Monic Sun
 
 Associate Professor of Marketing
 Questrom School of Business
 Boston University
 

 
 

Curriculum Vitae

Hariri Building, 613
595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
 
Office: 617-353-9640
Email: monic@bu.edu

Google Scholar Profile

Monic Sun explores counter-intuitive consequences of new technologies. She has conducted research on advertising, targeting, social networks, smart technologies and recycling. She uses game theory, causal inferences and experimentation in her research, which has been published in top marketing journals and mentioned in media outlets such as the BBC, Forbes, and NPR.
 
Monic is currently an Associate Editor at Management Science and serves on the editorial board of Marketing Science. She holds a B.A. from Peking University and a Ph.D. from Boston University, both in economics. Monic enjoys art, music and philosophy in her spare time.
 
 
Publications
 
What Makes People Happy? Decoupling the Experiential-Material Continuum, with Evan Weingarten, Kristen Duke, Wendy Liu, Rebecca W. Hamilton, On Amir, Gil Appel, Moran Cerf, Joseph K. Goodman, Andrea C. Morales, Ed O'Brien and Jordi Quoidbach. Journal of Consumer Psychology. Forthcoming.
 
Extant literature suggests that consumers derive more happiness from experiences (e.g., vacations) than from material possessions (e.g., furniture). However, this literature typically pits material against experiential consumption, treating them as a single bipolar construct of their relative dominance: more material or more experiential. This focus on relative dominance leaves unanswered questions regarding how different levels of material and experiential qualities each contribute to happiness. Four preregistered studies (N = 3,288), using hundreds of product categories, measured levels of material and experiential qualities using two unipolar items. These studies investigate recalled, evoked, and anticipated happiness. Results show a more nuanced view of the experiential advantage that is critical for future research and consumer theory: material and experiential qualities both have positive relationships with happiness. Further, there is no inherent tradeoff between experiential and material qualities: consumers can enjoy consumption that is high on both (e.g., swimming pools and home improvements).
 
Product Fit Uncertainty and Information Provision in a Distribution Channel, with Rajeev Tyagi. 2020. Production and Operations Management. 29(10): 2381-2402.
 
Consumers of experience goods typically face some uncertainty about the fit between their tastes and the features of products being o¤ered. Information technology has given consumers the ability to conduct research online about their potential fit with products before buying, and modern sellers the ability to disseminate product information to consumers. This paper investigates a manufacturer's and retailers' incentives to disclose such product fit information to consumers when the manufacturer sells to consumers through competing retailers. We show that whether a manufacturer selling through retailers is more or less likely to disclose fit information compared to a manufacturer selling directly to consumers depends on the degree of retail competition. If the disclosure decisions are made before the manufacturer sets its wholesale price, then all channel members want to disclose fit information for low-quality products, no one wants to disclose it for medium-quality products, and only the retailers prefer to disclose fit information for high-quality products. This disclosure conflict for high-quality products can be resolved if the manufacturer can commit to a wholesale price before the disclosure decisions. The retailers also then prefer to not disclose fit information for high-quality products. Regardless of whether the wholesale price is set before or after disclosure decisions, a mandatory product-fit disclosure policy can decrease consumer welfare and social surplus, depending on the level of product quality and the degree of retail competition.
 
U-Shaped Conformity in Online Social Networks, with Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang and Feng Zhu. 2019. Marketing Science 38(3): 461-480.
 
We explore how people balance their needs to belong and to be different from their friends by studying their choices of a virtual-house wall color on a leading Chinese socialnetworking site. The setting enables us to randomize both the popular color and the adoption rate at the individual level so that our experimental design minimizes informational social influence, homophily, and group-identity signaling to the general public. We find that there exists significant social influence within a user’s friend circles. While learning about the most popular color among a user’s friends generally increases the likelihood for the user to adopt that color, conformity first decreases and then increases with the adoption rate of that choice, which ranges from 50% to 100%. In addition, users who are minority, newer, or of lower social-economic status are more likely to conform upon learning about the popular choice. Our findings are consistent with optimal distinctiveness and middle-status conformity theories and have implications for designing normative marketing campaigns.
 
