At UBC Sauder, faculty members are more than just ‘professors.’ They conduct impactful research that is changing how society views the world while also inspiring students to pursue their academic passions and become the thoughtful, values-driven leaders the business world needs.
This year, UBC Sauder welcomed six new full-time lecturers, tenured and tenure-track faculty to the school. In the second of this series, we introduce you to Limin Fang, Assistant Professor, Strategy & Business Economics Division, UBC Sauder School of Business.
What are your areas of research and how did you get into this field?
My research area is empirical industrial organization, in particular, how digitization affects firms’ entry and exit strategies through affecting consumers’ purchasing behaviors. I have always been interested in firms’ competition strategies. It started from my research interest in firms’ location decisions during my graduate study in the field of geography. I did not feel that the method used to study firms’ location decisions in that field was very well founded in agent-based micro economics, and decided to pursue a degree in economics, where tools in empirical industrial organization lend themselves very well to study firms’ entry and exit decisions in geographic markets. Now I am focusing my research on how firms’ entry and exit strategies change in the digital world.
What fuels your research – what prompted you to research this area?
The world we live in is highly digitized. We do online shopping for books, furniture, clothing and groceries; we rely on apps, such as Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor, for restaurant and hotel recommendations; we use Uber and Lyft to travel within a city or between; we are using Airbnb-type services instead of hotels when we visit places. Digitization is changing our lifestyle, the way we think and the information we receive. How does this affect firms’ competition strategies and the business landscape we are used to? For example, chain restaurants have a competitive edge in reputation and advertising compared to independent restaurants. However, with the increasing usage of crowd sourcing online platforms, Yelp and Google, the advantage of being affiliated with a chain is diminishing because consumers are learning about restaurant quality and characteristics through online reviews. Does this mean that we will see less chain restaurants and a greater variety of independent restaurants in the future, and will this affect consumers’ welfare? These are questions that intrigue me and fuel my research agenda.
What inspires you to teach?
I want to share my knowledge and understanding of the world, and have students see what I see. Discussions with students are always interesting and give me new perspectives as well.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered through your research?
I find that online review platforms, such as Yelp, are performing like a quality filter for restaurants. Because they provide easy-to-access and credible information on restaurants’ quality, they are weeding out lower quality restaurants, and improving the overall average quality of the restaurant industry.
What do you believe is the future of your industry?
My research focuses on the retail and service industry. I believe that with the increasing popularity of e-commerce and online reputation platforms, the retail and service landscape will change. Online shopping will replace physical stores, but not eliminate them, since they are complementary to a large extent. The huge amount of information provided by online information platforms will also change the competition between chain stores and independent stores. However, it is unclear which way online reputation will steer the competition. On one hand, chain stores lose the reputation advantage of being part of a chain because online reviews allow independent restaurants’ reputation to reach a large audience. On the other hand, online reputation platforms could overcrowd consumers with too much information, and consumers may rely on the brand names of chains even more than before. How digitization affects this industry will be an active area of research for years to come.
What are you most looking forward to in Vancouver?
Workwise, I look forward to working/collaborating with the bright minds at UBC Sauder, VSE and UBC in general. Personally, I look forward to exploring nature and neighourhoods in Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area. Vancouver is an amazingly beautiful city with lots of amenities. Doing nature tours and hiking in the spring, summer and fall, and skiing in the winter will be what I most look forward to in terms of living in Vancouver.