Why People Resist Marginal Cost Pricing
| Peter Klein |
Hahn and Passell get it right, I think:
Consumers everywhere seem to like all-you-can-eat/drink/exercise/drive pricing, even if their own consumption is modest and they are net losers in the process. This may simply be irrational. But (as cruise ship lines understand very well) it may also reflect the real psychological benefits of being able to imagine oneself in an environment of no scarcity, in which everything is “free” including calories. By the same token, salad-bar-style blanket pricing may relieve consumers of the very real costs of weighing costs against benefits at every turn of the menu.
One could interpret this in terms of bounded rationality, e.g., Akerlof and Yellen’s concept of near-rationality (1, 2): small deviations from “rational” behavior aren’t too costly, in such cases, so why be fully rational? Alternatively, call these decision-making costs some kind of transaction costs and deem the behavior fully rational, once all relevant costs are taken into consideration. (Some hand-waving required in both cases.) But some kind of cognitive explanation is probably best here.