Coverage, coarseness, and classification: Determinants of social efficiency in priority queues

Itai Gurvich*, Martin A. Lariviere, Can Ozkan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Customers often resent priority queues even though priorities are often necessary to maximize either social welfare or revenue. Consequently, it is useful to consider the level of social inefficiency introduced when the design of a priority scheme is turned over to a revenue-maximizing firm. In this paper we study how the priority scheme chosen by a revenue-maximizing firm differs from the one a social planner would use. We study a single-server queue with customers who draw their valuations from a continuous distribution and have a per-period waiting cost that is proportional to their realized valuations. The decision maker must post a menu offering a finite number of waiting time-price pairs. There are then three dimensions on which a revenue maximizer and social planner can differ: coverage (i.e., how many customers in total to serve), coarseness (i.e., how many classes of service to offer), and classification (i.e., how to map customers to priority levels). We show that differences between the decision-makers' priority policies are all about classification. Both are content to offer very coarse schemes with just two priority levels, and they will have negligible differences in coverage. However, differences in classification are persistent. Further, a revenue maximizer may-relative to the social planner-have too few or too many high-priority customers. Whether the revenue maximizer overstuffs or understuffs the high-priority class depends on a measure of consumer surplus that is captured by the mean residual life function of the valuation distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1061-1075
Number of pages15
JournalManagement Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Optimization priority
  • Pricing
  • Queues
  • Revenue management
  • Segmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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