Product Quality and Entering Through Tying: Experimental Ev…
by Hyunjin Kim and Michael Luca
Overview — This study empirically explores Google’s decision to tie its new reviews product to the top of its search results, excluding competitors. Results suggest that such “tying” can facilitate dominant platforms’ entry into adjacent markets, even when the tied product is of worse quality compared to existing options.
Dominant platform businesses often develop products in adjacent markets to complement their core business. One common approach used to gain traction in these adjacent markets has been to pursue a tying strategy. For example, Microsoft pre-installed Internet Explorer into Windows, and Apple set Apple Maps as the iOS default. Policymakers have raised concerns that dominant platforms may be leveraging their market power to gain traction for lower quality products when they use a tying strategy. In this paper, we empirically explore this question by examining Google’s decision to tie its new reviews product to its search engine. We experimentally vary the content displayed above Google’s organic search results to show either exclusively Google reviews (Google’s current tying strategy) or reviews from multiple platforms determined to be the best-performing by Google’s own organic search algorithm. We find that users prefer the version that does not exclude competitor content. Furthermore, looking at observational data on user traffic to Yelp from search engines, we find that Google’s exclusion of downstream competitors may have been effective. The share of Yelp’s traffic coming from Google has declined over this period, relative to traffic from Bing and Yahoo (which do not exclude other companies’ reviews), and Google’s review content has grown quicker than Yelp and TripAdvisor. Overall, these results shed light on platform strategy and market entry: tying can facilitate entry in complementary markets, even when the tied product is of worse quality compared to existing options.