The targeted design of auctions has to take behavioral regularities into account. This paper explores whether procurement auction formats can take advantage of bidders' willingness-to-pay-willingness-to-accept disparity. In a laboratory experiment, we compare four different second-price auction formats for procuring a good. The four formats are a sealed-bid auction and three different descending-clock auctions. We assume that a bidder's willingness-to-accept exceeds his willingness-to-pay and that, depending on the auction format, a bidder's reference-state shifts such that the bidder's perspective moves from a willingness-to-accept perspective towards a willingness-to-pay perspective, thus inducing aggressive bids. In line with the prediction, auction prices decline across the four formats. In particular, we observe the lowest prices in those two clock auction formats that, at every auction stage, select a bidder as the current leading bidder. We conclude that mechanisms influence the reference state and that auctions that foster reference-state shifts lead to lower payments for the buyer. These results support and generalize findings on sales auctions. However, not all of our findings on procurement auctions mirror findings on sales auctions. Bidders overbid in sealed-bid procurement auctions, which does not mirror the commonly observed overbidding in sealed-bid sales auctions.

Ehrhart, Karl-Martin and Marion Ott (2019), How the Auction Design Influences Procurement Prices: An Experiment, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 19-061, Mannheim. Download


Ehrhart, Karl-Martin
Ott, Marion


Procurement auction, experiment, WTP-WTA disparity, reference-dependence