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Handbook of Pricing Management, Oxford University Press
Game Theory Models of Pricing
September 2010
Praveen Kopalle and Robert A. Shumsky
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
1. Introduction
In 1991, packagedgoods behemoth Procter & Gamble (P&G) initiated a “value pricing” scheme
for sales to retailers. Value pricing was P&G’s label for everyday low pricing (EDLP), a pricing
strategy under which retailers are charged a consistent price rather than a high baseline price
punctuated by sporadic, deep discounts. P&G had many reasons for converting to EDLP. Its
sales force had grown to rely on discounting to drive sales and the use of deep discounts had
spiraled out of control, cutting into earnings (Saporito, 1994). The discounts then created demand
shocks, as both retailers and customers loaded up on products whenever the price dropped. This
exacerbated the socalled bullwhip effect, as demand variability was amplified up the supply
chain, reducing the utilization of distribution resources and factories and increasing costs (Lee,
Padmanabhan, and Whang, 1997).
Despite the costs of its traditional discounting strategy, the move to value pricing was
risky for P&G. How would retailers, consumers, and competing manufacturers respond to
P&G’s EDLP program? For example, would competitors deepen their own discounts to pull
market share away from P&G? Or would they also move to a low, consistent price? To
2
accurately predict competitors’ behavior, P&G would have to consider each competitor’s beliefs
about P&G itself. For example, it was possible that Unilever, a competing manufacturer, might
increase its discounting if it believed that P&G was not fully committed to EDLP but otherwise
might itself adopt EDLP. Therefore, P&G’s decision on whether and how to adopt EDLP
depended on the responses of its competitors, which, in turn, depended upon their beliefs about
what P&G was going to do.
P&G’s actions depended on Uniliver’s, which depended on P&G’s—a chickenandegg
problem that can make your head spin. There is, however, an approach to problems like this that
can cut through the complexity and help managers make better pricing decisions. That approach,
game theory, was first developed as a distinct body of knowledge by mathematicians and
economists in the 1940s and ’50s (see the pioneering work by von Neumann and Morgenstern,
1944, and Nash, 1950). Since then, it has been applied to a variety of fields, including computer
science, political science, biology, operations management, and marketing science.
In this chapter, we first introduce the basic concepts of game theory by using simple
pricing examples. We then link those examples with both the research literature and industry
practice, including examples of how game theory has been used to understand P&G’s value
pricing initiative and the competitive response. In Section 2 we define the basic elements of a
game and describe the fundamental assumptions that underlie game theory. In the remaining
sections we examine models that provide insight into how games work (e.g., understanding
various types of equlibria) as well as how competition affects pricing. The models may be
categorized according to two attributes: the timing of actions and the number of periods (Table
1). In many of the models, competitors make simultaneous pricing decisions, so that neither
3
player has more information about its competitor’s actions than the other. In other games with
sequential timing, one competitor sets its price first. Some games have a single period (we
define a ‘period’ as a time unit in which each player takes a single action), while other games
will have multiple time periods, and actions taken in one period may affect actions and rewards
in later periods. Along the way, we will make a few side trips: a brief look at behavioral game
theory in Section 3.2 and some thoughts on implications for the practice of pricing in Section 4.
Timing of actions
Simultaneous Sequential
N
u
m
b
e
r
o
f
p
e
r
i
o
d
s
One Sections 2.12.4, 2.6 Section 2.5
Multiple Sections 3.1 – 3.4 Sections 3.53.6
Table 1: Game types in this chapter
This chapter does not contain a rigorous description of the mathematics behind game
theory, nor does it cover all important areas of the field. For example, we will not discuss
cooperative game theory, in which participants form coalitions to explicitly coordinate their
prices (in many countries, such coalitions would be illegal). We will, however, say a bit more
about cooperative games at the end of Section 2.6.
For a more complete and rigorous treatments of game theory, we recommend Fudenberg
and Tirole (1991), Myerson (1991), and Gibbons (1992). For more examples of how
practitioners can make use of game theory for many decisions in addition to pricing, we
recommend Dixit and Nalebuff (1991). Moorthy (1985) focuses on marketing applications such
4
as marketentry decisions and advertising programs, as well as pricing. Cachon and Netessine
(2006) discuss applications of game theory to supply chain management. Nisan et. al. (2007)
describe computational approaches to game theory for applications such as information security,
distributed computation, prediction markets, communications networks, peertopeer systems,
and the flow of information through social networks. The popular press and trade journals also
report on how game theory can influence corporate strategy. For example Rappeport (2008)
describes how game theory has been applied at Microsoft, Chevron, and other firms. Finally,
information intermediaries such as Yahoo and Google employ research groups that develop
game theory models to understand how consumers and firms use the web, and to develop new
business models for the internet (see labs.yahoo.com/ and research.google.com/).
2. Introduction to Game Theory: SinglePeriod Pricing Games
A game is defined by three elements: players, strategies that may be used by each player, and
payoffs.
A game consists of players (participants in the game), strategies (plans by each player that
describe what action will be taken in any situation), and payoffs (rewards for each player for all
combinations of strategies).
In the valuepricing example above, the players might be P&G and Unilever, their strategies are
the prices they set over time under certain conditions, and the payoffs are the profits they make
under various combinations of pricing schemes. Given that each player has chosen a strategy,
the collection of players’ strategies is called a strategy profile. If we know the strategy profile,
then we know how every player will act for any situation in the game.
5
When describing a game, it is also important to specify the information that is available
to each player. For example, we will sometimes consider situations in which each player must
decide upon a strategy to use without knowing the strategy chosen by the other player. At other
times, we will let one player observe the other player’s choice before making a decision.
When analyzing a game, there are two basic steps. The first is to make clear the
implications of the rules—to fully understand the relationships between the strategies and the
payoffs. Once we understand how the game works, the second step is to determine which
strategy each player will play under various circumstances. This analysis may begin with a
description of each player’s optimal strategy given any strategy profile for the other players. The
analysis usually ends with a description of equilibrium strategies  a strategy profile that the
players may settle into and will not want to change. One fascinating aspect of game theory is that
these equilibrium strategies can often be quite different from the best overall strategy that might
be achieved if the players were part of a single firm that coordinated their actions. We will see
that competition often can make both players worse off.
A typical assumption in game theory, and an assumption we hold in much of this chapter,
is that all players know the identities, available strategies, and payoffs of all other players, as in a
game of tictactoe. When no player has private information about the game that is unavailable
to the other players, and when all players know that the information is available to all players, we
say that the facts of the game are common knowledge (see Aumann, 1976, and Milgrom, 1981,
for more formal descriptions of the common knowledge assumption). In some instances,
however, a player may have private information. For example, one firm may have more accurate
information than its competitor about how its own customers respond to price changes by the
6
competitor. Such games of incomplete information are sometimes called Bayesian games, for
uncertainty and probability are important elements of the game, and Bayes’ rule is used to update
the players’ beliefs as the game is played. See Gibbons (1992) and Harsanyi (1967) for more
background on Bayesian games.
We also assume that the players are rational, i.e., that firms make pricing decisions to
maximize their profits. Finally, we assume that each player knows that the other players are
rational. Therefore, each player can put itself in its competitors’ shoes and anticipate its
competitors’ choices. Pushing further, each player knows that its competitors are anticipating its
own choices, and making choices accordingly. In general, we assume that the players have an
infinite hierarchy of beliefs about strategies in the game. This assumption is vital for
understanding why competitors may achieve the Nash equilibrium described in the next Section.
The assumption also highlights a key insight that can be developed by studying game theory –
the importance of anticipating your competitors’ actions.
2.1 A First Example: Pricing the UltraPhone and the Prisoner’s Dilemma
Consider two players, firms A and B, that have simultaneously developed virtually identical
versions of what we will call the UltraPhone, a handheld device that includes technology for
cheap, efficient 3dimensional videoconferencing. Both firms will release their UltraPhones at
the same time and, therefore, each has to set a price for the phone without knowing the price set
by its competitor. For the purposes of this example, we assume both firms will charge either a
High price or a Low price for all units (see Table 2). Therefore, the firms’ possible actions are to
price ‘High’ or ‘Low,’ and each firm’s strategy is a plan to charge one of these two prices.
7
Price Unit contribution
margin at that price
Number in
segment
High $800 2,000,000
Low $300 2,000,000
Table 2: Prices, margins, and segments for the UltraPhone
To complete the description of the game, we describe the payoffs under each strategy
profile. At the High price, the firms’ unit contribution margin is $800/phone; at the Low price,
the firms’ unit contribution margin is $300/phone. There are two segments of customers for the
UltraPhone, and the maximum price each segment is willing to pay is very different. The two
million people in the “High” segment are all willing to pay the High price (but would, of course,
prefer the Low price), while the two million people in the “Low” segment are only willing to pay
the Low price. We also assume that if both firms charge the same price, then sales are split
equally between the two firms. And we assume both firms can always manufacture a sufficient
number of phones to satisfy any number of customers. Note that in this example, there is no
reliable way to discriminate between segments; if the phone is offered for the Low price by
either firm, then both the two million Low customers and the two million High customers will
buy it for that Low price.
Given the information in Table 1, both firms ask, “What should we charge for our
phone?” Before looking at the competitive analysis, consider what the firms should do if they
coordinate—e.g., if they were not competitors but instead were divisions of one firm that is a
monopoly producer of this product. The total contribution margin given the High price is 2
million*$800 = $1.6 billion. The margin given the Low price is (2 million + 2 million)*$300 =
8
$1.2 billion. Therefore, the optimal solution for a monopoly is to set prices to exclusively target
the highend market.
B Chooses…
High Low
A
C
h
o
o
s
e
s
.
.
.
High
8
8
0
12
Low
12
0
6
6
Table 3: The UltraPhone game. Entries in each cell are payoffs to A (lower number in each
cell) and to B (upper number in each cell) in $100 millions.
Now we turn to the competitive analysis—the game. The two competing firms, A and B,
face the situation shown in Table 3, which represents a normal form of a game. The rows
correspond to the two different strategies available to firm A: price High or Low. The columns
correspond to the same strategies for B. The entries in the tables show the payoffs, the total
contribution margins for firm A (the lower number in each cell of the table) and firm B (the
upper number in each cell) in units of $100 million. If both price High (the upper left cell), then
they split the $1.6 billion equally between them. If both price Low (bottom right cell), then they
split the $1.2 billion. For the cell in the upper right, A prices High but B prices Low, so that B
captures all of the demand at the Low price and gains $1.2 billion. The lower left cell shows the
reverse.
9
Given this payoff structure, what should the firms do? First, consider firm A’s decision,
given each strategy chosen by B. If B chooses High (the first column), then it is better for A to
choose Low. Therefore, we say that Low is player A’s best response to B choosing High.
A player’s best response is the strategy, or set of strategies, that maximizes the player’s payoff,
given the strategies of the other players.
If B chooses Low (the second column), then firm A’s best response is to choose Low as well.
The fact that it is best for A to price Low, no matter what B does, makes pricing Low a particular
type of strategy, a dominant one.
A strategy is a dominant strategy for a firm if it is optimal, no matter what strategy is used by
the other players.
Likewise, dominated strategies are never optimal, no matter what the competitors do.
Pricing Low is also a dominant strategy for B: no matter what A chooses, Low is better.
In fact, the strategy profile [A Low, B Low] is the unique Nash Equilibrium of this game; if both
firms choose Low, then neither has a reason to unilaterally change its mind.
The firms are in a Nash Equilibrium if the strategy of each firm is the best response to the
strategies of the other firms. Equivalently, in a Nash equilibrium, none of the firms have any
incentive to unilaterally deviate from its strategy.
This is the only equilibrium in the game. For example, if A chooses High and B chooses Low,
then A would have wished it had chosen Low and earned $600 million rather than $0. Note that
10
for the Nash equilibrium of this game, both firms choose their dominant strategies, but that is not
always the case (see, for example, the Nash equilibria in the Game of Chicken, Section 2.3).
Because we assume that both firms are rational and fully anticipate the logic used by the
other player (the infinite belief hierarchy), we predict that both will charge Low, each will earn
$600 million, and the total industry contribution margin will be $1.2 billion. This margin is less
than the optimal result of $1.6 billion. This is a wellknown result: under competition, both
prices and industry profits decline. We will see in Section 3.1, however, that it may be possible
to achieve higher profits when the game is played repeatedly.
This particular game is an illustration of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the classic example of
the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two criminal suspects are apprehended and held in separate rooms. If
neither confesses to a serious crime, then both are jailed for a short time (say, one year) under
relatively minor charges. If both confess, they both receive a lengthy sentence (five years). But if
one confesses and the other doesn’t, then the snitch is freed and the silent prisoner is given a long
prison term (10 years). The equilibrium in the Prisoner’s Dilemma is for both prisoners to
confess, and the resulting fiveyear term is substantially worse than the cooperative equilibrium
they would have achieved if they had both remained silent. In the UltraPhone example, the Low
Low strategy is equivalent to mutual confession.
The strategy profile [A Low, B Low] is a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies. It is a pure
strategy equilibrium because each player chooses a single price. The players might also consider
a mixed strategy, in which each player chooses a probability distribution over a set of pure
strategies (see Dixit and Skeath, 1999, chapter 5, for an accessible and thorough discussion of
mixed strategies). The equilibrium concept is named after John Nash, a mathematician who
11
showed that if each player has a finite number of pure strategies, then there must always exist at
least one mixed strategy or pure strategy equilibrium (Nash, 1950). In certain games, however,
there may not exist a pure strategy equilibrium and as we will see in Section 2.4, it is also
possible to have multiple purestrategy equilibria.
2.2 Bertrand and Cournot Competition
The UltraPhone game is similar to a Bertrand competition, in which two firms produce identical
products and compete only on price, with no product differentiation. It can be shown that if
demand is a continuous linear function of price and if both firms have the same constant
marginal cost, then the only Nash equilibrium is for both firms to set a price equal to their
marginal cost. As in the example above, competition drives price down, and in a Bertrand
competition, prices are driven down to their lowest limit.
Both the UltraPhone example and the Bertrand model assume that it is always possible
for the firms to produce a sufficient quantity to supply the market, no matter what price is
charged. Therefore, the Bertrand model does not fit industries with capacity constraints that are
expensive to adjust. An alternative model is Cournot competition, in which the firms’ strategies
are quantities rather than prices. The higher the quantities the firms choose, the lower the price.
Under a Cournot competition between two firms, the resulting Nash equilibrium price is higher
than the marginal cost (the Bertrand solution) but lower than the monopoly price. As the number
of firms competing in the market increases, however, the Cournot equilibrium price falls. In the
theoretical limit (an infinite number of competitors), the price drops down to the marginal cost.
See Weber [this volume] for additional discussion of Bertrand and Cournot competition.
12
Besides the assumption that there are no capacity constraints, another important
assumption of Bertrand competition is that the products are identical, so that the firm offering the
lowest price attracts all demand. We will relax this assumption in the next section.
2.3 Continuous Prices, Product Differentiation, and Best Response Functions
In Section 2.1 we restricted our competitors to two choices: High and Low prices. In practice,
firms may choose from a variety of prices, so now assume that each firm chooses a price over a
continuous range. Let firm i's price be p
i
(i=A or B). In this game, a player’s strategy is the
choice of a price, and we now must define the payoffs, given the strategies. First we describe
how each competitor’s price affects demand for the product. In the last section, all customers
chose the lowest price. Here we assume that the products are differentiated, so that some
customers receive different utilities from the products and are therefore loyal; they will purchase
from firm A or B, even if the other firm offers a lower price. Specifically, let J
i
(p
i
,p
]
) be the
demand for product i, given that the competitors charge p
i
and p
j
. We define the linear demand
function,
J
i
(p
i
,p
]
)=obp
i
+cp
]
.
If c > 0, we say that the products are substitutes: a lower price charged by firm A leads to more
demand for A’s product and less demand for B’s (although if p
B
<
p
A,
B does not steal all the
demand, as in Section 2.1). If c < 0, then the products are complements: a lower price charged
by A raises demand for both products. In the UltraPhone example, the products are substitutes;
product A and a specialized accessory (e.g., a docking station) would be complements. If c=0
13
then the two products are independent, there is no interaction between the firms, and both firms
choose their optimal monopoly price.
Figure 1: Best response functions in the UltraPhone pricing game
with product differentiation
Now let m be the constant marginal cost to produce either product. Firm i's margin is
therefore (p
i
m)J
i
(p
i
,p
]
). This function is concave with respect to p
i
, and therefore the optimal
price for firm i given that firm j charges p
j
can be found by taking the derivative of the function
with respect to p
i
, setting that first derivative equal to 0, and solving algebraically for p
i
. Let
p
ì

(p
]
) be the resulting optimal price, and we find,
p
ì

(p
]
) =
1
2b
(o + bm + cp
]
). (1)
This optimal price is a function of the competitor’s price, and therefore we call p
ì

(p
]
) the best
response function of i to j; this is the continuous equivalent of the best response defined in
14
Section 2.1. Figure 1 shows the two best response functions on the same graph, for a given set of
parameters a=3000, b=4, c=2¸and m=$200/unit. For example, if Firm B sets a price of $300,
Firm A’s best response is a price of $550. From the function, we see that if the products are
substitutes and c > 0 (as in this case), the best response of one firm rises with the price of the
other firm. If the products are complements, the lines would slope downward, so that if one firm
raises its prices then the best response of the competitor is to lower its price.
The plot also shows that if Firm A chooses a price of $633, then Firm B’s best response
is also $633. Likewise, if Firm B chooses $633, then so does Firm A. Therefore, neither firm has
any reason to deviate from choosing $633, and [$633, $633] is the unique Nash equilibrium. In
general, the equilibrium prices satisfy equation (1) when i is Firm A as well as when i is Firm B.
By solving these two equations we find,
p
ì

= p
]

=
o +bm
2b c
.
Note that as c rises, and the products move from being complements to substitutes, the
equilibrium price declines.
