumer most likely to actually influence price is the not-so-choosy consumer who starts off by visiting a shallow store and expect that they will make a purchase once they get there, so long as they can find a sufficient fit. If they don’t find an acceptable fit, they will move on.

“This group of consumers is the only one in the economy that compares prices,” added the researchers.  “The size of this group is large enough so that it plays a key role in price determination.”

The study authors conducted extensive literature research and analyzed a range of models to draw their conclusions.

“Still, most consumers are not as likely to search more than one store to learn look for the perfect match and a lower price,” said the researchers. “This helps ensure that stores we have dubbed ‘shallow’ are more likely to sell a higher volume of a given product at a more competitive price, while stores we’ve dubbed ‘deep’ are more likely to sell their products at a higher price often times to more selective consumers.”


About INFORMS and Marketing Science

 Marketing Science is a premier peer-reviewed scholarly marketing journal focused on research using quantitative approaches to study all aspects of the interface between consumers and firms. It is published by INFORMS, the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. More information is available at or @informs.


See also: Research Shows Internet Access Directly Affects Consumer Electronic Device Ownership Levels In U.S.