Returns to Consumer Search: Evidence from eBay
A growing body of empirical literature finds that consumers are relatively limited in how much they search over product characteristics. We assemble a dataset of search and purchase behavior from eBay to quantify the returns, and thus implied costs, to consumer search on the internet. The extensive nature of the eBay data allows us to examine a rich and detailed set of questions related to search in a way that previous structural models cannot. In contrast to the literature, we find that consumers search a lot: on average 36 times per purchase over 3 (distinct) days, with most sessions ending in no purchase. We find that search costs are relatively low, in the region of 25 cents per search page. We pursue the analysis further by, i) examining how users refine their search, ii) how search behavior spans multiple search sessions, and iii) how the amount of search relates to finding lower prices.
Tadelis was engaged as a paid consultant for eBay during the time this research was conducted. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.