In many markets, it is common for headquarters to create a price list while local salespeople have discretion to negotiate prices for individual deals. How much (if any) pricing discretion to grant is a topic of controversy within many firms. We investigate this issue using two data sets –one from an online lender who sets prices centrally and one from an indirect lender with local pricing discretion. We find strong evidence that the indirect sales force adjusts prices in a way that improves profitability. However, we also show that using a centralized, data-driven pricing optimization system has the potential of improving profitability further. In addition, the discretion applied by local sales staff introduces significant endogeneity into the indirect lender's pricing process. Ignoring this endogeneity can lead to severe underestimation of price sensitivity. We discuss the implications of these findings for auto lending and for other industries with similar pricing structures.
This is joint work with Professors Robert Phillips and Garrett van Ryzin who are both from Columbia Business School.