Inferring Quality from Wait Time

Management Science, Forthcoming

Chicago Booth Research Paper No. 12-28

52 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2012 Last revised: 30 Apr 2015

See all articles by Mirko Kremer

Mirko Kremer

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

Laurens Debo

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business

Date Written: August 6, 2013

Abstract

We study the impact of wait time on consumers' purchasing behavior when product quality is unknown to some consumers (the 'uninformed consumers'), but known to others (the 'informed consumers'). In a capacitated environment, wait times act as a signal of quality for uninformed consumers because, due to informed consumers in the population, low (high) quality products tend to generate shorter (longer) wait times. Hence, longer wait times may increase uninformed consumers' perceived quality, and they may still purchase the product, even when the wait time is long. Similarly, short wait times decrease the consumers' perceived quality, and they may walk away despite the short wait - the 'empty restaurant syndrome'. This paper develops and tests a theory of observational learning that predicts these effects. We find that uninformed consumers' purchasing probability at short waits decreases in the presence of informed consumers. Furthermore, we find that relatively few informed consumers suffice to create this effect. Finally, we show that the purchasing frequency might even increase in the wait time.

Keywords: Queues, Quality signals, Observational learning, Experiments

Suggested Citation

Kremer, Mirko and Debo, Laurens, Inferring Quality from Wait Time (August 6, 2013). Management Science, Forthcoming; Chicago Booth Research Paper No. 12-28. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2128796 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2128796

Mirko Kremer

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management ( email )

Sonnemannstra├če 9-11
Frankfurt am Main, 60314
Germany

Laurens Debo (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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