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Algorithms in the Marketplace: An Empirical Analysis of Automated Pricing in E-Commerce

Marcel Wieting () and Geza Sapi ()
Additional contact information
Marcel Wieting: KU Leuven, Department of Management, Strategy and Innovation (MSI), Naamsestraat 69, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
Geza Sapi: Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf, Universitätsstraße 1, 40225 Düsseldorf, Deutschland

No 21-06, Working Papers from NET Institute

Abstract: We analyze algorithmic pricing on Bol.com, the largest online marketplace in the Netherlands and Belgium. Based on more than two months of pricing data for around 2,800 popular products, we find that algorithmic sellers can both increase and reduce the price of the Buy Box (the most prominently displayed offer for a product). Consistently with collusion, algorithms benefit from each other's presence: Prices are particularly high if two algorithms bid against each other and there is a medium number of sellers in the market. We identify several algorithmic pricing patterns that are often associated with collusion. Algorithmic sellers are more likely to win the Buy Box, implying that consumers may face inflated prices more often. We also document efficiencies due to algorithmic pricing. With a sufficient number of competitors, algorithmic sellers reduce the Buy Box price and compete particularly fiercely. Algorithms furthermore reduce prices in monopoly markets. We explain this by the inability of traditional product managers to manually adjust prices product-by-product for a large number of items, which automated agents may correct. Overall, our findings call for careful policy with respect to pricing algorithms, that considers both the risk of collusion and the need to preserve potential efficiencies.

Keywords: Algorithmic pricing; Artificial intelligence; Collusion; Forensic economics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D42 D82 L42 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 57 pages
Date: 2021-09
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-big, nep-cmp, nep-ind, nep-pay and nep-reg
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (3) Track citations by RSS feed

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