A Market For Lemons – The Economic Price of Internet Retail Fraud

A Market For Lemons – The Economic Price of Internet Retail Fraud

“The Market For Lemons” was an economics paper written by George Akerlof. It is useful today for explaining why individual “bad apples” can decrease profitability for online businesses and how they may ultimately destroy entire markets. To start, let’s find out a little background about “The Market For Lemons.” First off, a “lemon” by definition is a product that looks decent enough, but at its heart is a sour-tasting, piece of junk.

They are most commonly referred to in car markets, but lemons can also apply to many other kinds of goods such as web and information products. Now back in the sixties, George Akerlof started thinking about lemons while he was an assistant professor at Berkeley. He wrote the paper and, at the time, no one considered it important. Akerlof even had trouble getting it published at all. Things have changed since, however, as Akerlof received a Nobel Prize in 2001 for his contribution to economics.

The central example Akerlof seizes on in “The Market For Lemons” is the used car market. This is a market where only the seller has true knowledge of the car’s worth (since you only know if a car is good until you’ve driven it a while.)

In time, someone may realize they can make more money selling a lemon than a quality used car. In theory, the effect of this devalues the entire used car market. If people are worried about getting lemons, it reasons that they’d be less willing to shell out their hard-earned money. In turn, it can become impossible for sellers of good used vehicles to get back their car’s worth. Even if it’s a good car after all, you can never know until later.

Eventually, the net effect of these falling dominoes is to drive the good vehicles out of the used car market. The repercussions also mean that honest dealers may not be able to survive market conditions. At its worst, the market of lemons completely crashes, as there is no value left in it. At that point, no one buys a used car anymore.

The idea behind “The Market For Lemons” is important today. Take the recent rash of fraud with online camera dealers for example. On the Internet there is no real guarantee of quality. You don’t know if you’re getting a good deal until after the transaction is completed.

Since the anonymity of the Net makes it easier for crooks to exist, the consequences often aren’t heartwarming. You can expect people to pay less in general for online goods. Thus, an honest dealer who sells a quality product may not be able to compete in the online world.

Certainly, the law of lemons is not the end all, be all for Internet retail. More people earn a living off the web now than ever. However, it does merit caution as the pricing and standards for Internet commerce tend to be lower than those of traditional business models. That is why it is critically important to have a strategic, professional plan before entering the Internet marketplace.


A Market For Lemons – The Economic Price of Internet Retail Fraud

The term “market for lemons” was coined by economist George Akerlof to describe a situation where buyers and sellers have asymmetric information, leading to a market failure. In the context of internet retail, this can occur when buyers purchase goods online but receive items that are significantly different from what was advertised, or never receive the items at all due to fraud.

The economic cost of internet retail fraud can be significant. Consumers may lose money on purchases they never receive, or on items that are significantly different from what was advertised. This can lead to a loss of trust in online retailers and a reluctance to shop online in the future, which can impact the growth of e-commerce as a whole.

In addition, fraud can impact legitimate sellers, who may have to compete with lower-quality or counterfeit goods sold at lower prices by fraudulent sellers. This can lead to a race to the bottom, with legitimate sellers being forced to lower their prices or offer lower-quality products to compete.

There are several ways to address the issue of internet retail fraud. One approach is to improve consumer protections, such as by providing guarantees for purchases or by making it easier for consumers to report fraudulent activity. This can help to build trust in online retailers and encourage more people to shop online.

Another approach is to increase regulation of online marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay, to ensure that sellers are legitimate and that products are accurately represented. This can help to reduce the number of fraudulent sellers and improve the overall quality of products sold online.

In conclusion, the market for lemons in internet retail can have significant economic costs. It can lead to a loss of trust in online retailers, impact legitimate sellers, and result in a race to the bottom in terms of product quality and pricing. Addressing this issue will require a combination of consumer protections, regulation, and technological solutions to ensure that online marketplaces are safe and reliable for consumers.


Liberty Magazine requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
Prepare and write by:
Author: Mohammed A Bazzoun
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