Competitive Mobile Geo Targeting, with Yuxin Chen and Xinxin Li. 2017. Marketing Science 36(5): 666-682. [Slides]
 
We investigate in a competitive setting the consequences of mobile geo targeting, the practice of firms targeting consumers based on their real-time locations. A distinct market feature of mobile geo targeting is that a consumer could travel across different locations for an offer that maximizes his total utility. This mobile-deal seeking opportunity motivates firms to carefully balance prices across locations to avoid intrafirm cannibalization, which in turn mitigates interfirm price competition and prevents firms from going into a prisoner’s dilemma. As a result, a firm’s profit can be higher under mobile geo targeting than under uniform or traditional targeted pricing. We extend our model in three different directions: (a) a fraction of consumers are not aware of mobile offers outside of their permanent locations, (b) mobile offers can be collected when consumers travel for other reasons, and (c) firms use both permanent and real-time locations when setting prices. Our findings have important managerial implications for marketers who are interested in optimizing their mobile geo-targeting strategies.
 
The Effect of Recycling versus Trashing on Consumption: Theory and Experimental Evidence, with Remi Trudel. 2017. Journal of Marketing Research 54(2): 293-305.
 
This article proposes a utilitarian model in which recycling could reduce consumers’ negative emotions from wasting resources (i.e., taking more resources than what is being consumed) and increase consumers’ positive emotions from disposing of consumed resources. The authors provide evidence for each component of the utility function using a series of choice problems and formulate hypotheses on the basis of a parsimonious utilitarian model. Experiments with real disposal behavior support the model hypotheses. The findings suggest that the positive emotions associated with recycling can overpower the negative emotions associated with wasting. As a result, consumers could use a larger amount of resources when recycling is an option, and more strikingly, this amount could go beyond the point at which their marginal consumption utility becomes zero. The authors extend the theoretical model and introduce acquisition utility and the moderating effect of the costs of recycling (financial, physical, and mental). From a policy perspective, this research argues for a better understanding of consumers’ disposal behavior to increase the effectiveness of environmental policies and campaigns. 
 
Too Much Information? Information Provision and Search Costs, with Fernando Branco and J. Miguel Villas-Boas. 2016. Marketing Science 35(4): 605-618. [Slides]
 
A seller often needs to determine the amount of product information to provide to consumers. We model costly consumer information search in the presence of limited information. We derive the consumer’s optimal stopping rule for the search process. We find that, in general, there is an intermediate amount of information that maximizes the likelihood of purchase. If too much information is provided, some of it is not as useful for the purchase decision, the average informativeness per search occasion is too low, and consumers end up choosing not to purchase the product. If too little information is provided, consumers may end up not having sufficient information to decide to purchase the product. The optimal amount of information increases with the consumer’s ex ante valuation of the product, because with greater ex ante valuation by the consumer, the firm wants to offer sufficient information for the consumer to be less likely to run out of information to check. One can also show that there is an intermediate amount of information that maximizes the consumer’s expected utility from the search problem (social welfare under some assumptions). Furthermore, this amount may be smaller than that which maximizes the probability of purchase; that is, the market outcome may lead to information overload with respect to the social welfare optimum. This paper can be seen as providing conditions under which too much information may hurt consumer decision making. Numerical analysis shows also that if consumers can choose to some extent which attributes to search through (but not perfectly), or if the firm can structure the information searched by consumers, the amount of information that maximizes the probability of purchase increases, but is close to the amount of information that maximizes the probability of purchase when the consumer cannot costlessly choose which attributes to search through. 
 
Ad Revenue and Content Commercialization: Evidence from Blogs, with Feng Zhu. 2013. Management Science 59(10): 2314-2331. [Slides]
 
Many scholars argue that when incentivized by ad revenue, content providers are more likely to tailor their content to attract “eyeballs,” and as a result, popular content may be excessively supplied. We empirically test this prediction by taking advantage of the launch of an ad-revenue-sharing program initiated by a major Chinese portal site in September 2007. Participating bloggers allow the site to run ads on their blogs and receive 50% of the revenue generated by these ads. After analyzing 4.4 million blog posts, we find that, relative to nonparticipants, popular content increases by about 13 percentage points on participants’ blogs after the program takes effect. About 50% of this increase can be attributed to topics shifting toward three domains: the stock market, salacious content, and celebrities. Meanwhile, relative to nonparticipants, participants’ content quality increases after the program takes effect. We also find that the program effects are more pronounced for participants with moderately popular blogs, and seem to persist after participants enroll in the program.  
 
