The Market Design and Policy of Online Review Platforms

Edelman, Benjamin. “The Market Design and Policy of Online Review Platforms.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy 33, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 635-649.

I present the institutions and incentives of online reviews, including attracting initial reviews, assuring truthful reviews of genuine experiences, and avoiding inflated or deceptive reviews. I also explore the competition and consumer protection concerns associated with reviews.

Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Edelman, Benjamin, Michael Luca, and Daniel Svirsky. “Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 9, no. 2 (April 2017): 1-22.

In an experiment on Airbnb, we find that applications from guests with distinctively African-American names are 16% less likely to be accepted relative to identical guests with distinctively White names. Discrimination occurs among landlords of all sizes, including small landlords sharing the property and larger landlords with multiple properties. It is most pronounced among hosts who have never had an African-American guest, suggesting only a subset of hosts discriminate. While rental markets have achieved significant reductions in discrimination in recent decades, our results suggest that Airbnb’s current design choices facilitate discrimination and raise the possibility of erasing some of these civil rights gains.

Design of Search Engine Services: Channel Interdependence in Search Engine Results

Edelman, Benjamin, and Zhenyu Lai. “Design of Search Engine Services: Channel Interdependence in Search Engine Results.” Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 53, no. 6 (December 2016): 881-900. (First posted April 2013.)

The authors examine prominent placement of search engines’ own services and effects on users’ choices. Evaluating a natural experiment in which different results were shown to users who performed similar searches, they find that Google’s prominent placement of its Flight Search service increased the clicks on paid advertising listings by more than half while decreasing the clicks on organic search listings by about the same quantity. This effect appears to result from interactions between the design of search results and users’ decisions about where and how to focus their attention: users who decide what to click based on listings’ relevance became more likely to select paid listings, while users who are influenced by listings’ visual presentation and page position became more likely to click on Google’s own Flight Search listing. The authors consider implications of these findings for competition policy and for online marketing strategies.

To Groupon or Not to Groupon: The Profitability of Deep Discounts

Edelman, Benjamin, Sonia Jaffe, and Scott Duke Kominers. “To Groupon or Not to Groupon: The Profitability of Deep Discounts.” Marketing Letters 27, no. 1 (March 2016): 39-53. (First circulated in June 2011. Featured in Working Knowledge: Is Groupon Good for Retailers? Excerpted in HBR Blogs: To Groupon or Not To Groupon: New Research on Voucher Profitability.)

We examine the profitability and implications of online discount vouchers, a relatively new marketing tool that offers consumers large discounts when they prepay for participating firms’ goods and services. Within a model of repeat experience good purchase, we examine two mechanisms by which a discount voucher service can benefit affiliated firms: price discrimination and advertising. For vouchers to provide successful price discrimination, the valuations of consumers who have access to vouchers must generally be lower than those of consumers who do not have access to vouchers. Offering vouchers tends to be more profitable for firms which are patient or relatively unknown, and for firms with low marginal costs. Extensions to our model accommodate the possibilities of multiple voucher purchases and firm price re-optimization. Despite the potential benefits of online discount vouchers to certain firms in certain circumstances, our analysis reveals the narrow conditions in which vouchers are likely to increase firm profits.

Price Coherence and Excessive Intermediation

Edelman, Benjamin, and Julian Wright. “Price Coherence and Excessive Intermediation.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 130, no. 3 (August 2015): 1283-1328. (First circulated as Price Coherence and Adverse Intermediation in December 2013.)

Suppose an intermediary provides a benefit to buyers when they purchase from sellers using the intermediary’s technology. We develop a model to show that the intermediary would want to restrict sellers from charging buyers more for transactions it intermediates. With this restriction an intermediary can profitably raise demand for its services by eliminating any extra price buyers face for purchasing through the intermediary. We show that this leads to inflated retail prices, excessive adoption of the intermediaries’ services, over-investment in benefits to buyers, and a reduction in consumer surplus and sometimes welfare. Competition among intermediaries intensifies these problems by increasing the magnitude of their effects and broadening the circumstances in which they arise. We discuss applications to payment card systems, travel reservation systems, rebate services, and various other intermediaries.

Pricing and Efficiency in the Market for IP Addresses

Edelman, Benjamin, and Michael Schwarz. “Pricing and Efficiency in the Market for IP Addresses.” American Economic Journal: Microeconomics 7, no. 3 (August 2015): 1-23. (lead article.)

We consider market rules for transferring IP addresses, numeric identifiers required by all computers connected to the Internet. Transfers usefully move resources from lowest- to highest-valuation networks, but transfers tend to cause socially costly growth in the Internet’s routing table. We propose a market rule that avoids excessive trading and comes close to achieving social efficiency. We argue that this rule is feasible despite the limited powers of central authorities. We also offer a framework for reasoning about future prices of IP addresses and then explore the role of rentals in sharing information about the value of IP address and assuring allocative efficiency.

Markets with Price Coherence

Edelman, Benjamin, and Julian Wright. “Markets with Price Coherence.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-061, January 2015. (Revised March 2015.) (Supplement to “Price Coherence and Excessive Intermediation.”)

In markets with price coherence, the purchase of a given good via an intermediary is constrained to occur at the same price as a purchase of that same good directly from the seller (or through another competing intermediary). We examine ten markets with price coherence, including their origin and outcomes as well as concerns and policy interventions.

Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance

B√∂hme, Rainer, Nicolas Christin, Benjamin Edelman, and Tyler Moore. “Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 29, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 213-238.

Bitcoin is an online communication protocol that facilitates virtual currency including electronic payments. Since its inception in 2009 by an anonymous group of developers, Bitcoin has served tens of millions of transactions with total dollar value in the billions. Users have been drawn to Bitcoin for its decentralization, intentionally relying on no single server or set of servers to store transactions and also avoiding any single party that can ban certain participants or certain types of transactions. Bitcoin is of interest to economists in part for its potential to disrupt existing payment systems and perhaps monetary systems as well as for the wealth of data it provides about agents’ behavior and about the Bitcoin system itself. This article presents the platform’s design principles and properties for a non-technical audience; reviews its past, present, and future uses; and points out risks and regulatory issues as Bitcoin interacts with the conventional financial system and the real economy.

Risk, Information, and Incentives in Online Affiliate Marketing

Edelman, Benjamin, and Wesley Brandi. “Risk, Information, and Incentives in Online Affiliate Marketing.” Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 52, no. 1 (February 2015): 1-12. (Lead Article.)

We examine online affiliate marketing programs in which merchants oversee thousands of affiliates they have never met. Some merchants hire outside specialists to set and enforce policies for affiliates, while other merchants ask their ordinary marketing staff to perform these functions. For clear violations of applicable rules, we find that outside specialists are most effective at excluding the responsible affiliates, which we interpret as a benefit of specialization. However, in-house staff are more successful at identifying and excluding affiliates whose practices are viewed as “borderline” (albeit still contrary to merchants’ interests), foregoing the efficiencies of specialization in favor of the better incentives of a company’s staff. We consider the implications for marketing of online affiliate programs and for online marketing more generally.