Discussion paper

DP18783 Platform Information Provision and Consumer Search: A Field Experiment

Despite substantial efforts to help consumers search in more intuitive ways, text search remains the predominant tool for product discovery online. In this paper, we explore the effects of visual and textual cues for search refinement on consumer search and purchasing behavior. We collaborate with one of the largest e-commerce platforms in China and study its roll out of a new search tool. When a customer searches for a general term (e.g., “headphones”), the tool suggests refined queries (e.g., “bluetooth headphones” or “noise-canceling headphones”) with the help of images and texts. The search tool was rolled out with a long-run experiment, which allows us to measure its short-run and long-run effects. We find that, although there was no immediate effect on orders or total expenditures, the search tool changed customers’ search and purchasing behavior in the long-run. Customers with access to the new tool eventually increased orders and expenditures compared to those in the control group, especially for non top-selling products. The purchase increase comes from more effective searches, rather than an increase in activity on the platform. We also find that the effect is not only driven by the direct value of suggested searches, but also by customers indirectly learning to perform more effective searches on their own.


Fang, L, Y Chen, C Farronato, Z Yuan and Y Wang (2024), ‘DP18783 Platform Information Provision and Consumer Search: A Field Experiment‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18783. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18783