In this example, the firms are identical and therefore the equilibrium is symmetric (both
choose the same price). With nonidentical firms (e.g., if they have different parameter values in
the demand function and/or different marginal costs), then there can be a unique equilibrium in
which the firms choose different prices (Singh and Vives, 1984). We will discuss additional
extensions of this model, including the role of reference prices, in Section 3.3.
15
2.4 Multiple Equilibria and a Game of Chicken
Now return to the UltraPhone pricing game with two price points, as in Section 2.1, although we
also incorporate product differentiation, as in Section 2.3. Assume that 40 percent of the High
segment customers are loyal to firm A and will choose A’s product even if A chooses a High
price while B chooses a Low price. Likewise, 40 percent of the Highsegment customers are
loyal to firm B. The payoffs from this new game are shown in Table 4. If both firms price High
or both price Low, then the payoffs do not change. If A prices High and B prices Low (the upper
right cell), then A’s margin is 40%*(2 million)*$800 = $640 million while B’s margin is
(60%*(2 million) + 2 million)*$300 = $960 million. The lower left cell shows the reverse.
B Chooses…
High Low
A
C
h
o
o
s
e
s
.
.
.
High
8
8
6.4
9.6
Low
9.6
6.4
6
6
Table 4: Payoffs for the UltraPhone game with loyal customers, in $100 millions
The presence of loyal customers significantly changes the behavior of the players. If B
chooses High, then A’s best response is to choose Low, while if B chooses Low, A’s best
response is to choose High. In this game, neither firm has a dominant strategy, and [A Low, B
Low] is no longer an equilibrium; if the firms find themselves in that cell, both firms would have
16
an incentive to move to High. But [A High, B High] is not an equilibrium either; both would then
want to move to Low.
In fact, this game has two pure strategy Nash equilibria: [A High, B Low] and [A Low, B
High]. Given either combination, neither firm has any incentive to unilaterally move to another
strategy. Each of these two equilibria represents a split in the market between one firm that
focuses on its own Highend loyal customers and the other that captures everyone else.
This example is analogous to a game of “chicken” between two automobile drivers. They
race towards one another and if neither swerves, they crash, producing the worst outcome—in
our case [A Low, B Low]. If both swerve, the payoff is, obviously, higher. If one swerves and
the other doesn’t, the one who did not swerve receives the highest award, while the one who
“chickened out” has a payoff that is lower than if they had both swerved but higher than if the
driver had crashed. As in Table 4, there are two pure strategy equilibria in the game of chicken,
each with one driver swerving and the other driving straight.
1
The existence of multiple equilibria poses a challenge for both theorists and practitioners
who use game theory. Given the many possible equilibria, will players actually choose one? If
so, which one? Behavioral explanations have been proposed to answer this question – see
Section 3.2. In addition, game theorists have invented variations of the Nash equilibrium to
address these questions. These variations are called refinements, and they lay out criteria that
exclude certain types of strategies and equilibria. Many of these innovations depend upon the
theory of dynamic games, in which the game is played in multiple stages over time (see Section
1
There is also a mixedstrategy equilibrium for the game in Table 4. If each player randomly selects a High price
with probability 0.2 and a Low price with probability 0.8, then neither player has any incentive to choose a different
strategy.
17
3). The subgame perfect equilibrium described in the next section is one such refinement.
Another is the tremblinghand perfect equilibrium in which players are assumed to make small
mistakes (or “trembles”) and all players take these mistakes into account when choosing
strategies (Selten, 1975; Fudenberg and Tirole, 1991, Section 8.4). For descriptions of additional
refinements, see Govindan and Wilson (2005).
2.5 Sequential Action and a Stackelberg Game
In the previous Section, we assumed that both firms set prices simultaneously without knowledge
of the other’s decision. We saw how this game has two equilibria and that it is difficult to predict
which one will be played. In this Section we will see how this problem is resolved if one player
moves first and chooses its preferred equilibrium; in the game of chicken, imagine that one
driver rips out her steering wheel and throws it out her window, while the other driver watches.
For the UltraPhone competition, assume that firm A has a slight lead in its product
development process and will release the product and announce its price first. The release and
price announcement dates are set in stone—e.g., firm A has committed to announcing its price
and sending its products to retailers on the first Monday of the next month, while firm B will
announce its price and send its products to retailers a week later. It is important to note that these
are the actual pricing dates. Either firm may publicize potential prices before those dates, but
retailers will only accept the prices given by firm A on the first Monday and firm B on the
second Monday. Also, assume that the oneweek “lag” does not significantly affect the sales
assumptions introduced in Sections 2.1 and 2.4.
This sequential game has a special name,
18
In a Stackelberg Game, one player (the leader) moves first, while the other player (the follower)
moves second after observing the action of the leader.
The left side of Figure 2 shows the extensiveform representation of the game, with A’s choice
as the first split at the top of the diagram and B’s choice at the bottom.
Figure 2: Analysis of the UltraPhone game with loyal customers and A as a first mover
One can identify an equilibrium in a Stackelberg Game (a Stackelberg equilibrium) by
backwards induction  work up from the bottom of the diagram. First, we see what firm B would
choose, given either action by firm A. As the second tree in Figure 2 shows, B would choose
Low if A chooses High and would choose High if A chooses Low. Given the payoffs from these
choices, it is optimal for A to choose low, and the Stackelberg equilibrium is [A Low, B High],
with the highest payoff—$960 million—going to firm A. By moving first, firm A has guided the
game towards its preferred equilibrium.
It is important to note, however, that [A High, B Low] is still a Nash equilibrium for the
full game. Suppose that firm B states before the crucial month arrives that no matter what firm A
decides, it will choose to price Low (again, this does not mean that firm B actually sets the price
A chooses
B
chooses
B
chooses
High
High High Low Low
Low
(8,8) (6.4,9.6) (9.6, 6.4) (6,6)
A chooses
B
chooses
Low
(6.4,9.6)
B
chooses
High
(9.6, 6.4)
High Low
A chooses Low
B chooses
High
(9.6, 6.4)
19
to Low before the second Monday of the month, just that it claims it will). If firm A believes this
threat, then it will choose High in order to avoid the worstcase [A Low, B Low] outcome.
Therefore, another equilibrium may be [A High, B Low], as in the simultaneous game of Section
2.4.
But can firm A believe B’s threat? Is the threat credible? Remember that A moves first
and that B observes what A has done. Once A has chosen Low, it is not optimal for B to choose
Low as well; it would be better for B to abandon its threat and choose High. We say that B’s
choices (the second level in Figure 1) are subgames of the full game. When defining an
equilibrium strategy, it seems natural to require that the strategies each player chooses also lead
to an equilibrium in each subgame.
In a subgame perfect equilibrium, the strategies chosen for each subgame is a Nash
equilibrium of that subgame.
In this case, B’s strategy “price Low no matter what A does” does not seem to be part of a
reasonable equilibrium because B will not price Low if A prices Low first; An equilibrium that
includes B Low after A Low is not Nash. Therefore, we say that [A Low, B High] is a subgame
perfect equilibrium but that [A High, B Low] is not.
2.6 An Airline Revenue Management Game
In the UltraPhone game, the two firms set prices, and we assume the firms can easily adjust
production quantities to accommodate demand. The dynamics of airline pricing often are quite
different. The capacity of seats on each flight is fixed over the short term, and prices for various
types of tickets are set in advance. As the departure of a flight approaches, the number of seats
20
available at each price is adjusted over time. This dynamic adjustment of seat inventory is
sometimes called revenue management; see Talluri [this volume] for additional information of
the fundamentals of revenue management as well as Barnes [this volume], Kimes et al. [this
volume], and Lieberman [this volume] for descriptions of applications.
Here, we will describe a game in which two airlines simultaneously practice revenue
management. As was true for the initial UltraPhone example, the game will be a simplified
version of reality. For example, we will assume that the single flight operated by each airline has
only one seat left for sale. As we will discuss below, however, the insights generated by the
model hold for realistic scenarios.
Suppose two airlines, X and Y, offer direct flights between the same origin and
destination, with departures and arrivals at similar times. We assume that each flight has just one
seat available. Both airlines sell two types of tickets: a lowfare ticket with an advancepurchase
requirement for $200 and a highfare ticket for $500 that can be purchased at any time. A ticket
purchased at either fare is for the same physical product: a coachclass seat on one flight leg. The
advancepurchase restriction, however, segments the market and allows for price discrimination
between customers with different valuations of purchasetime flexibility. Given the advance
purchase requirement, we assume that demand for lowfare tickets occurs before demand for
highfare tickets. Customers who prefer a low fare and are willing to accept the purchase
restrictions will be called “lowfare customers.” Customers who prefer to purchase later, at the
higher price, are called “highfare customers.”
Assume marginal costs are negligible, so that the airlines seek to maximize expected
revenue. To increase revenue, both airlines may establish a booking limit for lowfare tickets: a
21
restriction on the number of lowfare tickets that may be sold. (In our case, the booking limit is
either 0 or 1.) Once this booking limit is reached by ticket sales, the low fare is closed and only
highfare sales are allowed. If a customer is denied a ticket by one airline, we assume that
customer will attempt to purchase a ticket from the other airline (we call these “overflow
passengers”). Therefore, both airlines are faced with a random initial demand as well as demand
from customers who are denied tickets by the other airline. Passengers denied a reservation by
both airlines are lost. We assume that for each airline, there is a 100 percent chance that a low
fare customer will attempt to purchase a ticket followed by a 50 percent chance that a highfare
customer will attempt to purchase a ticket. This information is summarized in Table 5.
Demand
Fare Class Ticket Price Airline X Airline Y
Low $200 1 (guaranteed) 1 (guaranteed)
High $500
Prob{0}=0.5
Prob{1}=0.5
Prob{0}=0.5
Prob{1}=0.5
Table 5: Customer segments for the revenue management game
The following is the order of events in the game:
1. Airlines establish booking limits. Each airline chooses to either close the lowfare class
(“Close”) and not sell a lowfare ticket, or keep it open (“Open”). In this revenue management
game, the decision whether to Close or remain Open is the airline’s strategy.
2. A lowfare passenger arrives at each airline and is accommodated (and $200 collected) if
the lowfare class is Open.
22
3. Each airline either receives a highfare passenger or does not see any more demand, where
each outcome has probability 0.5. If a passenger arrives, and if the lowfare class has been
closed, the passenger is accommodated (and $500 collected).
4. A highfare passenger who is not accommodated on the firstchoice airline spills to the
alternate airline and is accommodated there if the alternate airline has closed its seat from a
lowfare customer and has not sold a seat to its own highfare customer.
Y Chooses…
Open Close
X
C
h
o
o
s
e
s
.
.
.
Open
200
200
200
375
Close
375
200
250
250
Table 6: Expected payoffs for the airline revenue management game.
Entries in each cell are payoffs to X, Y.
Table 6 shows the payoffs for each combination of strategies. If both airlines choose to
keep the lowfare class Open, both book customers for $200. If both choose to Close, each has a
50 percent chance to book a high fare, so that each has an expected value of (0.5)*$500 = $250.
In the upper right cell, if X chooses to Open and Y chooses to Close, then X books a lowfare
customer for $200 while Y has a chance to book a highfare customer. That highfare customer
may either be a customer who originally desired a flight on Y (who arrives with probability 0.5)
23
or a spillover from X (who also arrives, independently, with probability 0.5). Therefore, Y’s
expected revenue is [1 (0.5)(0.5)]*$500 = $375. The lower left cell shows the reverse situation.
By examining Table 6, we see that the only Nash equilibrium is [X Close, Y Close]. If
one airline chooses to Close, then the airline that chooses Open foregoes the opportunity to book
a highfare customer.
Note that this game is not precisely the same as the UltraPhone game/Prisoner’s Dilemma
discussed in Section 2.1; the airlines could have done even worse with [X Open, Y Open]. The
competitive equilibrium, however, is inferior in terms of aggregate revenue to the cooperative
solution, just as it is in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In Table 6, the highest total revenue across both
airlines—$575—is obtained with strategies [X Open, Y Close] or [X Close, Y Open]. The Nash
equilibrium has an expected total revenue of $500.
There is another interesting comparison to make with the UltraPhone game. In that game,
competition drove prices down. In this game, competition leads the airlines from an optimal
coordinated solution [X Open, Y Close] or [X Close, Y Open] to the Nash equilibrium [X Close,
Y Close]. Therefore, under the coordinated solution, one lowfare ticket is sold and one highfare
ticket may be sold. Under the Nash equilibrium, only highfare tickets may be sold. Netessine
and Shumsky (2005) analyze a similar game with two customer classes and any number of
available seats, and they confirm that this general insight continues to hold; under competition,
more seats are reserved for highfare customers, while the number of tickets sold (the load
factor) declines, as compared to the monopoly solution. The use of seat inventory control by the
airlines and the lowtohigh pattern of customer valuations inverts the Bertrand and Cournot
24
results; competition in the revenue management game raises the average price paid for a ticket as
compared to the average price charged by a monopolist.
In practice, however, airlines may compete on multiple routes, offer more than two fare
classes, and do not make a single revenue management decision simultaneously. Jiang and Pang
(2007) extend this model to airline competition over a network. Dudey (1992) and Martinezde
Albeniz and Talluri (2010) analyze the dynamic revenue management problem, in which the
airlines adjust booking limits dynamically over time. d'Huart (2010) uses a computer simulation
to compare monopoly and oligopoly airline revenue management behavior. He simulates up to 4
airlines with 3 competing flights offered by each airline and six fare classes on each flight. The
simulation also incorporates many of the forecasting and dynamic revenue management
heuristics used by the airlines. The results of the simulation correspond to our models’
predictions: fewer passengers are booked under competition, but with a higher average fare.
Of course, the airlines may prefer to collaborate, agree to one of the monopoly solutions,
and then split the larger pot so that both airlines would come out ahead of the Nash outcome. In
general, such collusion can increase overall profits, while reducing consumer surplus. Such
pricefixing is illegal in the United States, Canada, the European Union, and many other
countries. Occasionally airlines do attempt to collude and get caught, e.g., British Airways and
Virgin Atlantic conspired to simultaneously raise their prices on competing routes by adding fuel
surcharges to their tickets. Virgin Atlantic reported on the plot to the U.S. Department of Justice,
and British Airways paid a large fine (Associated Press, 2007).
In the absence of such legal risks, a fundamental question is whether such collusion is
stable when airlines do not have enforceable agreements to cooperate as well as explicit methods
25
for distributing the gains from cooperation. As we have seen from the examples above, each
player has an incentive to deviate from the monopoly solution to increase its own profits. In
Section 3 we will discuss how repeated play can produce outcomes other than the singleplay
Nash equilibrium describe above.
In certain cases in the United States, airlines have received permission from the
Department of Justice to coordinate pricing and split the profits. Northwest and KLM have had
such an agreement since 1993, while United, Lufthansa, Continental and Air Canada began
coordinating pricing and revenue management on their transatlantic flights in 2009
(BTNonline.com, 2008; DOT, 2009). The ability of such joint ventures to sustain themselves
depend upon whether each participant receives a net benefit from joining the coalition.
Cooperative game theory focuses on how the value created by the coalition may be distributed
among the participants, and how this distribution affects coalition stability. Such joint ventures,
however, are the exception rather than the rule in the airline business and elsewhere, and
therefore we will continue to focus on noncooperative game theory.
3. Dynamic Pricing Games
Pricing competition can be viewed from either a static or a dynamic perspective. Dynamic
models incorporate the dimension of time and recognize that competitive decisions do not
necessarily remain fixed. Viewing competitive pricing strategies from a dynamic perspective
can provide richer insights, and for some questions more accurate answers, than when using
static models. In this Section we will first explain how dynamic models differ from the models
presented in the last Section. We will then describe a variety of dynamic models, and we will
see how the price equilibria predicted by the models can help firms to understand markets and set
26
prices. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we will show how pricing data collected from
the field has been used to test the predictions made by game theory models.
First, we make clear what we mean by a dynamic game:
If a game is played exactly once, it is a singleperiod, or a oneshot, or a static game. If a
pricing game is played more than once, it is a dynamic or a multiperiod game.
In a dynamic game, decision variables in each period are sometimes called control variables.
Therefore, a firm’s strategy is a set of values for the control variables.
Dynamic competitive pricing situations can be analyzed in terms of either continuous or discrete
time. Generally speaking, pricing data from the market is discrete in nature (e.g., weekly price
changes at stores or the availability of weekly, storelevel scanner data), and even continuous
time models, which are an abstraction, are discretized for estimation of model parameters from
market data. Typically, dynamic models are treated as multiperiod games because critical
variables—sales, market share, and so forth—are assumed to change over time based on the
dynamics in the marketplace. Any dynamic model of pricing competition must consider the
impact of competitors’ pricing strategies on the dynamic process governing changes in sales or
marketshare variables.
In this section we will describe a variety of dynamic pricing policies for competing
firms. See Aviv and Vulcano [this volume] for more details on dynamic policies that do not take
competitors’ strategies directly into account. That chapter also describes models that examine, in
more detail, the effects of strategic customers. Other related chapters include Ramakrishnan
27
[this volume], Blattberg and Breisch [this volume], and Kaya and Ozer [this volume]. This last
chapter is closely related to the material in Sections 2.5 and 3.5, for it also describes Stackelberg
games, while examining specific contracts between wholesalers and retailers (e.g., buyback,
revenue sharing, etc.), the effects of asymmetric forecast information, and the design of contracts
to elicit accurate information from supply chain partners. For additional discussion of issues
related to behavioral game theory (discussed in Section 3.2, below), see Ozer and Zheng [this
volume].
3.1 Effective Competitive Strategies in Repeated Games
We have seen in Section 2.1 how a Prisoner’s Dilemma can emerge as the noncooperative Nash
equilibrium strategy in a static, oneperiod game. In the real world, however, rarely do we see
oneperiod interactions. For example, firms rarely consider competition for one week and set
prices simply for that week, keeping them at the same level during all weeks into the future.
