Howard P. Marvel and Hao Wang

Inventories, Manufacturer Returns Policies, and Equilibrium Price Dispersion under Demand Uncertainty

Returns policies can prevent a manufacturer’s product from being discounted. Such discounting discourages inventory holdings, and can deny adequate retail representation to products with uncertain demand. We demonstrate that returns are not simply a substitute for resale price maintenance, but can instead be employed to support a desirable degree of price dispersion at retail. Surprisingly, optimal return policies depend only on market demand functions and marginal production costs. The manufacturer need not know the distribution of demand uncertainty for its product, but can instead rely on retailers to order appropriately. Our results generalize to oligopoly settings.