Probabilistic selling vs. markdown selling: Price discrimination and management of demand uncertainty in retailing

Dan Hamilton Rice, Scott A. Fay, Jinhong Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Markdown selling (i.e., price reductions over the course of the selling season) is a strategy to implement price discrimination and to manage market uncertainty that has been widely adopted by retailers. This paper explores the potential advantage of introducing an additional tool to the arsenal of retailers, probabilistic selling (i.e., offering consumers a choice to buy a product that can turn out to be any item from a predetermined set of distinct items). We show that both probabilistic and markdown selling strategies serve as price discrimination tools by offering buyers an option to purchase a "damaged" good (an uncertain product under the former and delayed consumption of a product under the latter). However, the two strategies segment markets based on different types of buyer heterogeneity: buyer preference strength under probabilistic selling and buyer patience under markdown selling. Our analytical model reveals that, compared with markdown selling, probabilistic selling can (1) improve margin management by increasing revenue from full-price sales and reducing the magnitude of discounts; and (2) improve inventory utilization by reducing stockouts and the amount of excess inventory. We identify the conditions required for probabilistic selling to be more profitable than markdown selling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-155
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Marketing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Demand uncertainty
  • Markdowns
  • Price discrimination
  • Pricing
  • Probabilistic selling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing


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