Firms have a continuous interaction with each other for many weeks in a row, and this
continuous interaction gives rise to repeated games.
A repeated game is a dynamic game in which past actions do not influence the payoffs or set of
feasible actions in the current period, i.e., there is no explicit link between the periods.
In a repeated game setting, firms would, of course, be more profitable if they could avoid the
Prisoner’s Dilemma and move to a more cooperative equilibrium. Therefore, formulating the
pricing game as a multiperiod problem may identify strategies under which firms achieve a
cooperative equilibrium, where competing firms may not lower prices as much as they would
have otherwise in a oneshot Prisoner’s Dilemma. As another example, in an information sharing
28
context, Özer, Zheng, and Chen (2009) discuss the importance of trust and determine that
repeated games enhance trust and cooperation among players. Such cooperative equilibria may
also occur if the game is not guaranteed to be repeated, but may be repeated with some
probability.
A robust approach in such contexts is the “titfortat” strategy, where one firm begins
with a cooperative pricing strategy and subsequently copies the competing firm’s previous move.
This strategy is probably the best known and most often discussed rule for playing the Prisoner’s
Dilemma in a repeated setting, as illustrated by Axelrod and Hamilton (1981), Axelrod (1984),
and also discussed in Dixit and Nalebuff (1991). In his experiment, Axelrod set up a computer
tournament in which pairs of contestants repeated the twoperson prisoner’s dilemma game 200
times. He invited contestants to submit strategies, and paired each entry with each other entry.
For each move, players received three points for mutual cooperation and one point for mutual
defection. In cases where one player defected while the other cooperated, the former received
five points while the latter received nothing. Fourteen of the entries were from people who had
published research articles on game theory or the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The titfortat strategy
(submitted by Anatol Rapoport, a mathematics professor at the University of Toronto), the
simplest of all submitted programs, won the tournament. Axelrod repeated the tournament with
more participants and once again, Rapoport’s titfortat was the winning strategy (Dixit and
Nalebuff 1991).
Axelrod’s research emphasized the importance of minimizing echo effects in an
environment of mutual power. Although a single defection may be successful when analyzed for
its direct effect, it also can set off a long string of recriminations and counterrecriminations, and,
29
when it does, both sides suffer. In such an analysis, titfortat may be seen as a punishment
strategy (sometimes called a trigger strategy) that can produce a supportive collusive pricing
strategy in a noncooperative game. Lal’s (1990a) analysis of price promotions over time in a
competitive environment suggests that price promotions between national firms (say Coke and
Pepsi) can be interpreted as a long run strategy by these firms to defend market shares from
possible encroachments by store brands. Some anecdotal evidence from the beverage industry in
support of such collusive strategies is available. For example, a Consumer Reports article (Lal,
1990b) noted that in the softdrink market, where Coca Cola and PepsiCo account for twothirds
of all sales, “[s]urveys have shown that many soda drinkers tend to buy whichever brand is on
special. Under the Coke and Pepsi bottlers’ calendar marketing arrangements, a store agrees to
feature only one brand at any given time. Coke bottlers happened to have signed such
agreements for 26 weeks and Pepsi bottlers the other 26 weeks!” In other markets, such as
ketchup, cereals, and cookies (Lal, 1990b), similar arrangements can be found. Rao (1991)
provides further support for the above finding and shows that when the competition is
asymmetric, the national brand promotes to ensure that the private label does not try to attract
consumers away from the national brand.
3.2 Behavioral Considerations in Games
We now step back and ask if our game theory models provide us with a sufficiently accurate
representation of actual behavior. Behavioral considerations can be important for both static
games and for repeated games, where relationships develop between players, leading to subtle
and important consequences.
30
The assumptions we laid out at the beginning of Section 2 – rational players and the
infinite belief hierarchy – can sometimes seem farfetched when we consider real human
interactions. Given that the underlying assumptions may not be satisfied, are the predicted
results of the games reasonable? When describing research on human behavior in games,
Camerer (2003) states,
“ …game theory students often ask: “This theory is interesting…but do people
actually play this way?’ The answer, not surprisingly, is mixed. There are no
interesting games in which subjects reach a predicted equilibrium immediately. And
there are no games so complicated that subjects do not converge in the direction of
equilibrium (perhaps quite close to it) with enough experience in the lab.”
Camerer and his colleagues have found that to accurately predict human behavior in games, the
mathematics of game theory must often be merged with theories of behavior based on models of
social utility (e.g., the concept of fairness), limitations on reasoning, and learning over time. The
result of this merger is the fastgrowing field of behavioral economics and, more specifically,
behavioral game theory.
Behavioral game theory can shed light on a problem we saw in Section 2.4: when there is
more than one equilibrium in a game, it is difficult to predict player behavior. Psychologists and
behavioral game theorists have tested how player behavior evolves over many repetitions of such
games. According to Binmore (2007), over repeated trials of games with multiple equilibria
played in a laboratory, the players’ behavior evolves towards particular equilibria because of a
combination of chance and “historical events.” These events include the particular roles ascribed
to each player in the game (e.g., an employer and a worker, equal partners, etc.), the social norms
31
that the subjects bring into the laboratory, and, most importantly, the competitive strategies that
each player has experienced during previous trials of the game. Binmore also describes how, by
manipulating these historical events, players can be directed to nonequilibrium “focal points,”
although when left to their own devices players inevitably move back to a Nash equilibrium.
Behavioral game theorists have also conducted laboratory tests of the specific pricing
games that we describe in this chapter. For example, Duwfenberg and Gneezy (2000) simulated
the Bertrand game of Section 2.1 by asking students in groups of 2, 3 or 4 to bid a number from
2 to 100. The student with the lowest bid in the group won a prize that was proportional to the
size of that student’s bid. Therefore, the experiment is equivalent to the oneperiod Bertrand
pricing game of Section 2.1, in that the lowest price (or ‘bid’ in the experiment) captures the
entire market. This bidreward process was repeated 10 times, with the participants in each
group randomized between each of the 10 rounds to prevent collusive behavior  as described in
the previous Section of this Chapter  that may be generated in repeated games with the same
players.
No matter how many competitors, the Nash equilibrium in this game is for all players to
bid 2, which is equivalent to pricing at marginal cost in the Bertrand game. Duwfenberg and
Gneezy found that when their experiments involved two players, however, the bids were
consistently higher than 2 (over two rounds of ten trials each, the average bid was 38, and the
average winning bid was 26). For larger groups of 3 and 4, the initial rounds also saw bids
substantially higher than the Nash equilibrium value of 2, but by the tenth round the bids did
converge towards 2.
32
Camerer (2003) describes hundreds of experiments that demonstrate how actual player
behavior can deviate from the equilibrium behavior predicted by classical, mathematical game
theory. He also shows how behavioral economists have gone a step further, to explicitly test the
accuracy of behavioral explanations for these deviations, such as bounded rationality or a
preference for fairness.
A great majority of experiments conducted by behavioral game theorists involve
experimental subjects under controlled conditions. Of course, actual pricing decisions are not
made by individuals in laboratories, but by individuals or groups of people in firms, who are
subject to a variety of (sometimes conflicting) financial and social incentives. Armstrong and
Huck (2010) discuss the extent to which these experiments may be used to extrapolate to firm
behavior. An alternate to laboratory experiments is an empirical approach, to observe actual
pricing behavior by firms and compare those prices with predictions made by game theory
models. We will return to the question of game theory’s applicability, and see an example of this
empirical approach, in Section 3.6. In addition, Ozer and Zheng [this volume] discuss many
issues related to behavioral game theory.
3.3 StateDependent Dynamic Pricing Games
Statedependent dynamic pricing games are a generalization of repeated games, in which the
current period payoff may be a function of the history of the game.
In a dynamic game, a state variable is a quantity that (i) defines the state of nature, (ii) depends
on the decision or control variables, and (iii) impacts future payoffs (e.g., sales or profitability).
33
In a statedependent dynamic game, there is an explicit link between the periods, and past
actions influence the payoffs in the current period.
In other words, pricing actions today will have an impact on future sales as well as sales today.
We are taught early in life about the necessity to plan ahead. Present decisions affect future
events by making certain opportunities available, precluding others, and altering the costs of still
others. If present decisions do not affect future opportunities, the planning problem is trivial; one
need only make the best decision for the present. The rest of this section deals with solving
dynamic pricing problems where the periods are physically linked while considering the impact
of competition.
In their pioneering work, Rao and Bass (1985) consider dynamic pricing under
competition where the dynamics relate primarily to cost reductions through experience curve
effects. This implies that firms realize lower product costs with increases in cumulative
production. It is shown that with competition, dynamic pricing strategies dominate myopic
pricing strategies.
The Table 7 illustrates the impact of dynamic pricing under competition relative to a
static, twoperiod competitive game.
Static Dynamic
Period 1 Equilibrium Price $2.00 $1.85
Period 2 Equilibrium Price $1.90 $1.80
Table 7: Static vs. Dynamic Pricing Example
34
In other words, while a static game may suggest an equilibrium price of, say, $2.00 per
unit for a widget in the first period and $1.90 in the second period, a dynamic game would
recommend a price that is less than $2.00 (say, $1.85) in period 1 and even lower than $1.90
(say, $1.80) in the period 2. This is because a lower price in the first period would increase sales
in that initial period, thus increasing cumulative production, which, in turn, would reduce the
marginal cost in the second period by more than the amount realized under a static game. This
allows for an even lower price in the second period. In such a setting, prices in each period are
the control (or decision) variables, and cumulative sales at the beginning of each period would be
considered a state variable that affects future marginal cost and, hence, future profitability.
Another pricing challenge involving state dependence is the management of reference
prices. A reference price is an anchoring level formed by customers, based on the pricing
environment. Consider P&G’s value pricing strategy discussed earlier in the chapter. In such a
setting, given the corresponding stable cost to a retailer from the manufacturer, should competing
retailers also employ an everyday low pricing strategy or should they follow a HighLow pricing
pattern? In addition, under what conditions would a HighLow pricing policy be optimal? The
answer may depend upon the impact reference prices have on customer purchase behavior. One
process for referenceprice formation is the exponentially smoothed averaging of past observed
prices, where more recent prices are weighted more than less recent prices (Winer 1986):
r
t
=or
t1
+ (1o)p
t1
, 0 ≤ α < 1,
where r
t
is the reference price in period t, r
t1
is the reference price in the previous period, and p
t1
is the retail price in the previous period.
35
If = 0, the reference price in period t equals the observed price in period t1. As
increases, r
t
becomes increasingly dependent on past prices. Thus, can be regarded as a
memory parameter, with = 0 corresponding to a oneperiod memory. Consider a group of
frequently purchased consumer brands that are partial substitutes. Research (Winer 1986;
Greenleaf 1995; Putler 1992; Briesch, Krishnamurthi, Mazumdar, and Raj 1997; Kalyanaram
and Little 1994) suggests that demand for a brand depends on not only the brand price but also
whether that brand price is greater than the reference price (a perceived loss) or is less than the
reference price (a perceived gain). It turns out that the responses to gains and losses relative to
the reference price are asymmetric. First, a gain would increase sales and a loss would decrease
sales. Second, in some product categories, the absolute value of the impact of a gain is greater
than that of a loss, and in yet other categories, it is the opposite. In this scenario, since past and
present prices would impact future reference prices, prices can be considered control variables
and consumer reference prices would be state variables, which then impacts future sales. In a
competitive scenario, this might lead to a dynamic pricing policy, and this rationale differs from
other possible explanations for dynamic pricing, such as heterogeneity in information among
consumers (Varian, 1980), transfer of inventory holding costs from retailers to consumers
(Blattberg, Eppen, and Lieberman, 1981), brands with lower brand loyalty having more to gain
from dynamic pricing (Raju, Srinivasan, and Lal, 1990), and a mechanism for a punishment
strategy (Lal, 1990b).
Consider a dynamic version of the oneperiod model of Section 2.3. In this version, a
brand’s sales is affected by its own price, the price of the competing brand, and the reference
price. Demand for brand i, i = 1,2, in time t is given by:
36
J
it
=o
i
b
i
p
it
+c
i
p
]t
+ g
i
(r
it
p
it
)
Where g
i
= if r
it
> p
it
, else g
i
= .
Ignoring fixed costs, the objective function for each competitor i is to maximize the
discounted profit stream over a longterm horizon—i.e.,
max
p
it
[
t
(p
ìt
c)J
ìt
«
t=1
Where,
t = time
= discount rate (between 0 and 1)
p
it
= price
c = marginal cost
d
it
= demand for competitor i’s product in time t
This problem can be solved using a dynamic programming approach (Bertsekas, 1987) in a
competitive setting, where each competitor maximizes not just today’s profits but today’s profit
plus all the future profits by taking into consideration how today’s pricing would impact
tomorrow’s reference price and, hence, tomorrow’s profitability (Kopalle et al., 1996).
Of course, each player cannot ignore the actions of competing players when solving this
optimization problem, and we are interested in the players’ equilibrium behavior. The specific
type of equilibrium we use here is the subgame perfect equilibrium we defined for the
37
Stackelberg game in Section 2.5, but now applied to a more general dynamic game (also see
Fudenberg and Tirole, 1991). That is, a strategy is a subgame perfect equilibrium if it
represents a Nash equilibrium of every subgame of the original dynamic game.
Now we discuss the results of this model and distinguish two possible cases. One is
where customers care more about gains than losses—i.e., the impact of a unit gain is greater than
that of a unit loss ( > Such was the case in Greenleaf’s (1995) analysis of peanut butter
scanner data. In such a situation, in a monopoly setting Greenleaf (1995) finds that the subgame
perfect Nash equilibrium solution is to have a cyclical (HighLow) pricing strategy. In a
competitive setting, Kopalle, Rao, and Assunção (1996) extend this result and show that the
dynamic equilibrium pricing strategy is HighLow as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Equilibrium Prices Over Time
The other case is where customers are more loss averse (e.g., as found by Putler (1992) in the
case of eggs)—i.e., the impact of a loss is greater than that of a corresponding gain ( > ). It
2
2.2
2.4
2.6
2.8
3
3.2
3.4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
P
r
i
c
e
Week
Price Ref.price
38
turns out that the Nash equilibrium solution is to maintain a constant pricing policy for both
competitors. These results hold in an oligopoly consisting of N brands as well. Table 8 shows
the twoperiod profitability of two firms in a duopoly. The first and second numbers in each cell
refer to Firm 1’s and Firm 2’s profit over two periods. For both firms, constant pricing is the
dominant strategy, and the Nash equilibrium is a constant price in both periods:
Firm 2 Chooses…
F
i
r
m
1
C
h
o
o
s
e
s
.
.
Constant
Pricing
HighLow
Pricing
Constant
Pricing 95
95
100
90
HighLow
Pricing 90
100
90
90
Table 8: Expected payoffs for the reference price game. Entries in each cell are
payoffs to 1, 2.
In the more general case, where some consumers (say, segment 1) are loss averse (
1
>
1
)
and others (say, segment 2) are gain seeking (
2
>
2
), Kopalle et al. (1996) find that in a
competitive environment, a sufficient condition for a cyclical pricing policy to be a subgame
perfect Nash equilibrium is that the size of the gain seeking segment (i.e., nonlossaverse)
segment is not too low. As seen in Figure 4, as the relative level of lossaversion in segment 1
increases, i.e., (
1

1
)/(
2

2
) increases, the size of the gain seeking segment needs to be larger for
HighLow pricing to be an equilibrium.
39
Figure 4: HighLow Equilibrium Pricing Policy and Share of Gain Seeking Segment
Finally, note that reference prices may also be influenced by the prices of competing
brands. The equilibrium solutions of HighLow dynamic pricing policies hold under alternative
referenceprice formation processes, such as the reference brand context, where the current
period’s reference price is the current price of the brand bought in the last period.
3.4 Open Versus ClosedLoop Equilibria
Two general kinds of Nash equilibria can be used to develop competing pricing strategies in
dynamic games that are statedependent: open loop and closed loop (Fudenberg and Tirole,
1991).
In a statedependent dynamic game, an equilibrium is called an openloop equilibrium if the
strategies in the equilibrium strategy profile are functions of time alone.
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.25 0.5 0.75 1 1.25 1.5 1.75 2
S
h
a
r
e
o
f
G
a
i
n
S
e
e
k
i
n
g
S
e
g
m
e
n
t
Relative Level of Loss Aversion
40
In a statedependent dynamic game, an equilibrium is called a closedloop or a feedback
equilibrium if strategies in the equilibrium strategy profile are functions of the history of the
game, i.e., functions of the state variables.
The notation in dynamic models must be adapted to whether open or closedloop strategies are
used. Let S
it
represent the i
th
state variable at time t, and let P
c
denotes the pricing strategy of
competitor c. The notation P
c
(t) indicates an openloop strategy, while a function P
i
(S
it
, t) is a
closedloop strategy.
With openloop strategies, competitors commit at the outset to particular time paths of
pricing levels, and if asked at an intermediate point to reconsider their strategies, they will not
change them. In an openloop analysis of dynamic pricing in a duopoly, Chintagunta and Rao
(1996) show that the brand with the higher preference level charges a higher price. In addition,
they find that myopic price levels are higher than the corresponding dynamic prices. The authors
also provide some empirical evidence in this regard by using longitudinal purchase data obtained
from A. C. Nielsen scanner panel data on the purchases of yogurt in the Springfield, Missouri
market over a two year period. Their analysis focuses on the two largest, competing brands,
Yoplait (6 oz) and Dannon (8 oz). The empirical analysis shows that (i) the dynamic competitive
model fits the data better than a static model, and (ii) the preference level for Dannon is
noticeably higher than that for Yoplait. The equilibrium retail prices per unit are given in Table
9 under two different margin assumptions at the retailer.
