Multiperiod Optimization Models in Operations Management
In the past two decades, retailers have witnessed rapid changes in markets due to an increase in competition, the rise of e-commerce, and ever-changing consumer behavior. As a result, retailers have become increasingly aware of the need to better coordinate inventory control with pricing in order to maximize their profitability. This dissertation was motivated by two of such problems facing retailers at the interface between pricing and inventory control. One considers inventory control decisions for settings in which planned prices fluctuate over time, and the other considers pricing of multiple substitutable products for settings in which customers hold inventory as a consequence of stockpiling when promotional prices are offered.
In Chapter 1, we provide a brief motivation for each problem. In Chapter 2, we consider optimization of procurement and inventory allocation decisions by a retailer that sells a product with a long production lead time and a short selling season. The retailer orders most products months before the selling season, and places only one order for each product due to short product life cycles and long delivery lead times. Goods are initially stored at the warehouse and then sent to stores over the course of the season. The stores are in high-rent locations, necessitating efficient use of space, so there is no backroom space and it is uneconomical to send goods back to the warehouse; thus, all inventory at each store is available for sale. Due to marketing and logistics considerations, the planned trajectory of prices is determined in advance and may be non-monotonic. Demand is stochastic and price-dependent, and independent across time periods. We begin our analysis with the case of a single store. We first formulate the inventory allocation problem given a fixed initial order quantity with the objective of maximizing expected profit as a dynamic program and explain both technical and computational challenges in identifying the optimal policy. We then present two variants of a heuristic based on the notion of equalizing the marginal value of inventory across the time periods. Results from a numerical study indicate that the more sophisticated variant of the heuristic performs well when compared with both an upper bound and an industry benchmark, and even the simpler variant performs fairly well for realistic settings. We then generalize our approaches to the case of multiple stores, where we allow the stores to have different price trajectories. Our numerical results suggest that the performance of both heuristics is still robust in the multiple store setting, and does not suffer from the same performance deterioration observed for the industry benchmark as the number of stores increases or as price differences increase across stores and time periods. For the pre-season procurement problem, we develop a heuristic based on a generalization of the newsvendor problem that accounts for the two-tiered salvage values in our setting, specifically, a low price during end-of-season markdown periods and a very low or zero salvage value after the season has concluded. Results for numerical examples indicate that our modified newsvendor heuristic provides solutions that are as good as those obtained via grid search.
In Chapter 3, we address a retailer's problem of setting prices, including promotional prices, over a multi-period horizon for multiple substitutable products in the same product category. We consider the problem in a setting in which customers anticipate the retailer's pricing strategy and the retailer anticipates the customers' purchasing decisions. We formulate the problem as a two-stage game in which the profit maximizing retailer chooses prices and the utility maximizing customers respond by making explicit decisions regarding purchasing and consumption, and thus also implicit decisions regarding stockpiling. We incorporate a fairly general reference price formation process that allows for cross-product effects of prices on reference prices. We initially focus on a single customer segment. The representative customer's utility function accounts for the value of consumption of the products, psychological benefit (for deal-seekers) from purchasing at a price below his/her reference price but with diminishing marginal returns, costs of purchases, penalties for both shortages and holding inventory, and disutility for deviating from a consumption target in each period (where applicable). We are the first to develop a model that simultaneously accounts for this combination of realistic factors for the customer, and we also separate the customer's purchasing and consumption decisions. We develop a methodology for solving the customer's problem for arbitrary price trajectories based on a linear quadratic control formulation of an approximation of the customer's utility maximization problem. We derive analytical representations for the customer's optimal decisions as simple linear functions of prices, reference prices, inventory levels (as state variables), and the cumulative aggregate consumption level (as a state variable). We then embed the consumer's optimal policy (in analytic form) in the retailer's profit maximization problem and show that the retailer's problem can be reformulated as a quadratic program that can be solved numerically. Despite the additional generality of our problem context, our solution methodology is computationally tractable. Results for numerical examples indicate that the separation of the customer's two types of decisions turns out to be important in inducing realistic purchasing patterns, including demand spikes like those observed in practice and the associated stockpiling, as well as pre- and post-promotion dips, which are also observed in practice. We discuss how our approach can be extended to multiple customer segments, limitations of our approach, and future research directions.