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Kevin Williams Publications

Publish Date
Discussion Paper
Abstract

We study dynamic price competition between sellers offering differentiated products with limited capacity and a common sales deadline. In every period, firms simultaneously set prices, and a randomly arriving buyer decides whether to purchase a product or leave the market. Given remaining capacities, firms trade off selling today against shifting demand to competitors to obtain future market power. We provide conditions for the existence and uniqueness of pure-strategy Markov perfect equilibria. In the continuous-time limit, prices solve a system of ordinary differential equations. We derive properties of equilibrium dynamics and show that prices increase the most when the product with the lowest remaining capacity sells. Because firms do not fully internalize the social option value of future sales, equilibrium prices can be inefficiently low such that both firms and consumers would benefit if firms could commit to higher prices. We term this new welfare effect the Bertrand scarcity trap.

Quarterly Journal of Economics
Abstract

Firms facing complex objectives often decompose the problems they face, delegating different parts of the decision to distinct subunits. Using comprehensive data and internal models from a large U.S. airline, we establish that airline pricing is not well approximated by a model of the firm as a unitary decision maker. We show that observed prices, however, can be rationalized by accounting for organizational structure and for the decisions by departments that are tasked with supplying inputs to the observed pricing heuristic. Simulating the prices the firm would charge if it were a rational, unitary decision maker results in lower welfare than we estimate under observed practices. Finally, we discuss why counterfactual estimates of welfare and market power may be biased if prices are set through decomposition, but we instead assume that they are set by unitary decision makers.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We study a dynamic contribution game where investors seek private benefits that are offered in exchange for contributions and a single, publicly-minded donor values project success. We show that donor contributions serve as costly signals that encourage socially-productive contributions by investors who face a coordination problem. Investors and the donor prefer different equilibria but all benefit in expectation from the donor’s ability to dynamically signal his valuation. We explore various contexts in which our model can be applied and delve empirically into the case of Kickstarter. We calibrate our model and quantify the coordination benefits of dynamic signaling in counterfactuals.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We propose a demand estimation method that allows for a large number of zero sale observations, rich unobserved heterogeneity, and endogenous prices. We do so by modeling small market sizes through Poisson arrivals. Each of these arriving consumers solves a standard discrete choice problem. We present a Bayesian IV estimation approach that addresses sampling error in product shares and scales well to rich data environments. The data requirements are traditional market-level data as well as a measure of market sizes or consumer arrivals. After presenting simulation studies, we demonstrate the method in an empirical application of air travel demand.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We introduce a model of dynamic pricing in perishable goods markets with competition and provide conditions for equilibrium uniqueness. Pricing dynamics are rich because both own and competitor scarcity affect future profits. We identify new competitive forces that can lead to misallocation due to selling units too quickly: the Bertrand scarcity trap. We empirically estimate our model using daily prices and bookings for competing U.S. airlines. We compare competitive equilibrium outcomes to those where firms use pricing heuristics based on observed internal pricing rules at a large airline. We find that pricing heuristics increase revenues (4-5%) and consumer surplus (3%).

Journal of Labor Economics
Abstract

Do foreign students affect the likelihood that domestic students obtain a STEM degree and occupation? Using administrative student records from a US university, we exploit idiosyncratic variation in the share of foreign classmates in introductory math classes and find that foreign classmates displace domestic students from STEM majors and occupations. However, displaced students gravitate toward high-earning social science majors, so their expected earnings are not penalized. We explore several mechanisms. Results indicate that displacement is concentrated in classes where foreign classmates possess weak English language ability, suggesting that diminished in-class communication and social interactions might play an important role.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We propose a demand estimation method that allows for a large number of zero sale observations, rich unobserved heterogeneity, and endogenous prices. We do so by modeling small market sizes through Poisson arrivals. Each of these arriving consumers solves a standard discrete choice problem. We present a Bayesian IV estimation approach that addresses sampling error in product shares and scales well to rich data environments. The data requirements are traditional market-level data as well as a measure of market sizes or consumer arrivals. After presenting simulation studies, we demonstrate the method in an empirical application of air travel demand.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