Optimal Search for Product Information, with Fernando Branco and J. Miguel Villas-Boas. 2012. Management Science 58(11): 2037-2056. [Slides]
 
Consumers often need to search for product information before making purchase decisions. We consider a tractable (continuous-time) model of gradual learning, in which consumers incur search costs to learn further product information, and update their expected utility of the product at each search occasion. We characterize the optimal stopping rules for either purchase, or no purchase, as a function of search costs and of the importance/informativeness of each attribute. This paper also characterizes how the likelihood of purchase changes with the ex ante expected utility, search costs, and the importance/informativeness of each attribute. We discuss optimal pricing, the impact of consumer search on profits and social welfare, and how the seller chooses its price to strategically affect the extent of the consumers’ search behavior. We show that lower search costs can hurt the consumer because the seller may then choose to charge higher prices. Discounting creates asymmetry in the purchase and no-purchase search thresholds, and may lead to lower prices if search occurs in equilibrium, or higher prices if there is no search in equilibrium. This paper also considers searching for signals of the value of the product, heterogeneous importance of attributes, endogenous intensity of search, and social learning.  
 
How Does the Variance of Product Ratings Matter? 2012. Management Science 58(4): 696-707. [Slides]
 
This paper examines the informational role of product ratings. We build a theoretical model in which ratings can help consumers figure out how much they would enjoy the product. In our model, a high average rating indicates a high product quality, whereas a high variance of ratings is associated with a niche product, one that some consumers love and others hate. Based on its informational role, a higher variance would correspond to a higher subsequent demand if and only if the average rating is low. We find empirical evidence that is consistent with the theoretical predictions with book data from Amazon.com and BN.com. A higher standard deviation of ratings on Amazon improves a book’s relative sales rank when the average rating is lower than 4.1 stars, which is true for 35% of all the books in our sample. 
 
A Reflection on Analytical Work in Marketing: Three Points of Consensus, with Raphael Thomadsen, Robert Zeithammer, Dina Mayzlin, Yesim Orhun, Amit Pazgal, Devavrat Purohit, Ram Rao, Michael Riordan, Jiwoong Shin and J. Miguel Villas-Boas. 2012. Marketing Letters 23(2): 381-389.
 
This article presents three points of consensus about game-theoretic work in marketing: First, equilibrium analysis is necessary for studying situations that have strategic interactions. In many cases, empirical examination of these strategic scenarios is difficult or impossible, at least without the guidance of an equilibrium model. Second, more general models are not necessarily “better,” because institutional details matter. Thus, the appropriate compromise between generality and specificity depends on the scope of the research question. Finally, there should be a two-way road between theory and empirics—theory is necessary to interpret empirical results, while empirical findings should guide theoretical modeling choices. 
 
Informal Payments in Developing Countries' Public Health Sectors, with Ting Liu. 2012. Pacific Economic Review 17(4): 514-524.
 
In many developing countries, public patients offer payments to their doctors outside the official payment channels. We argue that the fundamental reason for these informal payments is that formal prices cannot fully differentiate patients’ various needs. We compare patient welfare and social efficiency when informal payments are allowed with the scenario when they are banned. Patient heterogeneity plays a central role in the comparison. Contrary to conventional wisdom, allowing informal payments always improves social efficiency when patients do not face income constraints. Moreover, allowing informal payments improves patient welfare if patients’ willingness to pay differs significantly. 
 
Disclosing Multiple Product Attributes. 2011. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 20(1): 195-224. [Slides]
 
How do multiple attributes of a product jointly determine a seller’s disclosure incentives? I model a monopolist whose product is characterized by vertical quality and a horizontal attribute. Contrary to the unraveling theory, the monopolist in equilibrium does not always choose disclosure. When the product’s quality is common knowledge, a monopolist with higher quality is less likely to disclose the horizontal attribute. Notably, the monopolist may choose nondisclosure when his product has the highest quality. The results shed light on governments’ mandatory disclosure policies and companies’ marketing strategies. 
 
 
Working Papers
 
Peer-to-Peer Markets with Bilateral Ratings, with T. Tony Ke and Baojun Jiang
 
A Model of Smart Technologies, with Yuxin Chen and Xinxin Li