Optimal auctions vs. anonymous pricing

Saeed Alaei, Jason D Hartline, Rad Niazadeh*, Emmanouil Pountourakis, Yang Yuan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


For selling a single item to agents with independent but non-identically distributed values, the revenue optimal auction is complex. With respect to it, Hartline and Roughgarden (2009) showed that the approximation factor of the second-price auction with an anonymous reserve is between two and four. We consider the more demanding problem of approximating the revenue of the ex ante relaxation of the auction problem by posting an anonymous price and derive a formula for their worst-case ratio, denoted ρ, that numerically evaluates to e. As a corollary, the upper-bound of anonymous pricing or anonymous reserves versus the optimal auction improves from four to ρ≈e. We conclude that, up to the factor ρ, discrimination and simultaneity are unimportant for driving revenue in single-item auctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-510
Number of pages17
JournalGames and Economic Behavior
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Anonymous pricing
  • Auction theory
  • Mechanism design
  • Optimal auction
  • Second price auction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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