41
Retail Margin Brand Dynamic Model Static Model
40% Yoplait $0.46 $1.83
40% Dannon $0.61 $1.08
50% Yoplait $0.39 $1.72
50% Dannon $0.55 $1.05
Table 9: Open Loop Equilibrium Prices Versus Static Model Results
It turns out that the actual prices were fairly close to the equilibrium prices generated by
the dynamic model, while the equilibrium static model prices are inflated relative to both the
dynamic model as well as reality. Further, the higher preference level for Dannon is reflected in
the higher pricing for the corresponding brand in the dynamic model results. The static model
essentially ignores the evolution of consumer preference over time due to past purchases.
One drawback of openloop Nash equilibria is that fixed, openloop strategies cannot be
modified on the basis of, say, current market share. Pricing managers, however, are unlikely to
put their strategies on automatic pilot and ignore challenges that threaten their market positions.
There are plenty of instances of companies and brands responding to competitive threats to their
market shares—for example, the “leapfrog” pricing of Coke and Pepsi at stores, where Coke is
on sale one week and Pepsi on sale the next. Closedloop equilibria are more realistic than open
loop strategies because they do allow strategies to adjust to the current state of the market.
Closedloop equilibria, however, are harder to solve (Chintagunta and Rao 1996), and their
analysis may require sophisticated mathematical techniques and approximations. For example,
42
in an airline revenue management context, Gallego and Hu (2008) develop a game theoretic
formulation of dynamically pricing perishable capacity (such as airplane seats) over a finite
horizon. Since such problems are generally intractable, the authors provide sufficient conditions
for the existence of openloop and closedloop Nash equilibria of the corresponding dynamic
differential game by using a linear functional approximation approach to the solution. Dudey
(1992) and MartinezdeAlbeniz and Talluri (2010) also describe dynamic revenue management
games.
3.5 A Dynamic Stackelberg Pricing Game
The Stackelberg game defined in Section 2.5 has been applied to the sequential pricing process
involving manufacturers and retailers. Initial research on this problem has focused on static
Stackelberg games (Choi 1991; McGuire and Staelin 1983; Lee and Staelin 1997; Kim and
Staelin 1999). In this game, the manufacturers maximize their respective brand profits, while the
retailer maximizes its category profits, which include profits from sales of the manufacturer’s
brand as well as other brands in that category. The decision variables are the wholesale and retail
prices, where the manufacturer decides the wholesale price first and then the retailer determines
the retail price. The models described in the references above, however, do not include
promotional dynamics over time.
To see how promotional dynamics can affect the game, consider a manufacturer that sells
a single product (product 1) to a retailer. The retailer sells both product 1 and a competing
brand, product 2, to consumers. Let p
k
be the retailer’s regular, undiscounted price of product k
= 1, 2, and let p
kt
be the retailer’s chosen price in period t. A promotion, a temporary price
reduction in product k, can lead to an immediate increase in sales, which we will capture in the
43
demand function d
kt
defined below. The promotion, however, may also have a negative impact
on sales in future periods because consumers buy more than they need in period t (stockpiling),
the discount may reduce brand equity, and/or the discount may reduce the product’s reference
price. We represent this effect of promotions in future periods with the term l
kt
, k=1, 2:
l
kt
=αl
k,t1
+(1 α)(p
k
p
kt
),
u ¸ α ¸ 1.
We use l
kt
in the following retaillevel demand function, to capture this lagged effect of
promotions on both baseline sales and price sensitivity. For (j,k) = (1,2) or (2,1),
J
kt
=o
k
(b
k
+b
k
l
kt
)p
kt
+(c
k
+c
k
l
]t
)p
]t
g
k
l
kt
. (2)
The second term is the direct impact of product k’s price on demand, where the price sensitivity
is adjusted by the lagged effect of promotion, l
kt
. The third term is the impact of product j’s
price on product k sales, adjusted by the effect of previous promotions for product j. The last
term is the lagged effect of product k promotions on baseline sales of product k (baseline sales
are sales that would occur when there are no promotions).
Now we describe the objective functions of the manufacturer and retailer. Within each
period t the manufacturer first sets a wholesale price w
1t
for product 1. Given marginal product
cost c
1
and discount rate [ (and ignoring fixed costs), the manufacturer’s objective over a finite
period t = 1…T is,
max
w
1t
[
t
(w
1t
c
1
)J
1t
.
1
t=1
44
Note that J
1t
depends upon the prices p
1t
and p
2t
that are chosen by the retailer in each period t
after the manufacturer sets its wholesale price. The retailer’s objective is,
max
p
1t
,p
2t
[
t
(p
kt
w
kt
)J
1t
2
k=1
.
1
t=1
Kopalle, Mela, and Marsh (1999) describe a more general version of this game, with any number
of retailers, any number of competing brands, and controls for seasonality, features and displays.
Their model also has an explicit term for the stockpiling effect, although when the model was fit
to data, the direct stockpiling effect was not significant. Finally, the model in Kopalle et al.
(1999) differs in a few technical details, e.g., the expressions above are in terms of the logarithm
of demand and price.
This interaction between manufacturer and retailer is an example of a closedloop,
dynamic Stackelberg game.
In a dynamic Stackelberg game, the leader and the follower make decisions in each period and
over time based on the history of the game until the current period.
In the oneperiod Stackelberg game of Section 2.5, the leader (in this case, the manufacturer)
only anticipates the single response from the follower (the retailer). In this dynamic game, the
leader must anticipate the retailer’s reactions in all future periods. Also, in the oneperiod game
the follower simply responds to the leader’s choice – the decision is not strategic. In this
dynamic game, when the retailer sets its price in period t, the retailer must anticipate the
manufacturer’s response in future periods. As in our previous dynamic games, one can solve this
45
game using Bellman’s (1957) principle of optimality and backward induction. This procedure
determines the manufacturer’s and retailer’s equilibrium pricing strategies over time.
Before solving for the manufacturer’s and retailers’ strategies, Kopalle et al. (1999)
estimate the parameters of the demand model, using one hundred twentyfour weeks of A. C.
Nielsen storelevel data for liquid dishwashing detergent. The results suggest that when a brand
increases use of promotions, it reduces its baseline sales; increases price sensitivity, thus making
it harder to maintain margins; and diminishes its ability to use deals to take share from
competing brands. Figure 5 shows a typical equilibrium solution for manufacturer’s wholesale
prices and the corresponding brand’s retail prices over time in the game.
Figure 5: Equilibrium Wholesale and Retail Prices
Kopalle et al. (1999) find that many other brands have flat equilibrium price paths, indicating
that for these brands, the manufacturer and retailer should curtail promotion because the
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
1.2
0 5 10 15 20 25
P
r
i
c
e
(
$
)
Week
wholesale
price
retail price
46
immediate sales increase arising from the deal is more than eliminated by future losses due to the
lagged effects of promotions.
In practice, estimates of baseline sales and responses to promotions often ignore past
promotional activity. In other words, the lagged promotional effects l
]t
and l
kt
in demand
function (2) are ignored. To determine the improvement in profits due to using a dynamic model
rather than a static model, one must compute the profits a brand would have had, assuming that it
had estimated a model with no dynamic effects. Comparing the static and dynamic Stackelberg
solutions, Kopalle et al. (1999) find that the use of a dynamic model leads to a predicted increase
in profits of 15.5 percent for one brand and 10.7 percent for another. These findings further
suggest that managers can increase profits by as much as 7 percent to 31 percent over their
current practices and indicate the importance of balancing the tradeoff between increasing sales
that are generated from a given discount in the current period and the corresponding effect of
reducing sales in future periods.
Promotions may stem from skimming the demand curve (Farris and Quelch, 1987), from
the retailer shifting inventory cost to the consumer (Blattberg et al., 1981), from competition
between national and store brands (Lal, 1990a; Rao, 1991), or from asymmetry in price response
about a reference price (Greenleaf 1995). Kopalle et al. (1999) show that another explanation for
dynamic pricing exists: the tradeoff between a promotion’s contemporaneous and dynamic
effects.
47
3.6 Testing Game—Theoretic Predictions in a Dynamic Pricing Context: How Useful Is a
GameTheory Model?
Prior research has illustrated some of the challenges of predicting competitive response. For
example, a change by a firm in marketing instrument X may evoke a competitive change in
marketing instrument Y (Kadiyali, Chintagunta, and Vilcassim, 2000; Putsis and Dhar, 1998).
Another challenge is that firms may “overreact” or “underreact” to competitive moves
(Leeflang and Wittink, 1996). Furthermore, it is unclear whether managers actually employ the
strategic thinking that game theoretic models suggest. Research by Montgomery, Moore, and
Urbany (2005) indicates that managers often do not consider competitors’ reactions when
deciding on their own moves, though they are more likely to do so for major, visible decisions,
particularly those pertaining to pricing. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask whether gametheory
models can be useful when planning pricing strategies and whether they can accurately predict
competitor responses. Here we describe research that examines whether the pricing policies of
retailers and manufacturers match the pricing policies that a game theory model predicts. The
research also examines whether it is important to make decisions using the game theory model
rather than a simpler model of competitor behavior, for example, one that simply extrapolates
from previous behavior to predict competitor responses.
In one research study, Ailawadi, Kopalle, and Neslin (2005) use a dynamic game theory
model to consider the response to P&G’s “value pricing” strategy, mentioned at the beginning of
this chapter. The high visibility of P&G’s move to value pricing was an opportunity to see
whether researchers can predict the response of competing national brands and retailers to a
major policy change by a market leader. The researchers empirically estimate the demand
48
function that drives the model, substitute the demand parameters into the game theoretic model,
and generate predictions of competitor and retailer responses. To the extent their predictions
correspond to reality, they will have identified a methodological approach to predicting
competitive behavior that can be used to guide managerial decision making.
Ailawadi et al. (2005) base their game theoretic model on the ManufacturerRetailer
Stackelberg framework similar to Kopalle et al. (1999), described in Section 3.5. Their model is
significantly more comprehensive in that it endogenizes (a) the national brand competitor’s price
and promotion decisions; (b) the retailer’s price decision for P&G, the national brand competitor,
and the private label; (c) the retailer’s privatelabel promotion decision; and (d) the retailer’s
forwardbuying decision for P&G and the national brand competitor. This model of the process
by which profitmaximizing agents make decisions includes temporal response phenomena and
decision making. In this sense, it is a “dynamic structural model.” Such models are particularly
well suited to cases of major policy change because they are able to predict how agents adapt
their decisions to a new “regime” than are reducedform models that attempt to extrapolate from
the past (Keane, 1997). However, they are more complex and present researchers with the thorny
question of how allencompassing to make the model.
To develop their model, Ailawadi et al. (2005) use the scanner database of the
Dominick’s grocery chain in Chicago and wholesaleprice and tradedeal data for the Chicago
market from Leemis Marketing Inc. Data were compiled for nine product categories in which
P&G is a player. Dominick’s sold a private label brand in six of these nine categories throughout
the period of analysis. The number of brands for which both wholesale and retail data are
available varies across categories, ranging from three to six. In total, there were 43 brands across
49
the nine categories (nine P&G brands, 28 national brand competitors, and six private label
competitors).
Dynamic Game Theoretic
Model
Statistical Model of
Competition Dynamics
Deal
Amount
Wholesale
Price
Retail
Price
Deal
Amount
Wholesale
Price
Retail
Price
% Directionally Correct
Predictions
78% 71% 78% 52% 48% 55%
% Directionally Correct
Predictions When Actual
Values Increased
79% 50% 87% 46% 25% 64%
% Directionally Correct
Predictions When Actual
Value Decreased
77% 93% 65% 60% 67% 36%
Table 10: Predictive Ability of A Dynamic GameTheoretic Model
Versus A Statistical Model Competition Dynamics
As seen in Table 10, their results show that a game theoretic model combined with strong
empirics does have predictive power in being able to predict directional changes in wholesale
deal amount given to the retailer by the manufacturer, wholesale price, and retail price. The
50
predictive ability of the directional changes ranges from 50% to 93%. The table shows that of
the times when the game theoretic model predicted that competitors would increase wholesale
deal amount, competitors actually increased it 79% of the time. This compares with correct
predictions of 46% for the statistical model of competitor behavior, which is essentially is a
statistical extrapolation of past behavior. The predictions of another benchmark model, where the
retailer is assumed to be nonstrategic, does no better with 46% correct predictions.
Their model’s prescription of how competitors should change wholesale price and trade
dealing and how the retailer should change retail price in response to P&G’s valuepricing
strategy is a significant predictor of the changes that competitors and Dominick’s in the Chicago
market actually made. This suggests that, in the context of a major pricing policy change,
managers’ actions are more consistent with strategic competitive reasoning than with an
extrapolation of past reactions into the future or with ignoring retailer reaction.
In the wake of its “Value Pricing” strategy, it turns out that P&G suffered a 16% loss in
market share across 24 categories (Ailawadi, Lehmann, and Neslin 2001). If P&G’s managers
had built a dynamic game theoretic model, they might have been able to predict (at least
directionally) the categories in which the competitors would follow suit versus retaliate. This
could have helped P&G to adopt a more surgical approach to its value pricing strategy instead of
a blanket strategy that cut across many categories.
The above test was for a major policy change and the findings support the view of
Montgomery et al. (2005) that when faced with highly visible and major decisions, especially
with respect to pricing, managers are more likely to engage in strategic competitive thinking. It
also supports the premise that when the agents involved are adjusting to a change in regime,
51
structural models are preferable to reducedform models. Other approaches such as the reaction
function approach (Leeflang and Wittink 1996) or a simplified gametheoretic model (for
example, assuming that the retailer is nonstrategic and simply uses a constant markup rule for
setting retail prices) may have better predictive ability for ongoing decisions and weektoweek
or monthtomonth reactions where managers are less likely to engage in competitive reasoning.
4. Implications for Practice
Firms have many opportunities to increase profitability by improving the way they manage price.
Many need better systems, such as enterprise software to manage strategy effectively and
optimize execution to support their decisions. Vendors provide tools that monitor customer
demand and measure how price is perceived compared to other retailers, helping to optimize
pricing. Assortment and spaceoptimization tools help retailers manage their merchandise and
shelf space, but these tools lack sophisticated predictive analytics. Although retailers can access
a range of data, such as pointofsale, packaged goods product information, competitor prices,
weather, demographics, and syndicated market data, they do not have the tools they need to
integrate all these data sources to manage strategies and optimize price in a competitive setting.
In particular, current pricing systems do not incorporate the strategic impact of pricing changes –
the dynamics described by game theory. The flowchart of Figure 6 is adapted from Kopalle et
al. (2008), and envisions a pricing system with modules that incorporate datadriven competitive
analysis. In the diagram, the “Strategic Framework” module contains the underlying model of
competition, and is driven by data on competitors.
The analysis conducted in the Strategic Framework module would focus on a variety of
questions, guided by the models introduced in this chapter. In Table 11 we lay out the
52
frameworks, using this chapter’s taxonomy of models. For the simultaneous, oneshot pricing
games in Box 1 (Nash games), the impact of product differentiation, and whether the products
are substitutes or complements become important issues to consider. As discussed earlier in the
chapter, there are advantages of moving first, thereby changing the game from a simultaneous to
sequential game. For the oneperiod sequential (Stackelberg) game in Box 2, while the
questions for Box 1 are still relevant, it is also important for a firm to recognize whether it is a
leader or follower. If it is a leader, it should anticipate the followers’ reactions to its moves. If a
follower, a firm should determine if it is advantageous to become a leader (sometimes it is not),
and consider how.
Figure 6: Pricing algorithm
Optimization
Demand Model
Data (POS,
Zones, Item
size, etc.)
Computer System
Pricing
Execution
Price Approval
Optimal Prices
Pricing Rules
(Psychological Price
Thresholds, Price
Laddering, Margin
Bounds)
Management Goals
(Profitability, Sales, Price
Image, Private Label
Penetration)
Competitor Data:
Price and Sales
history, Distance etc.
Strategic
Framework
53
Timing of actions
Simultaneous Sequential
N
u
m
b
e
r
o
f
p
e
r
i
o
d
s
One
Box 1: Static (oneshot)
Nash games
2: Stackelberg games
Multiple
3: Repeated and dynamic
games
4: Dynamic Stackelberg
games
Table 11: Strategic frameworks
Box 1’s questions also apply to Box 3, which refers to simultaneous games over multiple
periods. Here firms should also consider the degree to which their competitors take a strategic,
forwardlooking view. In addition, recall that in a retail application, the optimal strategy is
determined by the degree to which reference prices influence customer purchasing behavior, as
well as the strength of loss aversion among customers. Finally, we saw that when players repeat
a game over multiple periods, trigger strategies (such as titfortat) may be important. In box 4,
leaders in dynamic Stackelberg games should consider the impact of promotions on followers’
actions and on future profits. In contrast to the singleperiod game, followers cannot ignore the
future; they should consider the impact of their actions on leaders’ actions in later periods.
For all of these environments (boxes 14), fruitful application of game theory to pricing
requires that a firm understand its competitions’ pricing strategy. For retailers in particular, the
impact of competition has been well documented (Lal and Rao, 1997; Moorthy, 2005; Bolton
and Shankar, 2003; Shankar and Bolton, 2004), but a lack of knowledge of their competitors’
54
prices and strategies hinder retailers. Such knowledge is usually difficult to obtain, and that is
one reason why firms either (i) implement pricing systems that do not attempt to take competitor
strategies directly into account (perhaps by assuming that competitors’ current actions will not
change in the future), or (ii) implement simple, myopic strategies, given competitors’ actions. If
all firms in an industry choose (i), then they are still implicitly playing a game – they are
responding to their competitors’ actions indirectly, using information obtained by measuring
changes in their own demand functions. Recent research has shown that strategies based on
models that ignore competitors’ actions can lead to unpredictable, and potentially suboptimal,
pricing behavior (e.g., see Cooper et al. (2009)). If all firms in an industry choose (ii), however,
the results depend upon the myopic strategy. If firms only match the lowest competitor price
(and, say, ignore product differentiation), then firms simply drive prices down. There is a stream
of research that shows that firms in an oligopoly who choose the "best response" to the current
prices of their competitors will result in a sequence of prices that converges to the unique Nash
equilibrium from the simultaneous game (Gallego et al., 2006).
