Exploring the Intricacies of Digital Pricing

Xianjun Geng

If you’ve purchased an airline ticket in the last 20 years, chances are you’ve made an annoying discovery: Your ticket is merely the first item the airline hopes to charge you for.

After paying for the ticket, you’re forced to wade your way through a series of modern-day upsells, from lounge access and skip-the-line boarding to seat upgrades and in-flight Wi-Fi. And let’s not forget about that pesky checked baggage fee.

So why weren’t the airlines upselling us 20 years ago? And is it wise for them to do it now?

These are the kinds of questions Xianjun Geng is trying to answer.

“I’m always looking at digital transformation,” explains Geng, professor of management science and the Norman Mayer Professor of Business at the Freeman School. “Businesses have to respond to digital transformation, and they often do it by adjusting their pricing strategies. Technology now makes it feasible for businesses to practice things like sophisticated add-on pricing and behavior-based pricing. This wasn’t the case 20 or 30 years ago.”

Geng’s research interests include digital pricing, information security, business analytics, supply chain management and behavioral economics, but what unites them all is an interest in how technology affects the way companies do business. In his current research, Geng is exploring yet another business tactic that frequently frustrates consumers: the often-overlooked “fine print.” More specifically, Geng has been trying to determine whether it’s better for businesses to include add-on charges in the fine print or make them bold and up-front.

“I’m grateful that I get paid just to explore the things I care about,” says Geng. “I think everyone cares about these things to some degree. The relationship between technology and business has a profound impact on our day-to-day lives.”

Prior to joining the Freeman School in 2018, Geng was an associate professor at the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. He received his Master of Engineering degree from Tsinghua University in China, and his PhD from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Geng has been honored with awards for his research including Best Problem-Driven Analytical Research Paper at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Decision Sciences Institute and the Best Publication Award in National Resources for his 2017 contribution to INFORMS Section on Energy, Natural Resources and the Environment. Geng has also received numerous student-voted teaching awards.

Last year, Geng received the 2019 Erich Sternberg Award for Faculty Research, which recognizes a Freeman School faculty member for significant contributions to his or her academic field of interest.

“I’m truly honored to have received this award,” says Geng. “The last year has been especially rewarding. I’m so thankful to be part of the Freeman family. Everyone is so helpful, and I just hope to keep contributing.”

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