Search More, Disclose Less
Keywords:comparison shopping agents, information disclosure, experimentation
The blooming of comparison shopping agents (CSAs) in recent years enables buyers in today's markets to query more than a single CSA while shopping, thus substantially expanding the list of sellers whose prices they obtain. From the individual CSA point of view, however, the multi-CSAs querying is definitely non-favorable as most of today's CSAs benefit depends on payments they receive from sellers upon transferring buyers to their websites (and making a purchase). The most straightforward way for the CSA to improve its competence is through spending more resources on getting more sellers' prices, potentially resulting in a more attractive ``best price''. In this paper we suggest a complementary approach that improves the attractiveness of the best price returned to the buyer without having to extend the CSAs' price database. This approach, which we term ``selective price disclosure'' relies on removing some of the prices known to the CSA from the list of results returned to the buyer. The advantage of this approach is in the ability to affect the buyer's beliefs regarding the probability of obtaining more attractive prices if querying additional CSAs. The paper presents two methods for choosing the subset of prices to be presented to a fully-rational buyer, attempting to overcome the computational complexity associated with evaluating all possible subsets. The effectiveness and efficiency of the methods are demonstrated using real data, collected from five CSAs for four products. Furthermore, since people are known to have an inherently bounded rationality, the two methods are also evaluated with human buyers, demonstrating that selective price-disclosing can be highly effective with people, however the subset of prices that needs to be used should be extracted in a different (and more simplistic) manner.