The models and frameworks presented in this chapter are most useful when a firm can
understand and predict its competitors’ pricing strategies. With improving price visibility on the
web and masses of data collected by retail scanners, there is much more data available about
competitors. Market intelligence services and data scraping services collect and organize such
information. Examples include QL2.com for the travel industries and Information Resources
Inc. for the consumer packaged goods industry. In the retailing world, some firms use hand held
devices to track competitors’ prices of key items.
55
It is difficult, however, to distill raw data into an understanding of competitor strategy. In
some industries, conferences can serve to disseminate price strategy information. In the airline
industry, for example, revenue management scientists attend the AGIFORS conference
(sponsored by the Airline Group of the International Federation of Operational Research
Societies) and share information about their pricing systems (this is not collusion – participants
do not discuss prices, pricing tactics, or pricing strategies but do discuss models and algorithms).
Consider another example from outside the airline industry: when one major firm implemented a
revenue management system, they were concerned that their competitors would interpret their
targeted local discounting as a general price "drop" and that a damaging price war would ensue.
A senior officer of the firm visited various industry conferences to describe revenue management
at a high level to help prevent this misconception on the part of the competitors. In the abstract,
such information may be used to design pricing systems that are truly strategic.
Of course, game theory motivates us to ask whether providing information about our
pricing system to a competitor will improve our competitive position. There are certainly games
where knowledge shared between competitors can improve performance for both players:
compare, for example, the oneshot prisoner’s dilemma (with its equilibrium in which both
‘confess’) with a repeated game in which competitors anticipate each others’ strategies and settle
into an equilibrium that is better for both.
In general, our hope is that this chapter will help nudge managers toward making
analyticsbased pricing decisions that take into account competitor behavior. Further, our view
is that a significant barrier to the application of game theory to pricing is the extent to which
mathematical and behavioral game theory, developed at the individual level, is not applicable to
56
firmlevel pricing decisions. In particular, a pricing decision is the outcome of group dynamics
within the firm, which can be influenced by a range of factors that are different from factors that
drive individual behavior. Recall from this chapter the research on individual behavior in
laboratory pricing games (e.g., Duwfenberg and Gneezy, 2000; Camerer, 2003) as well as one
attempt to empirically validate a game theory model of pricing at the firm level (Ailawadi et al.,
2005). There has been little research in between these extremes. More work is needed to
identify the general characteristics of firms’ strategic pricing behavior, and we believe that there
is a significant opportunity for research to bridge this gap.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Ozalp Ozer, Robert Phillips, and an anonymous referee for their helpful
suggestions.
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accurately predict competitors’ behavior, P&G would have to consider each competitor’s beliefs about P&G itself. For example, it was possible that Unilever, a competing manufacturer, might increase its discounting if it believed that P&G was not fully committed to EDLP but otherwise might itself adopt EDLP. Therefore, P&G’s decision on whether and how to adopt EDLP depended on the responses of its competitors, which, in turn, depended upon their beliefs about what P&G was going to do. P&G’s actions depended on Uniliver’s, which depended on P&G’s—a chickenandegg problem that can make your head spin. There is, however, an approach to problems like this that can cut through the complexity and help managers make better pricing decisions. That approach, game theory, was first developed as a distinct body of knowledge by mathematicians and economists in the 1940s and ’50s (see the pioneering work by von Neumann and Morgenstern, 1944, and Nash, 1950). Since then, it has been applied to a variety of fields, including computer science, political science, biology, operations management, and marketing science. In this chapter, we first introduce the basic concepts of game theory by using simple pricing examples. We then link those examples with both the research literature and industry practice, including examples of how game theory has been used to understand P&G’s value pricing initiative and the competitive response. In Section 2 we define the basic elements of a game and describe the fundamental assumptions that underlie game theory. In the remaining sections we examine models that provide insight into how games work (e.g., understanding various types of equlibria) as well as how competition affects pricing. The models may be categorized according to two attributes: the timing of actions and the number of periods (Table 1). In many of the models, competitors make simultaneous pricing decisions, so that neither 2
player has more information about its competitor’s actions than the other. In other games with sequential timing, one competitor sets its price first. Some games have a single period (we define a ‘period’ as a time unit in which each player takes a single action), while other games will have multiple time periods, and actions taken in one period may affect actions and rewards in later periods. Along the way, we will make a few side trips: a brief look at behavioral game theory in Section 3.2 and some thoughts on implications for the practice of pricing in Section 4. Timing of actions Simultaneous One periods Sections 2.12.4, 2.6 Sequential Section 2.5
Number of
Multiple
Sections 3.1 – 3.4
Sections 3.53.6
Table 1: Game types in this chapter This chapter does not contain a rigorous description of the mathematics behind game theory, nor does it cover all important areas of the field. For example, we will not discuss cooperative game theory, in which participants form coalitions to explicitly coordinate their prices (in many countries, such coalitions would be illegal). We will, however, say a bit more about cooperative games at the end of Section 2.6. For a more complete and rigorous treatments of game theory, we recommend Fudenberg and Tirole (1991), Myerson (1991), and Gibbons (1992). For more examples of how practitioners can make use of game theory for many decisions in addition to pricing, we recommend Dixit and Nalebuff (1991). Moorthy (1985) focuses on marketing applications such 3
peertopeer systems. Finally. and the flow of information through social networks. Chevron. prediction markets. The popular press and trade journals also report on how game theory can influence corporate strategy. Cachon and Netessine (2006) discuss applications of game theory to supply chain management. For example Rappeport (2008) describes how game theory has been applied at Microsoft. In the valuepricing example above. If we know the strategy profile. distributed computation. (2007) describe computational approaches to game theory for applications such as information security. 2. Nisan et.com/). and payoffs (rewards for each player for all combinations of strategies). and to develop new business models for the internet (see labs. and other firms. the collection of players’ strategies is called a strategy profile. communications networks. Introduction to Game Theory: SinglePeriod Pricing Games A game is defined by three elements: players. al. A game consists of players (participants in the game). and payoffs. the players might be P&G and Unilever.com/ and research. their strategies are the prices they set over time under certain conditions. then we know how every player will act for any situation in the game.yahoo. 4 .as marketentry decisions and advertising programs. strategies (plans by each player that describe what action will be taken in any situation). strategies that may be used by each player. Given that each player has chosen a strategy. information intermediaries such as Yahoo and Google employ research groups that develop game theory models to understand how consumers and firms use the web. and the payoffs are the profits they make under various combinations of pricing schemes.google. as well as pricing.
When no player has private information about the game that is unavailable to the other players. The analysis usually ends with a description of equilibrium strategies . is that all players know the identities. and when all players know that the information is available to all players. One fascinating aspect of game theory is that these equilibrium strategies can often be quite different from the best overall strategy that might be achieved if the players were part of a single firm that coordinated their actions. the second step is to determine which strategy each player will play under various circumstances.When describing a game. however. We will see that competition often can make both players worse off. In some instances. and Milgrom. The first is to make clear the implications of the rules—to fully understand the relationships between the strategies and the payoffs. we will let one player observe the other player’s choice before making a decision.a strategy profile that the players may settle into and will not want to change. there are two basic steps. it is also important to specify the information that is available to each player. 1981. and payoffs of all other players. When analyzing a game. as in a game of tictactoe. one firm may have more accurate information than its competitor about how its own customers respond to price changes by the 5 . This analysis may begin with a description of each player’s optimal strategy given any strategy profile for the other players. At other times. For example. Once we understand how the game works. a player may have private information. we will sometimes consider situations in which each player must decide upon a strategy to use without knowing the strategy chosen by the other player. For example. for more formal descriptions of the common knowledge assumption). 1976. and an assumption we hold in much of this chapter. A typical assumption in game theory. we say that the facts of the game are common knowledge (see Aumann. available strategies.
In general. We also assume that the players are rational.. Therefore. See Gibbons (1992) and Harsanyi (1967) for more background on Bayesian games. Such games of incomplete information are sometimes called Bayesian games. that firms make pricing decisions to maximize their profits. Finally. we assume both firms will charge either a High price or a Low price for all units (see Table 2). each player knows that its competitors are anticipating its own choices. we assume that the players have an infinite hierarchy of beliefs about strategies in the game. and Bayes’ rule is used to update the players’ beliefs as the game is played. a handheld device that includes technology for cheap. For the purposes of this example. 2. This assumption is vital for understanding why competitors may achieve the Nash equilibrium described in the next Section. Therefore.1 A First Example: Pricing the UltraPhone and the Prisoner’s Dilemma Consider two players. efficient 3dimensional videoconferencing. each has to set a price for the phone without knowing the price set by its competitor. the firms’ possible actions are to price ‘High’ or ‘Low. 6 . i.competitor. firms A and B. therefore. and making choices accordingly. each player can put itself in its competitors’ shoes and anticipate its competitors’ choices. we assume that each player knows that the other players are rational.e.’ and each firm’s strategy is a plan to charge one of these two prices. Pushing further. for uncertainty and probability are important elements of the game. Both firms will release their UltraPhones at the same time and. that have simultaneously developed virtually identical versions of what we will call the UltraPhone. The assumption also highlights a key insight that can be developed by studying game theory – the importance of anticipating your competitors’ actions.
“What should we charge for our phone?” Before looking at the competitive analysis. if they were not competitors but instead were divisions of one firm that is a monopoly producer of this product.Price Unit contribution margin at that price Number in segment 2. consider what the firms should do if they coordinate—e. both firms ask. At the High price. if the phone is offered for the Low price by either firm.000.000 2. and segments for the UltraPhone To complete the description of the game. We also assume that if both firms charge the same price. at the Low price. And we assume both firms can always manufacture a sufficient number of phones to satisfy any number of customers. the firms’ unit contribution margin is $800/phone.g. Note that in this example.000 High Low $800 $300 Table 2: Prices.000.. and the maximum price each segment is willing to pay is very different. There are two segments of customers for the UltraPhone. Given the information in Table 1. there is no reliable way to discriminate between segments. The total contribution margin given the High price is 2 million*$800 = $1. the firms’ unit contribution margin is $300/phone. then both the two million Low customers and the two million High customers will buy it for that Low price. margins. then sales are split equally between the two firms. we describe the payoffs under each strategy profile. The two million people in the “High” segment are all willing to pay the High price (but would. while the two million people in the “Low” segment are only willing to pay the Low price.6 billion. prefer the Low price). The margin given the Low price is (2 million + 2 million)*$300 = 7 . of course.
$1.2 billion. Therefore, the optimal solution for a monopoly is to set prices to exclusively target the highend market. B Chooses… High A Chooses... High 8 8 0 12 6 0 6 Low 12
Low
Table 3: The UltraPhone game. Entries in each cell are payoffs to A (lower number in each cell) and to B (upper number in each cell) in $100 millions. Now we turn to the competitive analysis—the game. The two competing firms, A and B, face the situation shown in Table 3, which represents a normal form of a game. The rows correspond to the two different strategies available to firm A: price High or Low. The columns correspond to the same strategies for B. The entries in the tables show the payoffs, the total contribution margins for firm A (the lower number in each cell of the table) and firm B (the upper number in each cell) in units of $100 million. If both price High (the upper left cell), then they split the $1.6 billion equally between them. If both price Low (bottom right cell), then they split the $1.2 billion. For the cell in the upper right, A prices High but B prices Low, so that B captures all of the demand at the Low price and gains $1.2 billion. The lower left cell shows the reverse.
8
Given this payoff structure, what should the firms do? First, consider firm A’s decision, given each strategy chosen by B. If B chooses High (the first column), then it is better for A to choose Low. Therefore, we say that Low is player A’s best response to B choosing High. A player’s best response is the strategy, or set of strategies, that maximizes the player’s payoff, given the strategies of the other players. If B chooses Low (the second column), then firm A’s best response is to choose Low as well. The fact that it is best for A to price Low, no matter what B does, makes pricing Low a particular type of strategy, a dominant one. A strategy is a dominant strategy for a firm if it is optimal, no matter what strategy is used by the other players. Likewise, dominated strategies are never optimal, no matter what the competitors do. Pricing Low is also a dominant strategy for B: no matter what A chooses, Low is better. In fact, the strategy profile [A Low, B Low] is the unique Nash Equilibrium of this game; if both firms choose Low, then neither has a reason to unilaterally change its mind. The firms are in a Nash Equilibrium if the strategy of each firm is the best response to the strategies of the other firms. Equivalently, in a Nash equilibrium, none of the firms have any incentive to unilaterally deviate from its strategy. This is the only equilibrium in the game. For example, if A chooses High and B chooses Low, then A would have wished it had chosen Low and earned $600 million rather than $0. Note that
9
for the Nash equilibrium of this game, both firms choose their dominant strategies, but that is not always the case (see, for example, the Nash equilibria in the Game of Chicken, Section 2.3). Because we assume that both firms are rational and fully anticipate the logic used by the other player (the infinite belief hierarchy), we predict that both will charge Low, each will earn $600 million, and the total industry contribution margin will be $1.2 billion. This margin is less than the optimal result of $1.6 billion. This is a wellknown result: under competition, both prices and industry profits decline. We will see in Section 3.1, however, that it may be possible to achieve higher profits when the game is played repeatedly. This particular game is an illustration of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two criminal suspects are apprehended and held in separate rooms. If neither confesses to a serious crime, then both are jailed for a short time (say, one year) under relatively minor charges. If both confess, they both receive a lengthy sentence (five years). But if one confesses and the other doesn’t, then the snitch is freed and the silent prisoner is given a long prison term (10 years). The equilibrium in the Prisoner’s Dilemma is for both prisoners to confess, and the resulting fiveyear term is substantially worse than the cooperative equilibrium they would have achieved if they had both remained silent. In the UltraPhone example, the LowLow strategy is equivalent to mutual confession. The strategy profile [A Low, B Low] is a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies. It is a pure strategy equilibrium because each player chooses a single price. The players might also consider a mixed strategy, in which each player chooses a probability distribution over a set of pure strategies (see Dixit and Skeath, 1999, chapter 5, for an accessible and thorough discussion of mixed strategies). The equilibrium concept is named after John Nash, a mathematician who 10
11 . In certain games. no matter what price is charged. in which the firms’ strategies are quantities rather than prices. As in the example above. The higher the quantities the firms choose.showed that if each player has a finite number of pure strategies. See Weber [this volume] for additional discussion of Bertrand and Cournot competition. there may not exist a pure strategy equilibrium and as we will see in Section 2. and in a Bertrand competition. It can be shown that if demand is a continuous linear function of price and if both firms have the same constant marginal cost. prices are driven down to their lowest limit. Under a Cournot competition between two firms. 2. the lower the price. In the theoretical limit (an infinite number of competitors). in which two firms produce identical products and compete only on price.4. it is also possible to have multiple purestrategy equilibria. Both the UltraPhone example and the Bertrand model assume that it is always possible for the firms to produce a sufficient quantity to supply the market. As the number of firms competing in the market increases. 1950). the Bertrand model does not fit industries with capacity constraints that are expensive to adjust.2 Bertrand and Cournot Competition The UltraPhone game is similar to a Bertrand competition. however. competition drives price down. the Cournot equilibrium price falls. An alternative model is Cournot competition. the price drops down to the marginal cost. however. Therefore. the resulting Nash equilibrium price is higher than the marginal cost (the Bertrand solution) but lower than the monopoly price. with no product differentiation. then the only Nash equilibrium is for both firms to set a price equal to their marginal cost. then there must always exist at least one mixed strategy or pure strategy equilibrium (Nash.
We will relax this assumption in the next section.1). firms may choose from a variety of prices.g. 2. all customers chose the lowest price.3 Continuous Prices. In practice. B does not steal all the demand. given that the competitors charge pi and pj. then the products are complements: a lower price charged by A raises demand for both products. so that the firm offering the lowest price attracts all demand. We define the linear demand function. we say that the products are substitutes: a lower price charged by firm A leads to more demand for A’s product and less demand for B’s (although if B A. product A and a specialized accessory (e. and we now must define the payoffs. another important assumption of Bertrand competition is that the products are identical. ) be the demand for product i. the products are substitutes. If c=0 12 . In this game. Here we assume that the products are differentiated. a docking station) would be complements. so that some customers receive different utilities from the products and are therefore loyal. If c > 0. a player’s strategy is the choice of a price. First we describe how each competitor’s price affects demand for the product. and Best Response Functions In Section 2. they will purchase from firm A or B. In the UltraPhone example. let .Besides the assumption that there are no capacity constraints. as in Section 2. If c < 0. so now assume that each firm chooses a price over a continuous range.1 we restricted our competitors to two choices: High and Low prices. In the last section. Product Differentiation.. Specifically. even if the other firm offers a lower price. given the strategies. Let firm i's price be pi (i=A or B). . .
