Research

Job Market Paper

Consumer Behavior and the Rise of Broadband: A Retail Apocalypse? (Job Market Paper)

I explore US consumer retail behavior during the proliferation of broadband internet from 2004 to 2019. Using household and retail scanner data, I capture consumer behavior using seven different outcomes: (1) trip frequency, (2) total spending, (3) unique chains visited, (4) unique brands purchased, (5) prices, (6) price dispersion, and (7) price elasticities of demand. Counter to popular media reporting, I show aggregate retail trends during the rise of broadband are muted and do not support the hypothesis that the collapse of brick-and-mortar retail is imminent. Exploiting the differential growth in broadband across counties, I estimate the effect of local broadband access on each of the seven outcomes to find the direct effect of broadband is also muted. Taken together, my results suggest fears of the retail apocalypse are quantitatively unwarranted.

Publications

Balaban, Rita, Donna Gilleskie, and Uyen Tran. “A quantitative evaluation of the flipped classroom in a large lecture principles of economics course.” The Journal of Economic Education 47, no. 4 (2016): 269-287. DOI: 10.1080/00220485.2016.1213679

Working Papers

“Seven Million Demand Elasticities,” with Jordan Rosenthal-Kay and James Traina

The household’s price elasticity of demand is a key input to many economic models’ construction of markups and the assessment of consumer surplus. We measure the price elasticity of demand for around 14,000 products by region-year using retail scanner data. In all, we estimate over 7.5 million demand elasticities. We find that the distribution of these elasticities is stationary over time. However, we document substantial spatial heterogeneity in consumers’ price sensitivity: consumers in the largest markets are the most price elastic. As demand elasticities are a key input into the measurement of markups, our results suggest that any conclusions that markups are rising in retail markets must be driven by assumptions on conduct.

“Does Information Mitigate Behavioral Gaps Due to Market Inexperience” with Forrest Spence

We collect detailed individual level purchasing and search data on 2,449 consumers in the UNC-Chapel Hill textbook market. A random subset of these consumers were provided with information about the price of their assigned textbook from various retailers before the semester began. We use these data to compare the search and purchasing outcomes of consumers who received information from their instructors (treatment group) with outcomes of consumers who did not receive this information (control group). We find that (i) information leads to more online search and online purchases, (ii) the informational treatment reduces the gap in online search and purchasing behavior between consumers across experience levels, and (iii) the treatment increases take-up of the textbook at the extensive margin.

Works in Progress

“Information Technology Effects on Advertising” with Ningyin Xu

We use variation in the growth of broadband to study how the rise of information technology has shaped advertising. From 2010 to 2019, broadband rates increased from 70% to 80%. At the same time, TV advertising remained steady while spending as a proportion of advertising has decreased in other channels.  Our results show that a 10 percentage point increase in broadband increases spending in offline advertising in that DMA by approximately 1.2%. Similarly, a 10 percentage point increase in broadband increases spending in TV advertising in that DMA by approximately 1.1%. We show that broadband decreases print advertising in most DMAs.

“The Rise of Private Label” with Guenter Hitsch

We highlight two findings: a convergence in household PL share purchases and divergence in retailer channel PL share sales. Our first finding is that households have converged in their PL purchases. That is, households with the lowest initial PL consumption in 2004 saw the sharpest rise from 2004-2018. Our second finding is that channels have diverged in their PL sales. We decompose the overall aggregate trend by retailer channel to reveal that private labels purchases are not growing uniformly across retailer types.