How to Price Discriminate When Tariff Size Matters

Posted: 13 Nov 2013

See all articles by Adib Bagh

Adib Bagh

University of Kentucky - Departments of Economics and Mathematics

Hemant K. Bhargava

University of California, Davis


Firms that serve a large market with many diverse consumer types use discriminatory or nonlinear pricing to extract higher revenue, inducing consumers to separate by self-selecting from a large number of tariff options. But the extent of price discrimination must often be tempered by the high costs of devising and managing discriminatory tariffs, including costs of supporting consumers in understanding and making selection from a complex menu of choices. These tariff design trade-offs occur in many industries where firms face many consumer types and each consumer picks the number of units to consume over time. Examples include wireless communication services, other telecom and information technology products, legal plans, fitness clubs, automobile clubs, parking, healthcare plans, and many services and utilities. This paper evaluates alternative ways to price discriminate while accounting for both revenues and tariff management costs. The revenue-maximizing menu of quantity-price bundles can be very (or infinitely) large and hence not practical. Instead, two-part tariffs (2PTs), which charge a fixed entry fee and a per-unit fee, can extract a large fraction of the optimal revenue with a small menu of choices, and they become more attractive once the costs of tariff management are factored in. We show that three-part tariffs (3PTs), which use an additional instrument, the "free allowance," are an even more efficient way to price discriminate. A relatively small menu of 3PTs can be more profitable than a menu of 2PTs of any size. This 3PT menu can be designed with less information about consumer preferences relative to the menu of two-part tariffs, which, in order to segment customers optimally, needs fine-grained information about preferences. Our analysis reveals a counterintuitive insight that more-complex tariffs need not always be more profitable; it matters whether the complexity is from many choices or more pricing instruments.

Keywords: price discrimination, multipart tariffs, nonlinear pricing, tariff costs

Suggested Citation

Bagh, Adib and Bhargava, Hemant K., How to Price Discriminate When Tariff Size Matters. Marketing Science, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2013; pp. 111-126; DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1120.0720. Available at SSRN:

Adib Bagh (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky - Departments of Economics and Mathematics ( email )

Lexington, KY 40506
United States

Hemant K. Bhargava

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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