Incentives and gaming in a nonlinear compensation scheme: Evidence from North American auto dealership transaction data

Hideo Owan, Tsuyoshi Tsuru, Katsuhito Uehara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose – Under a discontinuous and nonlinear compensation scheme, which is prevalent among car dealerships, the amount of a salesperson’s expected daily commission depends primarily on his position in the pay schedule on the day he makes a sale. Salespeople thus vary their efforts and adopt a different pricing strategy week by week, or even day by day. The purpose of this paper is to examine the incentive effect of such a nonlinear scheme and provide the evidence that salespeople’s behavior is consistent with the theory. Design/methodology/approach – The authors conduct regression analyses using the transaction data provided by two North American auto dealerships. The authors construct a daily measure of varying incentive intensity and evaluate its impact on the distribution of individual daily sales and the dealership’s gross profit rate. Findings – The authors find that the daily measure of varying incentive intensity has a positive effect on the distribution of individual daily sales and a negative impact on the dealership’s gross profit rate. The results suggest that: salespeople adjust their effort levels in response to the intensity of incentives; and they game the system by lowering the prices when the marginal return to doing so is high. Research limitations/implications – The study shows that there is a high cost associated with the discontinuous nonlinear pay scheme, raising the question of why many auto dealerships use it. Originality/value – This paper sheds light on the undesirable aspects of discontinuous and nonlinear incentive schemes, varied performance and gaming, by quantifying the effects of the worker’s behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-243
Number of pages22
JournalEvidence-based HRM
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Dec 7
Externally publishedYes



  • Employee motivation
  • Gaming
  • Personnel economics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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