Niche products, generic products, and consumer search

Larson, Nathan
March 2013
Economic Theory;Mar2013, Vol. 52 Issue 2, p793
Academic Journal
We endogenize product design in a model of sequential search with random firm-consumer match value à la Wolinsky (Quart J Econ 96:493-511, ) and Anderson and Renault (RAND J Econ 30:719-735, ). We focus on a product design choice by which a firm can control the dispersion of consumer valuations for its product; we interpret low-dispersion products as 'generic' and high-dispersion products as 'nichy.' Equilibrium product design depends on a feedback loop: when reservation utility is high (low), the marginal customer's match improves (worsens) with more nichy products, encouraging high (low) differentiation by firms. In turn, when firms offer more nichy products, this induces more intense search; depending on search costs, this could raise or lower consumers' reservation utility. Remarkably, when the match distribution satisfies a hazard rate condition, firm and consumer interests align: equilibrium product design always adjusts to the level that maximizes utility. When this condition is not met, either multiple equilibria (one nichy, the other generic) or one asymmetric equilibrium (generic and nichy firms coexist) can arise; we argue that the former is more likely for common specifications of consumer preferences.


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