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Motivated by practical concerns in applying information design to markets and service systems, we consider a persuasion problem between a sender and a receiver where the receiver may not be an expected utility maximizer. In particular, the receiver’s utility may be nonlinear in her belief; we deem such receivers as riskconscious. Such utility models arise, for example, when the receiver exhibits sensitivity to the variability and the risk in the payoff on choosing an action (e.g., waiting time for a service). In the presence of such nonlinearity, the standard approach of using revelationprinciple style arguments fails to characterize the set of signals needed in the optimal signaling scheme. Our main contribution is to provide a theoretical framework, using results from convex analysis, to overcome this technical challenge. In particular, in general persuasion settings with riskconscious agents, we prove that the sender’s problem can be reduced to a convex optimization program. Furthermore, using this characterization, we obtain a bound on the number of signals needed in the optimal signaling scheme. We apply our methods to study a specific setting, namely binary persuasion, where the receiver has two possible actions (0 and 1), and the sender always prefers the receiver taking action 1. Under a mild convexity assumption on the receiver’s utility and using a geometric approach,we show that the convex program can be further reduced to a linear program. Furthermore, this linear program yields a canonical construction of the set of signals needed in an optimal signaling mechanism. In particular, this canonical set of signals only involves signals that fully reveal the state and signals that induce uncertainty between two states.We illustrate our results in the setting of signaling wait time information in an unobservable queue with customers whose utilities depend on the variance of their waiting times.more » « less

In mechanism design, the firm has an advantage over its customers in its knowledge of the state of the system, which can affect the utilities of all players. This poses the question: how can the firm utilize that information (and not additional financial incentives) to persuade customers to take actions that lead to higher revenue (or other firm utility)? When the firm is constrained to "cheap talk," and cannot credibly commit to a manner of signaling, the firm cannot change customer behavior in a meaningful way. Instead, we allow firm to commit to how they will signal in advance. Customers can then trust the signals they receive and act on their realization. This thesis contains the work of three papers, each of which applies information design to service systems and online markets. We begin by examining how a firm could signal a queue's length to arriving, impatient customers in a service system. We show that the choice of an optimal signaling mechanism can be written as a infinite linear program and then show an intuitive form for its optimal solution. We show that with the optimal fixed price and optimal signaling, a firm can generate the same revenue as it could with an observable queue and lengthdependent variable prices. Next, we study demand and inventory signaling in online markets: customers make strategic purchasing decisions, knowing the price will decrease if an item does not sell out. The firm aims to convince customers to buy now at a higher price. We show that the optimal signaling mechanism is public, and sends all customers the same information. Finally, we consider customers whose ex ante utility is not simply their expected ex post utility, but instead a function of its distribution. We bound the number of signals needed for the firm to generate their optimal utility and provide a convex program reduction of the firm's problem.more » « less

We study the problem of optimal information sharing in the context of a service system. In particular, we consider an unobservable single server queue offering a service at a fixed price to a Poisson arrival of delaysensitive customers. The service provider can observe the queue, and may share information about the state of the queue with each arriving customer. The customers are Bayesian and strategic, and incorporate any information provided by the service provider into their prior beliefs about the queue length before making the decision whether to join the queue or leave without obtaining service. We pose the following question: which signaling mechanism and what price should the service provider select to maximize her revenue? We formulate this problem as an instance of Bayesian persuasion in dynamic settings. The underlying dynamics make the problem more difficult because, in contrast to static settings, the signaling mechanism adopted by the service provider affects the customers' prior beliefs about the queue (given by the steady state distribution of the queue length in equilibrium). The core contribution of this work is in characterizing the structure of the optimal signaling mechanism. We summarize our main results as follows. (1) Structural characterization: Using a revelationprinciple style argument, we find that it suffices to consider signaling mechanisms where the service provider sends a binary signal of "join" or "leave", and under which the equilibrium strategy of a customer is to follow the service provider's recommended action. (2) Optimality of threshold policies: For a given fixed price for service, we use the structural characterization to show that the optimal signaling mechanism can be obtained as a solution to a linear program with a countable number of variables and constraints. Under some mild technical conditions on the waiting costs, we establish that there exists an optimal signaling mechanism with a threshold structure, where service provider sends the "join" signal if the queue length is below a threshold, and "leave" otherwise. (In addition, at the threshold, the service provider randomizes.) For the special case of linear waiting costs, we derive an analytical expression for the optimal threshold i terms of the two branches of the LambertW function. (3) Revenue comparison: Finally, we show that with the optimal choice of the fixed price and using the corresponding optimal signaling mechanism, the service provider can achieve the same revenue as with the optimal statedependent pricing mechanism in a fullyobservable queue. This implies that in settings where statedependent pricing is not feasible, the service provider can effectively use optimal signaling (with the optimal fixed price) to achieve the same revenue.more » « less