Two weeks ago, thousands stood in line to be among the first to get their hands on the PlayStation 3. Surprisingly, many of these people who waited through the cold, rain, and snow did not actually want to keep the PS3. They wanted to buy it for $600 and sell it on eBay for twice the price--a profit-seeking behavior known as arbitrage.
Economists define arbitrage as the act of profiting without bearing any risk. A large shortage is the best indicator of an arbitrage opportunity. A shortage occurs when quantity demanded exceeds quantity supplied--in other words, when the number of PS3's that consumers are willing and able to buy at the current retail price exceeds the number of PS3's available in stores. A shortage implies that there are consumers willing to pay more than $600 for a PS3 who were unable to purchase one because they were too busy to stand in line or too far back in the line. Arbitrage is a means to allocate the PS3's from the initial buyers to the people who want them even more than the original buyers.
1. Sony should have forecasted the shortages and price bids on eBay for the PS3 because they sold out of other popular consoles when they were first released (PlayStation, PS2, and PSP). Would it be profitable for Sony to eliminate the "frenzy shortages" by pricing high during the first months and lowering prices afterwards? For example, they could charge $1,000 for the PS3 in November and December, but lower it to $600 afterwards.
2. Sony reports that it costs more than $600 to produce a PS3. Why would it be profitable for Sony to sell the PS3 at an initial loss?
3. Why would a gamer prefer to pay $1,200 for a PS3 on eBay rather than standing in line to buy one for $600?