This optimal price is a function of the competitor’s price. Figure 1: Best response functions in the UltraPhone pricing game with product differentiation Now let m be the constant marginal cost to produce either product. and solving algebraically for pi. . and therefore we call (1) the best response function of i to j. This function is concave with respect to pi. . and both firms choose their optimal monopoly price. Firm i's margin is therefore m . there is no interaction between the firms. and we find. this is the continuous equivalent of the best response defined in 13 . and therefore the optimal price for firm i given that firm j charges pj can be found by taking the derivative of the function with respect to pi. setting that first derivative equal to 0. Let be the resulting optimal price.then the two products are independent.
if Firm B chooses $633. so that if one firm raises its prices then the best response of the competitor is to lower its price. With nonidentical firms (e. Figure 1 shows the two best response functions on the same graph. For example. the lines would slope downward. Firm A’s best response is a price of $550. the best response of one firm rises with the price of the other firm. From the function. In general.1. In this example. for a given set of parameters a=3000. Note that as c rises.3.g.Section 2. and [$633. If the products are complements. the equilibrium prices satisfy equation (1) when i is Firm A as well as when i is Firm B. 1984). and the products move from being complements to substitutes. c=2¸and m=$200/unit. then so does Firm A. then there can be a unique equilibrium in which the firms choose different prices (Singh and Vives. neither firm has any reason to deviate from choosing $633. b=4. we see that if the products are substitutes and c > 0 (as in this case). By solving these two equations we find. then Firm B’s best response is also $633. if Firm B sets a price of $300. We will discuss additional extensions of this model. if they have different parameter values in the demand function and/or different marginal costs). 14 . $633] is the unique Nash equilibrium.. in Section 3. The plot also shows that if Firm A chooses a price of $633. including the role of reference prices. 2 . the equilibrium price declines. Therefore. the firms are identical and therefore the equilibrium is symmetric (both choose the same price). Likewise.
. both firms would have 15 . although we also incorporate product differentiation. while if B chooses Low. If both firms price High or both price Low. B Chooses… High A Chooses. The payoffs from this new game are shown in Table 4. High 8 8 6.6 6 6.4 6 Low 9. The lower left cell shows the reverse. then A’s best response is to choose Low. Likewise. 40 percent of the Highsegment customers are loyal to firm B. Assume that 40 percent of the Highsegment customers are loyal to firm A and will choose A’s product even if A chooses a High price while B chooses a Low price. neither firm has a dominant strategy. A’s best response is to choose High.4 Multiple Equilibria and a Game of Chicken Now return to the UltraPhone pricing game with two price points. and [A Low. as in Section 2.1.3. then A’s margin is 40%*(2 million)*$800 = $640 million while B’s margin is (60%*(2 million) + 2 million)*$300 = $960 million. if the firms find themselves in that cell.. If A prices High and B prices Low (the upper right cell). as in Section 2. If B chooses High. In this game. then the payoffs do not change. B Low] is no longer an equilibrium. in $100 millions The presence of loyal customers significantly changes the behavior of the players.6 Low Table 4: Payoffs for the UltraPhone game with loyal customers.4 9.2.
But [A High.2 and a Low price with probability 0. Many of these innovations depend upon the theory of dynamic games. obviously. Given either combination. In fact. If each player randomly selects a High price with probability 0.an incentive to move to High. If one swerves and the other doesn’t. which one? Behavioral explanations have been proposed to answer this question – see Section 3. neither firm has any incentive to unilaterally move to another strategy. This example is analogous to a game of “chicken” between two automobile drivers. game theorists have invented variations of the Nash equilibrium to address these questions. this game has two pure strategy Nash equilibria: [A High. In addition. there are two pure strategy equilibria in the game of chicken. Each of these two equilibria represents a split in the market between one firm that focuses on its own Highend loyal customers and the other that captures everyone else. then neither player has any incentive to choose a different strategy. the payoff is. 1 The existence of multiple equilibria poses a challenge for both theorists and practitioners who use game theory. Given the many possible equilibria. They race towards one another and if neither swerves.2. If both swerve. 16 . and they lay out criteria that exclude certain types of strategies and equilibria. These variations are called refinements.8. both would then want to move to Low. As in Table 4. higher. in which the game is played in multiple stages over time (see Section 1 There is also a mixedstrategy equilibrium for the game in Table 4. B High]. the one who did not swerve receives the highest award. they crash. will players actually choose one? If so. producing the worst outcome—in our case [A Low. B Low] and [A Low. B High] is not an equilibrium either. while the one who “chickened out” has a payoff that is lower than if they had both swerved but higher than if the driver had crashed. each with one driver swerving and the other driving straight. B Low].
The subgame perfect equilibrium described in the next section is one such refinement. Fudenberg and Tirole. The release and price announcement dates are set in stone—e.4. in the game of chicken. assume that the oneweek “lag” does not significantly affect the sales assumptions introduced in Sections 2. Either firm may publicize potential prices before those dates. firm A has committed to announcing its price and sending its products to retailers on the first Monday of the next month. It is important to note that these are the actual pricing dates..3). Section 8. 1975. but retailers will only accept the prices given by firm A on the first Monday and firm B on the second Monday. In this Section we will see how this problem is resolved if one player moves first and chooses its preferred equilibrium. For descriptions of additional refinements.1 and 2. For the UltraPhone competition.5 Sequential Action and a Stackelberg Game In the previous Section. while firm B will announce its price and send its products to retailers a week later. we assumed that both firms set prices simultaneously without knowledge of the other’s decision.g. 2. imagine that one driver rips out her steering wheel and throws it out her window. This sequential game has a special name. We saw how this game has two equilibria and that it is difficult to predict which one will be played. assume that firm A has a slight lead in its product development process and will release the product and announce its price first. Also. 17 . Another is the tremblinghand perfect equilibrium in which players are assumed to make small mistakes (or “trembles”) and all players take these mistakes into account when choosing strategies (Selten. while the other driver watches. 1991. see Govindan and Wilson (2005).4).
4. this does not mean that firm B actually sets the price 18 . and the Stackelberg equilibrium is [A Low.6. we see what firm B would choose. Suppose that firm B states before the crucial month arrives that no matter what firm A decides. 6. It is important to note.6) (9.4) B chooses High (9.work up from the bottom of the diagram. it is optimal for A to choose low. given either action by firm A.8) (6.4) (6.6. while the other player (the follower) moves second after observing the action of the leader.4. The left side of Figure 2 shows the extensiveform representation of the game.9. Given the payoffs from these choices. 6.6) Figure 2: Analysis of the UltraPhone game with loyal customers and A as a first mover One can identify an equilibrium in a Stackelberg Game (a Stackelberg equilibrium) by backwards induction . it will choose to price Low (again. with the highest payoff—$960 million—going to firm A. First. A chooses High B chooses High Low B chooses Low A chooses High B chooses Low (6. one player (the leader) moves first.6) Low B chooses High (9. B Low] is still a Nash equilibrium for the full game.9. 6. with A’s choice as the first split at the top of the diagram and B’s choice at the bottom. B would choose Low if A chooses High and would choose High if A chooses Low. firm A has guided the game towards its preferred equilibrium. that [A High. By moving first. As the second tree in Figure 2 shows.In a Stackelberg Game. however.6. B High].4) A chooses Low Low High (8.
then it will choose High in order to avoid the worstcase [A Low. B Low]. it seems natural to require that the strategies each player chooses also lead to an equilibrium in each subgame. An equilibrium that includes B Low after A Low is not Nash. and prices for various types of tickets are set in advance. it would be better for B to abandon its threat and choose High. it is not optimal for B to choose Low as well. Once A has chosen Low. In a subgame perfect equilibrium. In this case. just that it claims it will). The capacity of seats on each flight is fixed over the short term. B Low] outcome. When defining an equilibrium strategy. we say that [A Low. as in the simultaneous game of Section 2. the two firms set prices. The dynamics of airline pricing often are quite different. Therefore.to Low before the second Monday of the month.4. Therefore.6 An Airline Revenue Management Game In the UltraPhone game. If firm A believes this threat. and we assume the firms can easily adjust production quantities to accommodate demand. another equilibrium may be [A High. B High] is a subgame perfect equilibrium but that [A High. 2. the strategies chosen for each subgame is a Nash equilibrium of that subgame. B’s strategy “price Low no matter what A does” does not seem to be part of a reasonable equilibrium because B will not price Low if A prices Low first. We say that B’s choices (the second level in Figure 1) are subgames of the full game. the number of seats 19 . As the departure of a flight approaches. B Low] is not. But can firm A believe B’s threat? Is the threat credible? Remember that A moves first and that B observes what A has done.
As was true for the initial UltraPhone example. we will assume that the single flight operated by each airline has only one seat left for sale. Suppose two airlines. [this volume]. For example. Kimes et al. however. X and Y. and Lieberman [this volume] for descriptions of applications. Given the advancepurchase requirement. the insights generated by the model hold for realistic scenarios. To increase revenue. are called “highfare customers.” Customers who prefer to purchase later. both airlines may establish a booking limit for lowfare tickets: a 20 . This dynamic adjustment of seat inventory is sometimes called revenue management. offer direct flights between the same origin and destination. As we will discuss below. Here. we will describe a game in which two airlines simultaneously practice revenue management. The advancepurchase restriction. at the higher price. see Talluri [this volume] for additional information of the fundamentals of revenue management as well as Barnes [this volume]. A ticket purchased at either fare is for the same physical product: a coachclass seat on one flight leg. We assume that each flight has just one seat available. so that the airlines seek to maximize expected revenue. segments the market and allows for price discrimination between customers with different valuations of purchasetime flexibility. Both airlines sell two types of tickets: a lowfare ticket with an advancepurchase requirement for $200 and a highfare ticket for $500 that can be purchased at any time.” Assume marginal costs are negligible. with departures and arrivals at similar times. we assume that demand for lowfare tickets occurs before demand for highfare tickets. the game will be a simplified version of reality.available at each price is adjusted over time. Customers who prefer a low fare and are willing to accept the purchase restrictions will be called “lowfare customers. however.
5 Prob{1}=0. Each airline chooses to either close the lowfare class (“Close”) and not sell a lowfare ticket.5 Airline X Airline Y 1 (guaranteed) 1 (guaranteed) Prob{0}=0. 21 . we assume that customer will attempt to purchase a ticket from the other airline (we call these “overflow passengers”). (In our case.) Once this booking limit is reached by ticket sales. This information is summarized in Table 5.5 Table 5: Customer segments for the revenue management game The following is the order of events in the game: 1. Airlines establish booking limits. or keep it open (“Open”). both airlines are faced with a random initial demand as well as demand from customers who are denied tickets by the other airline.5 Prob{0}=0. 2. the low fare is closed and only highfare sales are allowed. Demand Fare Class Low High Ticket Price $200 $500 Prob{1}=0. In this revenue management game. We assume that for each airline. there is a 100 percent chance that a lowfare customer will attempt to purchase a ticket followed by a 50 percent chance that a highfare customer will attempt to purchase a ticket.restriction on the number of lowfare tickets that may be sold. the decision whether to Close or remain Open is the airline’s strategy. Passengers denied a reservation by both airlines are lost. A lowfare passenger arrives at each airline and is accommodated (and $200 collected) if the lowfare class is Open. the booking limit is either 0 or 1. If a customer is denied a ticket by one airline. Therefore.
then X books a lowfare customer for $200 while Y has a chance to book a highfare customer.5)*$500 = $250... If both choose to Close. where each outcome has probability 0. so that each has an expected value of (0. Each airline either receives a highfare passenger or does not see any more demand. If a passenger arrives. each has a 50 percent chance to book a high fare.5) 22 . 4. Y Chooses… Open X Chooses.3. the passenger is accommodated (and $500 collected). In the upper right cell. Table 6 shows the payoffs for each combination of strategies. Entries in each cell are payoffs to X. That highfare customer may either be a customer who originally desired a flight on Y (who arrives with probability 0. If both airlines choose to keep the lowfare class Open. A highfare passenger who is not accommodated on the firstchoice airline spills to the alternate airline and is accommodated there if the alternate airline has closed its seat from a lowfare customer and has not sold a seat to its own highfare customer. Open 200 Close 375 200 250 200 200 250 Close 375 Table 6: Expected payoffs for the airline revenue management game. if X chooses to Open and Y chooses to Close. both book customers for $200. and if the lowfare class has been closed.5. Y.
while the number of tickets sold (the load factor) declines. In Table 6. Therefore. under competition. Note that this game is not precisely the same as the UltraPhone game/Prisoner’s Dilemma discussed in Section 2. just as it is in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.5)(0. competition leads the airlines from an optimal coordinated solution [X Open. competition drove prices down. In that game. Y Open]. Under the Nash equilibrium. Netessine and Shumsky (2005) analyze a similar game with two customer classes and any number of available seats. Y Open] to the Nash equilibrium [X Close.1. By examining Table 6.(0. however. as compared to the monopoly solution. Y Open]. Y’s expected revenue is [1. under the coordinated solution. There is another interesting comparison to make with the UltraPhone game. then the airline that chooses Open foregoes the opportunity to book a highfare customer. Therefore. Y Close] or [X Close. The competitive equilibrium. one lowfare ticket is sold and one highfare ticket may be sold. the airlines could have done even worse with [X Open.or a spillover from X (who also arrives. we see that the only Nash equilibrium is [X Close. the highest total revenue across both airlines—$575—is obtained with strategies [X Open.5)]*$500 = $375. The use of seat inventory control by the airlines and the lowtohigh pattern of customer valuations inverts the Bertrand and Cournot 23 . and they confirm that this general insight continues to hold. Y Close]. If one airline chooses to Close.5). independently. only highfare tickets may be sold. more seats are reserved for highfare customers. with probability 0. is inferior in terms of aggregate revenue to the cooperative solution. In this game. The lower left cell shows the reverse situation. Y Close]. Y Close] or [X Close. The Nash equilibrium has an expected total revenue of $500.
He simulates up to 4 airlines with 3 competing flights offered by each airline and six fare classes on each flight. offer more than two fare classes. 2007).. Occasionally airlines do attempt to collude and get caught. airlines may compete on multiple routes. Of course. Such pricefixing is illegal in the United States. Canada. Dudey (1992) and MartinezdeAlbeniz and Talluri (2010) analyze the dynamic revenue management problem. and British Airways paid a large fine (Associated Press. however. agree to one of the monopoly solutions. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic conspired to simultaneously raise their prices on competing routes by adding fuel surcharges to their tickets. the airlines may prefer to collaborate.S. Department of Justice.results. and then split the larger pot so that both airlines would come out ahead of the Nash outcome. Virgin Atlantic reported on the plot to the U. while reducing consumer surplus. Jiang and Pang (2007) extend this model to airline competition over a network. d'Huart (2010) uses a computer simulation to compare monopoly and oligopoly airline revenue management behavior. e. and many other countries. In general. such collusion can increase overall profits. The simulation also incorporates many of the forecasting and dynamic revenue management heuristics used by the airlines. a fundamental question is whether such collusion is stable when airlines do not have enforceable agreements to cooperate as well as explicit methods 24 . In the absence of such legal risks.g. and do not make a single revenue management decision simultaneously. In practice. competition in the revenue management game raises the average price paid for a ticket as compared to the average price charged by a monopolist. The results of the simulation correspond to our models’ predictions: fewer passengers are booked under competition. but with a higher average fare. in which the airlines adjust booking limits dynamically over time. the European Union.
Such joint ventures. while United. Cooperative game theory focuses on how the value created by the coalition may be distributed among the participants. and we will see how the price equilibria predicted by the models can help firms to understand markets and set 25 . The ability of such joint ventures to sustain themselves depend upon whether each participant receives a net benefit from joining the coalition. We will then describe a variety of dynamic models. In this Section we will first explain how dynamic models differ from the models presented in the last Section.for distributing the gains from cooperation. 2008. Dynamic Pricing Games Pricing competition can be viewed from either a static or a dynamic perspective. Lufthansa. are the exception rather than the rule in the airline business and elsewhere. 3. Viewing competitive pricing strategies from a dynamic perspective can provide richer insights. than when using static models. each player has an incentive to deviate from the monopoly solution to increase its own profits. however. In Section 3 we will discuss how repeated play can produce outcomes other than the singleplay Nash equilibrium describe above. airlines have received permission from the Department of Justice to coordinate pricing and split the profits. 2009). As we have seen from the examples above. Continental and Air Canada began coordinating pricing and revenue management on their transatlantic flights in 2009 (BTNonline. Dynamic models incorporate the dimension of time and recognize that competitive decisions do not necessarily remain fixed. DOT. In certain cases in the United States. and for some questions more accurate answers. and therefore we will continue to focus on noncooperative game theory.com. and how this distribution affects coalition stability. Northwest and KLM have had such an agreement since 1993.
. dynamic models are treated as multiperiod games because critical variables—sales. storelevel scanner data). we make clear what we mean by a dynamic game: If a game is played exactly once.prices. Dynamic competitive pricing situations can be analyzed in terms of either continuous or discrete time. it is a singleperiod. which are an abstraction. Therefore. and so forth—are assumed to change over time based on the dynamics in the marketplace. it is a dynamic or a multiperiod game. or a oneshot. In a dynamic game. weekly price changes at stores or the availability of weekly. If a pricing game is played more than once. That chapter also describes models that examine. Generally speaking. Other related chapters include Ramakrishnan 26 . the effects of strategic customers. are discretized for estimation of model parameters from market data. in more detail. First. Finally. and perhaps most significantly. market share. a firm’s strategy is a set of values for the control variables. or a static game. Any dynamic model of pricing competition must consider the impact of competitors’ pricing strategies on the dynamic process governing changes in sales or marketshare variables. we will show how pricing data collected from the field has been used to test the predictions made by game theory models. and even continuoustime models. pricing data from the market is discrete in nature (e. decision variables in each period are sometimes called control variables. See Aviv and Vulcano [this volume] for more details on dynamic policies that do not take competitors’ strategies directly into account. Typically.g. In this section we will describe a variety of dynamic pricing policies for competing firms.
and the design of contracts to elicit accurate information from supply chain partners. where competing firms may not lower prices as much as they would have otherwise in a oneshot Prisoner’s Dilemma.. keeping them at the same level during all weeks into the future.5 and 3. Blattberg and Breisch [this volume]. i. etc.).1 Effective Competitive Strategies in Repeated Games We have seen in Section 2. of course. Firms have a continuous interaction with each other for many weeks in a row. For additional discussion of issues related to behavioral game theory (discussed in Section 3. the effects of asymmetric forecast information. This last chapter is closely related to the material in Sections 2.. 3. Therefore. oneperiod game. however. firms would. A repeated game is a dynamic game in which past actions do not influence the payoffs or set of feasible actions in the current period. while examining specific contracts between wholesalers and retailers (e. firms rarely consider competition for one week and set prices simply for that week. there is no explicit link between the periods. For example. formulating the pricing game as a multiperiod problem may identify strategies under which firms achieve a cooperative equilibrium. in an information sharing 27 . revenue sharing. for it also describes Stackelberg games. and this continuous interaction gives rise to repeated games.g. and Kaya and Ozer [this volume]. rarely do we see oneperiod interactions. In a repeated game setting.1 how a Prisoner’s Dilemma can emerge as the noncooperative Nash equilibrium strategy in a static. below). be more profitable if they could avoid the Prisoner’s Dilemma and move to a more cooperative equilibrium. buyback. As another example.e.2.[this volume]. see Ozer and Zheng [this volume]. In the real world.5.
