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How Competition Shapes Information in Auctions

We consider auctions where buyers can acquire costly information about their valuations and those of others, and investigate how competition between buyers shapes their learning incentives. In equilibrium, buyers find it cost-efficient to acquire some information about their competitors so as to only learn their valuations when they have a fair chance of winning. We show that such learning incentives make competition between buyers less effective: losing buyers often fail to learn their valuations precisely and, as a result, compete less aggressively for the good. This depresses revenue, which remains bounded away from what the standard model with exogenous information predicts, even when information costs are negligible. It also undermines price discovery. Finally, we examine the implications for auction design. First, setting an optimal reserve price is more valuable than attracting an extra buyer, which contrasts with the seminal result of Bulow and Klemperer (1996). Second, the seller can incentivize buyers to learn their valua- tions, hence restoring effective competition, by maintaining uncertainty over the set of auction participants.

Agathe Pernoud
Simon Gleyze
Publication Date
January, 2023