Preferences, Confusion and Competition
University of Zurich, Department of Economics, Working Paper No. 344
74 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2020
Date Written: April 30, 2020
Do firms seek to make the market transparent,or do they confuse the consumers in their product perceptions? We show that the answer to this question depends decisively on preference heterogeneity. Contrary to the well-studied case of homogeneous goods, confusion is not necessarily an equilibrium in markets with differentiated goods. In particular, if the taste distribution is polarized, so that indifferent consumers are relatively rare, firms strive to fully educate consumers. By contrast, if the taste distribution features a concentration of indecisive consumers, confusion becomes part of the equilibrium strategies. The adverse welfare consequences of confusion can be more severe than with homogeneous goods, as consumers may not only pay higher prices, but also choose a dominated option, or inefficiently refrain from buying. Qualitatively similar insights obtain for political contests, in which candidates compete for voters with heterogeneous preferences.
Keywords: Obfuscation, consumerconfusion, differentiated products, price competition, polarized/indecisive preferences, political competition
JEL Classification: D43, L13, M30
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