Fourteen of the entries were from people who had published research articles on game theory or the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In his experiment. but may be repeated with some probability. it also can set off a long string of recriminations and counterrecriminations. as illustrated by Axelrod and Hamilton (1981). the former received five points while the latter received nothing.context. and. and paired each entry with each other entry. Although a single defection may be successful when analyzed for its direct effect. where one firm begins with a cooperative pricing strategy and subsequently copies the competing firm’s previous move. 28 . In cases where one player defected while the other cooperated. won the tournament. This strategy is probably the best known and most often discussed rule for playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a repeated setting. The titfortat strategy (submitted by Anatol Rapoport. He invited contestants to submit strategies. For each move. Özer. players received three points for mutual cooperation and one point for mutual defection. Rapoport’s titfortat was the winning strategy (Dixit and Nalebuff 1991). Axelrod’s research emphasized the importance of minimizing echo effects in an environment of mutual power. Zheng. A robust approach in such contexts is the “titfortat” strategy. Axelrod (1984). and Chen (2009) discuss the importance of trust and determine that repeated games enhance trust and cooperation among players. Axelrod repeated the tournament with more participants and once again. Such cooperative equilibria may also occur if the game is not guaranteed to be repeated. a mathematics professor at the University of Toronto). and also discussed in Dixit and Nalebuff (1991). Axelrod set up a computer tournament in which pairs of contestants repeated the twoperson prisoner’s dilemma game 200 times. the simplest of all submitted programs.
In such an analysis. where Coca Cola and PepsiCo account for twothirds of all sales. similar arrangements can be found. where relationships develop between players. both sides suffer. Lal’s (1990a) analysis of price promotions over time in a competitive environment suggests that price promotions between national firms (say Coke and Pepsi) can be interpreted as a long run strategy by these firms to defend market shares from possible encroachments by store brands. 29 . 3. Rao (1991) provides further support for the above finding and shows that when the competition is asymmetric. “[s]urveys have shown that many soda drinkers tend to buy whichever brand is on special. leading to subtle and important consequences.when it does.2 Behavioral Considerations in Games We now step back and ask if our game theory models provide us with a sufficiently accurate representation of actual behavior. a store agrees to feature only one brand at any given time. Under the Coke and Pepsi bottlers’ calendar marketing arrangements. the national brand promotes to ensure that the private label does not try to attract consumers away from the national brand. Coke bottlers happened to have signed such agreements for 26 weeks and Pepsi bottlers the other 26 weeks!” In other markets. Behavioral considerations can be important for both static games and for repeated games. For example. and cookies (Lal. titfortat may be seen as a punishment strategy (sometimes called a trigger strategy) that can produce a supportive collusive pricing strategy in a noncooperative game. such as ketchup. 1990b). cereals. a Consumer Reports article (Lal. 1990b) noted that in the softdrink market. Some anecdotal evidence from the beverage industry in support of such collusive strategies is available.
“ …game theory students often ask: “This theory is interesting…but do people actually play this way?’ The answer. There are no interesting games in which subjects reach a predicted equilibrium immediately. an employer and a worker. etc.g. Given that the underlying assumptions may not be satisfied. the mathematics of game theory must often be merged with theories of behavior based on models of social utility (e.4: when there is more than one equilibrium in a game.g. The result of this merger is the fastgrowing field of behavioral economics and.” Camerer and his colleagues have found that to accurately predict human behavior in games. Psychologists and behavioral game theorists have tested how player behavior evolves over many repetitions of such games.” These events include the particular roles ascribed to each player in the game (e. limitations on reasoning. and learning over time. the concept of fairness).).The assumptions we laid out at the beginning of Section 2 – rational players and the infinite belief hierarchy – can sometimes seem farfetched when we consider real human interactions. are the predicted results of the games reasonable? When describing research on human behavior in games. is mixed. equal partners.. more specifically. the social norms 30 . it is difficult to predict player behavior. Camerer (2003) states. not surprisingly. behavioral game theory. And there are no games so complicated that subjects do not converge in the direction of equilibrium (perhaps quite close to it) with enough experience in the lab.. Behavioral game theory can shed light on a problem we saw in Section 2. over repeated trials of games with multiple equilibria played in a laboratory. According to Binmore (2007). the players’ behavior evolves towards particular equilibria because of a combination of chance and “historical events.
The student with the lowest bid in the group won a prize that was proportional to the size of that student’s bid. but by the tenth round the bids did converge towards 2. the competitive strategies that each player has experienced during previous trials of the game. For larger groups of 3 and 4. players can be directed to nonequilibrium “focal points. 3 or 4 to bid a number from 2 to 100. and the average winning bid was 26). the bids were consistently higher than 2 (over two rounds of ten trials each. by manipulating these historical events. which is equivalent to pricing at marginal cost in the Bertrand game. however.that may be generated in repeated games with the same players.1 by asking students in groups of 2. Binmore also describes how.” although when left to their own devices players inevitably move back to a Nash equilibrium. For example. No matter how many competitors. Duwfenberg and Gneezy found that when their experiments involved two players. Duwfenberg and Gneezy (2000) simulated the Bertrand game of Section 2.as described in the previous Section of this Chapter . most importantly. in that the lowest price (or ‘bid’ in the experiment) captures the entire market. the initial rounds also saw bids substantially higher than the Nash equilibrium value of 2. This bidreward process was repeated 10 times. Therefore. the Nash equilibrium in this game is for all players to bid 2. the average bid was 38. the experiment is equivalent to the oneperiod Bertrand pricing game of Section 2.1. 31 . with the participants in each group randomized between each of the 10 rounds to prevent collusive behavior . and.that the subjects bring into the laboratory. Behavioral game theorists have also conducted laboratory tests of the specific pricing games that we describe in this chapter.
and (iii) impacts future payoffs (e. (ii) depends on the decision or control variables. A great majority of experiments conducted by behavioral game theorists involve experimental subjects under controlled conditions. 3. such as bounded rationality or a preference for fairness.Camerer (2003) describes hundreds of experiments that demonstrate how actual player behavior can deviate from the equilibrium behavior predicted by classical. in which the current period payoff may be a function of the history of the game.. He also shows how behavioral economists have gone a step further. Ozer and Zheng [this volume] discuss many issues related to behavioral game theory. sales or profitability). to explicitly test the accuracy of behavioral explanations for these deviations. but by individuals or groups of people in firms.g. a state variable is a quantity that (i) defines the state of nature. We will return to the question of game theory’s applicability. actual pricing decisions are not made by individuals in laboratories. to observe actual pricing behavior by firms and compare those prices with predictions made by game theory models. In a dynamic game. 32 . An alternate to laboratory experiments is an empirical approach. In addition.3 StateDependent Dynamic Pricing Games Statedependent dynamic pricing games are a generalization of repeated games. and see an example of this empirical approach. Armstrong and Huck (2010) discuss the extent to which these experiments may be used to extrapolate to firm behavior. in Section 3. who are subject to a variety of (sometimes conflicting) financial and social incentives. mathematical game theory. Of course.6.
If present decisions do not affect future opportunities.80 Table 7: Static vs. and altering the costs of still others. the planning problem is trivial. precluding others. Present decisions affect future events by making certain opportunities available. In other words. Rao and Bass (1985) consider dynamic pricing under competition where the dynamics relate primarily to cost reductions through experience curve effects. one need only make the best decision for the present. Static Period 1 Equilibrium Price Period 2 Equilibrium Price $2. Dynamic Pricing Example 33 . The Table 7 illustrates the impact of dynamic pricing under competition relative to a static. We are taught early in life about the necessity to plan ahead.90 Dynamic $1.85 $1. pricing actions today will have an impact on future sales as well as sales today. In their pioneering work. It is shown that with competition. The rest of this section deals with solving dynamic pricing problems where the periods are physically linked while considering the impact of competition.In a statedependent dynamic game. there is an explicit link between the periods. dynamic pricing strategies dominate myopic pricing strategies. This implies that firms realize lower product costs with increases in cumulative production.00 $1. and past actions influence the payoffs in the current period. twoperiod competitive game.
$2. should competing retailers also employ an everyday low pricing strategy or should they follow a HighLow pricing pattern? In addition. say. and pt1 is the retail price in the previous period. a dynamic game would recommend a price that is less than $2.85) in period 1 and even lower than $1. hence. thus increasing cumulative production. This allows for an even lower price in the second period. 34 .00 (say. where more recent prices are weighted more than less recent prices (Winer 1986): 1 1 1.In other words. Consider P&G’s value pricing strategy discussed earlier in the chapter. $1. based on the pricing environment. One process for referenceprice formation is the exponentially smoothed averaging of past observed prices. under what conditions would a HighLow pricing policy be optimal? The answer may depend upon the impact reference prices have on customer purchase behavior. and cumulative sales at the beginning of each period would be considered a state variable that affects future marginal cost and. $1. rt1 is the reference price in the previous period.00 per unit for a widget in the first period and $1. A reference price is an anchoring level formed by customers.90 (say. future profitability. 0 ≤ α < 1. In such a setting.90 in the second period. In such a setting. prices in each period are the control (or decision) variables. given the corresponding stable cost to a retailer from the manufacturer.80) in the period 2. where rt is the reference price in period t. This is because a lower price in the first period would increase sales in that initial period. in turn. Another pricing challenge involving state dependence is the management of reference prices. which. while a static game may suggest an equilibrium price of. would reduce the marginal cost in the second period by more than the amount realized under a static game.
Kalyanaram and Little 1994) suggests that demand for a brand depends on not only the brand price but also whether that brand price is greater than the reference price (a perceived loss) or is less than the reference price (a perceived gain). prices can be considered control variables and consumer reference prices would be state variables. and Lal. In this version. the absolute value of the impact of a gain is greater than that of a loss. In this scenario. the price of the competing brand. and Raj 1997. such as heterogeneity in information among consumers (Varian. Consider a group of frequently purchased consumer brands that are partial substitutes. transfer of inventory holding costs from retailers to consumers (Blattberg. and Lieberman. Demand for brand i. which then impacts future sales. can be regarded as a memory parameter. Greenleaf 1995. Consider a dynamic version of the oneperiod model of Section 2. and in yet other categories. in time t is given by: 35 . i = 1. Thus. 1990). Krishnamurthi. 1981). Eppen. a gain would increase sales and a loss would decrease sales. the reference price in period t equals the observed price in period t1. in some product categories. brands with lower brand loyalty having more to gain from dynamic pricing (Raju. with = 0 corresponding to a oneperiod memory. this might lead to a dynamic pricing policy. a brand’s sales is affected by its own price. rt becomes increasingly dependent on past prices. It turns out that the responses to gains and losses relative to the reference price are asymmetric.If = 0. Briesch. Mazumdar. Srinivasan. Putler 1992. In a competitive scenario. Second. 1980).3. since past and present prices would impact future reference prices. and this rationale differs from other possible explanations for dynamic pricing. and a mechanism for a punishment strategy (Lal. and the reference price.2. it is the opposite. Research (Winer 1986. First. 1990b). As increases.
gi Where gi = if rit > pit. the objective function for each competitor i is to maximize the discounted profit stream over a longterm horizon—i.e. hence. 1996). 1987) in a competitive setting. tomorrow’s profitability (Kopalle et al. where each competitor maximizes not just today’s profits but today’s profit plus all the future profits by taking into consideration how today’s pricing would impact tomorrow’s reference price and. else gi = . Of course. The specific type of equilibrium we use here is the subgame perfect equilibrium we defined for the 36 .. and we are interested in the players’ equilibrium behavior. each player cannot ignore the actions of competing players when solving this optimization problem.. max Where. t = time = discount rate (between 0 and 1) pit = price c = marginal cost dit = demand for competitor i’s product in time t This problem can be solved using a dynamic programming approach (Bertsekas. Ignoring fixed costs.
2 3 Price 2.4 2.g.6 2..Stackelberg game in Section 2. It 37 ... the impact of a unit gain is greater than that of a unit loss ( > Such was the case in Greenleaf’s (1995) analysis of peanut butter scanner data. a strategy is a subgame perfect equilibrium if it represents a Nash equilibrium of every subgame of the original dynamic game.5. the impact of a loss is greater than that of a corresponding gain ( > ). and Assunção (1996) extend this result and show that the dynamic equilibrium pricing strategy is HighLow as shown in Figure 3.8 2. One is where customers care more about gains than losses—i. 1991). Now we discuss the results of this model and distinguish two possible cases. Kopalle. as found by Putler (1992) in the case of eggs)—i.e. but now applied to a more general dynamic game (also see Fudenberg and Tirole. 3.4 3. in a monopoly setting Greenleaf (1995) finds that the subgame perfect Nash equilibrium solution is to have a cyclical (HighLow) pricing strategy.e.price Figure 3: Equilibrium Prices Over Time The other case is where customers are more loss averse (e. That is. In a competitive setting. Rao.2 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Week Price Ref. In such a situation.
turns out that the Nash equilibrium solution is to maintain a constant pricing policy for both competitors. nonlossaverse) segment is not too low. Constant Pricing HighLow Pricing 90 95 100 90 95 100 90 HighLow Pricing 90 Table 8: Expected payoffs for the reference price game.. as the relative level of lossaversion in segment 1 increases. The first and second numbers in each cell refer to Firm 1’s and Firm 2’s profit over two periods. For both firms. segment 1) are loss averse (1>1) and others (say. In the more general case. 38 .e. Kopalle et al. (1996) find that in a competitive environment. segment 2) are gain seeking (2>2). Table 8 shows the twoperiod profitability of two firms in a duopoly. Entries in each cell are payoffs to 1. These results hold in an oligopoly consisting of N brands as well. the size of the gain seeking segment needs to be larger for HighLow pricing to be an equilibrium. where some consumers (say. 2. (11)/(22) increases.. constant pricing is the dominant strategy. and the Nash equilibrium is a constant price in both periods: Firm 2 Chooses… Constant Pricing Firm 1 Chooses.e. As seen in Figure 4. a sufficient condition for a cyclical pricing policy to be a subgame perfect Nash equilibrium is that the size of the gain seeking segment (i. i..
4 Open.7 0.Share of Gain Seeking Segment 0.2 0. an equilibrium is called an openloop equilibrium if the strategies in the equilibrium strategy profile are functions of time alone. note that reference prices may also be influenced by the prices of competing brands. The equilibrium solutions of HighLow dynamic pricing policies hold under alternative referenceprice formation processes.25 0. where the current period’s reference price is the current price of the brand bought in the last period.3 0.4 0. 39 . 1991). In a statedependent dynamic game.6 0.75 2 Relative Level of Loss Aversion Figure 4: HighLow Equilibrium Pricing Policy and Share of Gain Seeking Segment Finally.5 1.1 0 0.5 0. such as the reference brand context.5 0.75 1 1.25 1. 3.Versus ClosedLoop Equilibria Two general kinds of Nash equilibria can be used to develop competing pricing strategies in dynamic games that are statedependent: open loop and closed loop (Fudenberg and Tirole.
e. competing brands. they will not change them. The authors also provide some empirical evidence in this regard by using longitudinal purchase data obtained from A. The notation in dynamic models must be adapted to whether open or closedloop strategies are used. Their analysis focuses on the two largest. competitors commit at the outset to particular time paths of pricing levels. In addition. Nielsen scanner panel data on the purchases of yogurt in the Springfield. and (ii) the preference level for Dannon is noticeably higher than that for Yoplait. Let Sit represent the ith state variable at time t. and if asked at an intermediate point to reconsider their strategies. and let Pc denotes the pricing strategy of competitor c.. they find that myopic price levels are higher than the corresponding dynamic prices. In an openloop analysis of dynamic pricing in a duopoly. functions of the state variables. With openloop strategies. C. an equilibrium is called a closedloop or a feedback equilibrium if strategies in the equilibrium strategy profile are functions of the history of the game. 40 . The equilibrium retail prices per unit are given in Table 9 under two different margin assumptions at the retailer. Missouri market over a two year period. i. The empirical analysis shows that (i) the dynamic competitive model fits the data better than a static model. t) is a closedloop strategy. Chintagunta and Rao (1996) show that the brand with the higher preference level charges a higher price. Yoplait (6 oz) and Dannon (8 oz).In a statedependent dynamic game. The notation Pc(t) indicates an openloop strategy. while a function Pi(Sit.
