Degrees of Rationality in Agent-Based Retail Markets

Georgios Methenitis, Michael Kaisers, Han La Poutré

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The imperfect decision-making of human buyers participating in retail markets varies from fundamental models that assume rational economic choices: even in markets with identical items human buyers are not rational, i.e., buyers do not always choose the cheapest option. Recent developments in artificial intelligence and e-commerce enable market participation by software agents that are (almost) perfectly rational due to their computational capacity. However, the increasing degree of buyers’ rationality might have unfavorable effects on retail markets with regards to the competition between sellers and the resulting prices. In this paper, we study the effects of varying degrees of buyers’ rationality on the competition and the prices buyers face in retail markets with identical items. We use the multinomial logit function to model different degrees of buyers’ rationality. We further model the competition between sellers using k-level reasoning: each seller computes the price to offer (best response strategy) with regards to its belief for the competition. First, we derive an analytical best response strategy (price) of a seller given the competing prices and the degree of buyers’ rationality, and show that there exists an optimal degree of buyers’ rationality that minimizes the price. Last, we use evolutionary game theory to show that perfect rationality leads to unstable competition dynamics increasing the overall cost for buyers. In contrast, bounded rationality leads to smoother dynamics and lower cost for buyers. Our insights raise the need to revisit design objectives for software agents in retail markets in light of their wider systematic impact.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalComputational Economics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019


  • Bertrand competition
  • Bounded rationality
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Hierarchical reasoning

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