Fundraising campaigns draw support from a wide pool of contributors. Some contributors are interested in private rewards offered in exchange for contributions (buyers), whereas others are publicly-minded and value success (donors). Buyers face a coordination problem because of the positive externalities of campaign success. A leadership donor who strategically times contributions can promote coordination by dynamically signaling his valuation. The ability to signal increases the probability of success and benefits all participants relative to the donor valuation being known. We validate our modeling assumptions and theoretical predictions using Kickstarter data.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

Firms facing complex objectives often decompose the problems they face, delegating different parts of the decision to distinct subordinates. Using comprehensive data and internal models from a large U.S. airline, we establish that airline pricing is inconsistent with canonical dynamic pricing models. However, we show that observed prices can be rationalized as an equilibrium of a game played by departments who each have decision rights for different inputs that are supplied to the observed pricing heuristic. Incorrectly assuming that the firm solves a standard profit maximization problem as a single entity understates overall welfare actually achieved but affects business and leisure consumers differently. Likewise, we show that assuming prices are set through standard profit maximization leads to incorrect inferences about consumer demand elasticities and thus welfare.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We introduce a model of oligopoly dynamic pricing where firms with limited capacity face a sales deadline. We establish conditions under which the equilibrium is unique and converges to a system of differential equations. Using unique and comprehensive pricing and bookings data for competing U.S. airlines, we estimate our model and find that dynamic pricing results in higher output but lower welfare than under uniform pricing. Our theoretical and empirical findings run counter to standard results in single-firm settings due to the strategic role of competitor scarcity. Pricing heuristics commonly used by airlines increase welfare relative to estimated equilibrium predictions.

Abstract

Airfares fluctuate due to demand shocks and intertemporal variation in willingness to pay. I estimate a model of dynamic airline pricing accounting for both sources of price adjustments using flight‐level data. I use the model estimates to evaluate the welfare effects of dynamic airline pricing. Relative to uniform pricing, dynamic pricing benefits early‐arriving, leisure consumers at the expense of late‐arriving, business travelers. Although dynamic pricing ensures seat availability for business travelers, these consumers are then charged higher prices. When aggregated over markets, welfare is higher under dynamic pricing than under uniform pricing. The direction of the welfare effect at the market level depends on whether dynamic price adjustments are mainly driven by demand shocks or by changes in the overall demand elasticity.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

We propose an approach to modeling and estimating discrete choice demand that allows for a large number of zero sale observations, rich unobserved heterogeneity, and endogenous prices. We do so by modeling small market sizes through Poisson arrivals. Each of these arriving consumers then solves a standard discrete choice problem. We present a Bayesian IV estimation approach that addresses sampling error in product shares and scales well to rich data environments. The data requirements are traditional market-level data and measures of consumer search intensity. After presenting simulation studies, we consider an empirical application of air travel demand where product-level sales are sparse. We find considerable variation in demand over time. Periods of peak demand feature both larger market sizes and consumers with higher willingness to pay. This amplifies cyclicality. However, observed frequent price and capacity adjustments offset some of this compounding effect.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

Firms often involve multiple departments for critical decisions that may result in coordination failures. Using data from a large U.S. airline, we document the presence of important pricing biases that differ significantly from dynamically optimal profit maximization. However, these biases can be rationalized as a “second-best” after accounting for department decision rights. We show that assuming prices are generated through profit maximization biases demand estimates and that second-best prices can persist, even under improvements to pricing algorithm inputs. Our results suggest caution in abstracting from organizational structure and drawing inferences from firms’ pricing decisions alone.

Discussion Paper
Abstract

Although typically modeled as a centralized firm decision, pricing often involves

multiple organizational teams that have decision rights over specific pricing inputs.

We study team input decisions using comprehensive data from a large U.S. airline.

We document that pricing at a sophisticated firm is subject to miscoordination across

teams, uses persistently biased forecasts, and does not account for cross-price elasticities.

With structural demand estimates derived from sales and search data, we find

that addressing one team’s biases in isolation has little impact on market outcomes.

We show that teams do not optimally account for biases introduced by other teams.

We estimate that corrected and coordinated inputs would lead to a significant reallocation

of capacity. Leisure consumers would benefit from lower fares, and business

customers would face significantly higher fares. Dead-weight loss would increase in

the markets studied. Finally, we discuss likely mechanisms for the observed pricing

biases.