08 $1. For example. 41 . however.05 Table 9: Open Loop Equilibrium Prices Versus Static Model Results It turns out that the actual prices were fairly close to the equilibrium prices generated by the dynamic model. There are plenty of instances of companies and brands responding to competitive threats to their market shares—for example. Closedloop equilibria are more realistic than openloop strategies because they do allow strategies to adjust to the current state of the market. and their analysis may require sophisticated mathematical techniques and approximations.39 $0. One drawback of openloop Nash equilibria is that fixed. openloop strategies cannot be modified on the basis of. the higher preference level for Dannon is reflected in the higher pricing for the corresponding brand in the dynamic model results. the “leapfrog” pricing of Coke and Pepsi at stores.46 $0. are unlikely to put their strategies on automatic pilot and ignore challenges that threaten their market positions. where Coke is on sale one week and Pepsi on sale the next.72 $1.Retail Margin 40% 40% 50% 50% Brand Yoplait Dannon Yoplait Dannon Dynamic Model $0.55 Static Model $1. Further.83 $1. Pricing managers. however. Closedloop equilibria. The static model essentially ignores the evolution of consumer preference over time due to past purchases. current market share. while the equilibrium static model prices are inflated relative to both the dynamic model as well as reality. are harder to solve (Chintagunta and Rao 1996). say.61 $0.
undiscounted price of product k be the retailer’s chosen price in period t. The decision variables are the wholesale and retail prices. a temporary price reduction in product k. which include profits from sales of the manufacturer’s brand as well as other brands in that category. Since such problems are generally intractable. however.5 A Dynamic Stackelberg Pricing Game The Stackelberg game defined in Section 2. to consumers. 2. do not include promotional dynamics over time. and let be the retailer’s regular.5 has been applied to the sequential pricing process involving manufacturers and retailers. consider a manufacturer that sells a single product (product 1) to a retailer. Lee and Staelin 1997. Let = 1. McGuire and Staelin 1983. the authors provide sufficient conditions for the existence of openloop and closedloop Nash equilibria of the corresponding dynamic differential game by using a linear functional approximation approach to the solution. In this game. Gallego and Hu (2008) develop a game theoretic formulation of dynamically pricing perishable capacity (such as airplane seats) over a finite horizon. Kim and Staelin 1999). A promotion. product 2. 3. while the retailer maximizes its category profits. The models described in the references above. To see how promotional dynamics can affect the game. Dudey (1992) and MartinezdeAlbeniz and Talluri (2010) also describe dynamic revenue management games.in an airline revenue management context. where the manufacturer decides the wholesale price first and then the retailer determines the retail price. The retailer sells both product 1 and a competing brand. which we will capture in the 42 . Initial research on this problem has focused on static Stackelberg games (Choi 1991. the manufacturers maximize their respective brand profits. can lead to an immediate increase in sales.
k) = (1. The third term is the impact of product j’s price on product k sales. and/or the discount may reduce the product’s reference price. For (j. The last term is the lagged effect of product k promotions on baseline sales of product k (baseline sales are sales that would occur when there are no promotions).2) or (2. may also have a negative impact on sales in future periods because consumers buy more than they need in period t (stockpiling). Now we describe the objective functions of the manufacturer and retailer. 43 . We represent this effect of promotions in future periods with the term lkt. for product 1. the discount may reduce brand equity. 2: α . however. the manufacturer’s objective over a finite max .1). We use lkt in the following retaillevel demand function. . where the price sensitivity is adjusted by the lagged effect of promotion. to capture this lagged effect of promotions on both baseline sales and price sensitivity.demand function dkt defined below. Within each period t the manufacturer first sets a wholesale price cost c1 and discount rate period t = 1…T is. k=1. Given marginal product (and ignoring fixed costs). . 0 α 1. The promotion. adjusted by the effect of previous promotions for product j. 1 α . (2) The second term is the direct impact of product k’s price on demand.
Also. dynamic Stackelberg game. the manufacturer) only anticipates the single response from the follower (the retailer). one can solve this 44 . In the oneperiod Stackelberg game of Section 2. the model in Kopalle et al. the direct stockpiling effect was not significant.Note that depends upon the prices and that are chosen by the retailer in each period t after the manufacturer sets its wholesale price. e. and Marsh (1999) describe a more general version of this game. with any number of retailers. when the retailer sets its price in period t. Kopalle.. Their model also has an explicit term for the stockpiling effect. . the leader must anticipate the retailer’s reactions in all future periods. and controls for seasonality. Mela.5. although when the model was fit to data. any number of competing brands. In a dynamic Stackelberg game. The retailer’s objective is. the retailer must anticipate the manufacturer’s response in future periods. In this dynamic game. This interaction between manufacturer and retailer is an example of a closedloop.g. In this dynamic game. features and displays. (1999) differs in a few technical details. Finally. in the oneperiod game the follower simply responds to the leader’s choice – the decision is not strategic. As in our previous dynamic games. max . the leader (in this case. the expressions above are in terms of the logarithm of demand and price. the leader and the follower make decisions in each period and over time based on the history of the game until the current period.
thus making it harder to maintain margins. C.game using Bellman’s (1957) principle of optimality and backward induction. the manufacturer and retailer should curtail promotion because the 45 . This procedure determines the manufacturer’s and retailer’s equilibrium pricing strategies over time. it reduces its baseline sales. using one hundred twentyfour weeks of A. increases price sensitivity.4 0 5 10 Week 15 20 25 Figure 5: Equilibrium Wholesale and Retail Prices Kopalle et al.8 wholesale price 0. Before solving for the manufacturer’s and retailers’ strategies. The results suggest that when a brand increases use of promotions. Nielsen storelevel data for liquid dishwashing detergent. and diminishes its ability to use deals to take share from competing brands. (1999) estimate the parameters of the demand model.6 0. Kopalle et al. (1999) find that many other brands have flat equilibrium price paths. indicating that for these brands. 1.2 1 Price ($) retail price 0. Figure 5 shows a typical equilibrium solution for manufacturer’s wholesale prices and the corresponding brand’s retail prices over time in the game.
(1999) show that another explanation for dynamic pricing exists: the tradeoff between a promotion’s contemporaneous and dynamic effects. To determine the improvement in profits due to using a dynamic model rather than a static model. 1987).immediate sales increase arising from the deal is more than eliminated by future losses due to the lagged effects of promotions.5 percent for one brand and 10. 1981). or from asymmetry in price response about a reference price (Greenleaf 1995). Kopalle et al. from the retailer shifting inventory cost to the consumer (Blattberg et al. (1999) find that the use of a dynamic model leads to a predicted increase in profits of 15. These findings further suggest that managers can increase profits by as much as 7 percent to 31 percent over their current practices and indicate the importance of balancing the tradeoff between increasing sales that are generated from a given discount in the current period and the corresponding effect of reducing sales in future periods. 1990a. Kopalle et al. the lagged promotional effects and in demand function (2) are ignored.. 1991). In other words.7 percent for another. 46 . one must compute the profits a brand would have had. Comparing the static and dynamic Stackelberg solutions. Rao. from competition between national and store brands (Lal. estimates of baseline sales and responses to promotions often ignore past promotional activity. In practice. Promotions may stem from skimming the demand curve (Farris and Quelch. assuming that it had estimated a model with no dynamic effects.
Putsis and Dhar. particularly those pertaining to pricing. For example.6 Testing Game—Theoretic Predictions in a Dynamic Pricing Context: How Useful Is a GameTheory Model? Prior research has illustrated some of the challenges of predicting competitive response. Chintagunta. The research also examines whether it is important to make decisions using the game theory model rather than a simpler model of competitor behavior. it is unclear whether managers actually employ the strategic thinking that game theoretic models suggest. 1996).3. and Urbany (2005) indicates that managers often do not consider competitors’ reactions when deciding on their own moves. Here we describe research that examines whether the pricing policies of retailers and manufacturers match the pricing policies that a game theory model predicts. one that simply extrapolates from previous behavior to predict competitor responses. Kopalle. visible decisions. for example. though they are more likely to do so for major. Therefore. Moore. 2000. mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. 1998). and Neslin (2005) use a dynamic game theory model to consider the response to P&G’s “value pricing” strategy. In one research study. The researchers empirically estimate the demand 47 . The high visibility of P&G’s move to value pricing was an opportunity to see whether researchers can predict the response of competing national brands and retailers to a major policy change by a market leader. Another challenge is that firms may “overreact” or “underreact” to competitive moves (Leeflang and Wittink. it is reasonable to ask whether gametheory models can be useful when planning pricing strategies and whether they can accurately predict competitor responses. Research by Montgomery. Furthermore. a change by a firm in marketing instrument X may evoke a competitive change in marketing instrument Y (Kadiyali. and Vilcassim. Ailawadi.
Dominick’s sold a private label brand in six of these nine categories throughout the period of analysis. In total. To develop their model. and the private label. In this sense. Ailawadi et al. and (d) the retailer’s forwardbuying decision for P&G and the national brand competitor.function that drives the model. they will have identified a methodological approach to predicting competitive behavior that can be used to guide managerial decision making. The number of brands for which both wholesale and retail data are available varies across categories. it is a “dynamic structural model. (b) the retailer’s price decision for P&G.” Such models are particularly well suited to cases of major policy change because they are able to predict how agents adapt their decisions to a new “regime” than are reducedform models that attempt to extrapolate from the past (Keane. described in Section 3. Ailawadi et al. they are more complex and present researchers with the thorny question of how allencompassing to make the model. Data were compiled for nine product categories in which P&G is a player. the national brand competitor. 1997). there were 43 brands across 48 . ranging from three to six. Their model is significantly more comprehensive in that it endogenizes (a) the national brand competitor’s price and promotion decisions. substitute the demand parameters into the game theoretic model. (2005) base their game theoretic model on the ManufacturerRetailer Stackelberg framework similar to Kopalle et al. To the extent their predictions correspond to reality. and generate predictions of competitor and retailer responses.5. However. This model of the process by which profitmaximizing agents make decisions includes temporal response phenomena and decision making. (c) the retailer’s privatelabel promotion decision. (1999). (2005) use the scanner database of the Dominick’s grocery chain in Chicago and wholesaleprice and tradedeal data for the Chicago market from Leemis Marketing Inc.
and retail price. 28 national brand competitors. The 49 . Dynamic Game Theoretic Model Statistical Model of Competition Dynamics Deal Amount Wholesale Price Retail Price Deal Amount Wholesale Price Retail Price % Directionally Correct 78% Predictions 71% 78% 52% 48% 55% % Directionally Correct 79% Predictions When Actual Values Increased % Directionally Correct 77% Predictions When Actual Value Decreased 50% 87% 46% 25% 64% 93% 65% 60% 67% 36% Table 10: Predictive Ability of A Dynamic GameTheoretic Model Versus A Statistical Model Competition Dynamics As seen in Table 10. and six private label competitors). their results show that a game theoretic model combined with strong empirics does have predictive power in being able to predict directional changes in wholesale deal amount given to the retailer by the manufacturer.the nine categories (nine P&G brands. wholesale price.
50 . It also supports the premise that when the agents involved are adjusting to a change in regime. and Neslin 2001). Lehmann. especially with respect to pricing. (2005) that when faced with highly visible and major decisions. In the wake of its “Value Pricing” strategy. If P&G’s managers had built a dynamic game theoretic model. managers are more likely to engage in strategic competitive thinking. The above test was for a major policy change and the findings support the view of Montgomery et al. they might have been able to predict (at least directionally) the categories in which the competitors would follow suit versus retaliate. The predictions of another benchmark model. does no better with 46% correct predictions. competitors actually increased it 79% of the time. where the retailer is assumed to be nonstrategic. The table shows that of the times when the game theoretic model predicted that competitors would increase wholesale deal amount. it turns out that P&G suffered a 16% loss in market share across 24 categories (Ailawadi. This could have helped P&G to adopt a more surgical approach to its value pricing strategy instead of a blanket strategy that cut across many categories. Their model’s prescription of how competitors should change wholesale price and trade dealing and how the retailer should change retail price in response to P&G’s valuepricing strategy is a significant predictor of the changes that competitors and Dominick’s in the Chicago market actually made. This suggests that. in the context of a major pricing policy change. which is essentially is a statistical extrapolation of past behavior. This compares with correct predictions of 46% for the statistical model of competitor behavior.predictive ability of the directional changes ranges from 50% to 93%. managers’ actions are more consistent with strategic competitive reasoning than with an extrapolation of past reactions into the future or with ignoring retailer reaction.
The analysis conducted in the Strategic Framework module would focus on a variety of questions. demographics. and envisions a pricing system with modules that incorporate datadriven competitive analysis. Implications for Practice Firms have many opportunities to increase profitability by improving the way they manage price. assuming that the retailer is nonstrategic and simply uses a constant markup rule for setting retail prices) may have better predictive ability for ongoing decisions and weektoweek or monthtomonth reactions where managers are less likely to engage in competitive reasoning. Although retailers can access a range of data. The flowchart of Figure 6 is adapted from Kopalle et al. In Table 11 we lay out the 51 . weather. competitor prices. such as enterprise software to manage strategy effectively and optimize execution to support their decisions. current pricing systems do not incorporate the strategic impact of pricing changes – the dynamics described by game theory. In particular. 4. the “Strategic Framework” module contains the underlying model of competition. guided by the models introduced in this chapter. Assortment and spaceoptimization tools help retailers manage their merchandise and shelf space. packaged goods product information. In the diagram. they do not have the tools they need to integrate all these data sources to manage strategies and optimize price in a competitive setting.structural models are preferable to reducedform models. and is driven by data on competitors. but these tools lack sophisticated predictive analytics. (2008). Other approaches such as the reaction function approach (Leeflang and Wittink 1996) or a simplified gametheoretic model (for example. helping to optimize pricing. Vendors provide tools that monitor customer demand and measure how price is perceived compared to other retailers. such as pointofsale. Many need better systems. and syndicated market data.
there are advantages of moving first. Competitor Data: Price and Sales history. it should anticipate the followers’ reactions to its moves. Price Image. Distance etc. Item size.frameworks.) Optimal Prices Computer System Price Approval Pricing Execution Figure 6: Pricing algorithm 52 . For the simultaneous. Zones. Strategic Framework Management Goals (Profitability. a firm should determine if it is advantageous to become a leader (sometimes it is not). thereby changing the game from a simultaneous to sequential game. If a follower. using this chapter’s taxonomy of models. For the oneperiod sequential (Stackelberg) game in Box 2. and whether the products are substitutes or complements become important issues to consider. If it is a leader. As discussed earlier in the chapter. Private Label Penetration) Pricing Rules (Psychological Price Thresholds. the impact of product differentiation. it is also important for a firm to recognize whether it is a leader or follower. and consider how. oneshot pricing games in Box 1 (Nash games). Sales. etc. while the questions for Box 1 are still relevant. Margin Bounds) Demand Model Optimization Data (POS. Price Laddering.
fruitful application of game theory to pricing requires that a firm understand its competitions’ pricing strategy. which refers to simultaneous games over multiple periods. they should consider the impact of their actions on leaders’ actions in later periods. recall that in a retail application. In box 4. followers cannot ignore the future. Finally. but a lack of knowledge of their competitors’ 53 . 2003. Moorthy. 2005. we saw that when players repeat a game over multiple periods. Here firms should also consider the degree to which their competitors take a strategic. forwardlooking view. For all of these environments (boxes 14). Shankar and Bolton. 1997. In addition. 2004). the optimal strategy is determined by the degree to which reference prices influence customer purchasing behavior.Timing of actions Simultaneous Box 1: Static (oneshot) Number of periods One Nash games 2: Stackelberg games Sequential 3: Repeated and dynamic Multiple games 4: Dynamic Stackelberg games Table 11: Strategic frameworks Box 1’s questions also apply to Box 3. as well as the strength of loss aversion among customers. In contrast to the singleperiod game. trigger strategies (such as titfortat) may be important. Bolton and Shankar. the impact of competition has been well documented (Lal and Rao. For retailers in particular. leaders in dynamic Stackelberg games should consider the impact of promotions on followers’ actions and on future profits.
say. Such knowledge is usually difficult to obtain. The models and frameworks presented in this chapter are most useful when a firm can understand and predict its competitors’ pricing strategies. however.. With improving price visibility on the web and masses of data collected by retail scanners. or (ii) implement simple.. 2006). Examples include QL2. 54 . pricing behavior (e. given competitors’ actions.com for the travel industries and Information Resources Inc.prices and strategies hinder retailers. using information obtained by measuring changes in their own demand functions. (2009)). see Cooper et al. There is a stream of research that shows that firms in an oligopoly who choose the "best response" to the current prices of their competitors will result in a sequence of prices that converges to the unique Nash equilibrium from the simultaneous game (Gallego et al. then they are still implicitly playing a game – they are responding to their competitors’ actions indirectly. and that is one reason why firms either (i) implement pricing systems that do not attempt to take competitor strategies directly into account (perhaps by assuming that competitors’ current actions will not change in the future). If all firms in an industry choose (ii). myopic strategies. ignore product differentiation). If firms only match the lowest competitor price (and. the results depend upon the myopic strategy.g. Market intelligence services and data scraping services collect and organize such information. In the retailing world. for the consumer packaged goods industry. some firms use hand held devices to track competitors’ prices of key items. then firms simply drive prices down. and potentially suboptimal. there is much more data available about competitors. If all firms in an industry choose (i). Recent research has shown that strategies based on models that ignore competitors’ actions can lead to unpredictable.
pricing tactics.It is difficult. our view is that a significant barrier to the application of game theory to pricing is the extent to which mathematical and behavioral game theory. to distill raw data into an understanding of competitor strategy. our hope is that this chapter will help nudge managers toward making analyticsbased pricing decisions that take into account competitor behavior. Of course. developed at the individual level. is not applicable to 55 . Consider another example from outside the airline industry: when one major firm implemented a revenue management system. they were concerned that their competitors would interpret their targeted local discounting as a general price "drop" and that a damaging price war would ensue. or pricing strategies but do discuss models and algorithms). for example. Further. the oneshot prisoner’s dilemma (with its equilibrium in which both ‘confess’) with a repeated game in which competitors anticipate each others’ strategies and settle into an equilibrium that is better for both. In the airline industry. In the abstract. In some industries. In general. game theory motivates us to ask whether providing information about our pricing system to a competitor will improve our competitive position. however. There are certainly games where knowledge shared between competitors can improve performance for both players: compare. A senior officer of the firm visited various industry conferences to describe revenue management at a high level to help prevent this misconception on the part of the competitors. revenue management scientists attend the AGIFORS conference (sponsored by the Airline Group of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies) and share information about their pricing systems (this is not collusion – participants do not discuss prices. conferences can serve to disseminate price strategy information. for example. such information may be used to design pricing systems that are truly strategic.
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