NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Rise of Niche Consumption

Brent Neiman, Joseph S. Vavra

NBER Working Paper No. 26134
Issued in August 2019
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program, Industrial Organization Program, International Trade and Investment Program, The Monetary Economics Program, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

We show that over the last 15 years, the typical household has increasingly concentrated its spending on a few preferred products. However, this is not driven by “superstar” products capturing larger market shares. Instead, households increasingly focus spending on different products from each other. As a result, aggregate spending concentration has in fact decreased over this same period. We use a novel heterogeneous agent model to conclude that increasing product variety is a key driver of these divergent trends. When more products are available, households can select a subset better matched to their particular tastes, and this generates welfare gains not reflected in government statistics. Our model features heterogeneous markups because producers of popular products care more about maximizing profits from existing customers, while producers of less popular niche products care more about expanding their customer base. Surprisingly, however, our model can match the observed trends in household and aggregate concentration without any resulting change in aggregate market power.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26134

 
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