Switching Costs and Store Choice
58 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2019
Date Written: October 25, 2019
Switching costs are generally regarded as anti-competitive as firms can raise prices to "locked-in" consumers, at least up to the cost of switching to a lower-priced alternative. However, there is some evidence, both theoretical and empirical, that tends to show the opposite. Namely, suppliers, anticipating the pool of rents potentially available, compete aggressively to acquire non-switching consumers. Moreover, fixed shopping costs and uncertain prices imply that there is a "real option" value embedded in consumers' shopping behavior, and which must be compensated if consumers are to switch stores. We argue that retail prices are lower when retailers use programs designed to increase customer retention, or "stickiness." We test our theory using a panel of household-level store-choice data. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, we find that loyalty is pro-competitive and leads to lower prices than would otherwise be the case. We also find that approximately 50% of the loyalty effect is attributable to the existence of a real option in store choice.
Keywords: retail prices, food retailing, shopping-basket model, switching costs
JEL Classification: D12, D83, L13, L81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation