Latent Agents in Networks: Estimation and Pricing

14 Aug 2018  ·  Baris Ata, Alexandre Belloni, Ozan Candogan ·

We focus on a setting where agents in a social network consume a product that exhibits positive local network externalities. A seller has access to data on past consumption decisions/prices for a subset of observable agents, and can target these agents with appropriate discounts to exploit network effects and increase her revenues... A novel feature of the model is that the observable agents potentially interact with additional latent agents. These latent agents can purchase the same product from a different channel, and are not observed by the seller. Observable agents influence each other both directly and indirectly through the influence they exert on the latent agents. The seller knows the connection structure of neither the observable nor the latent part of the network. Due to the presence of network externalities, an agent's consumption decision depends not only on the price offered to her, but also on the consumption decisions of (and in turn the prices offered to) her neighbors in the underlying network. We investigate how the seller can use the available data to estimate the matrix that captures the dependence of observable agents' consumption decisions on the prices offered to them. We provide an algorithm for estimating this matrix under an approximate sparsity condition, and obtain convergence rates for the proposed estimator despite the high dimensionality that allows more agents than observations. Importantly, we then show that this approximate sparsity condition holds under standard conditions present in the literature and hence our algorithms are applicable to a large class of networks. We establish that by using the estimated matrix the seller can construct prices that lead to a small revenue loss relative to revenue-maximizing prices under complete information, and the optimality gap vanishes relative to the size of the network. read more

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