Study of Customer Behavior in a Revenue Management Setting Using Data-Driven Approaches
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The objective of this study is to propose novel dynamic pricing mechanisms in the presence of strategic customers using data-driven approaches. Dynamic pricing is the latest trend in pricing strategies and allows optimal response to real-time demand and supply information. Firms often face uncertainties when making pricing decisions. One of the uncertainties often involved is unknown demand. Therefore, businesses seek to optimize revenue while learning demand and reducing the uncertainty involved in setting prices. Understanding consumer decision-making is another crucial aspect of pricing in revenue management. One of the detrimental effects of dynamic pricing is that it invokes a type of behavior in customers that is referred to as forward-looking, or strategic, in revenue management literature. The strategic customer considers future price decreases, and purchases the product if his or her discounted surplus is higher than the immediate surplus. In chapters 1 and 2, we study a retailer who is pricing dynamically to maximize his expected cumulative revenue. We assume that the retailer has no information regarding expected demand nor the type of customers he is facing, whether they are myopic or strategic in their shopping behavior. In the problem of dynamic pricing under demand uncertainty, we face an inherent trade-off between the exploration involved in learning demand and the exploitation which occurs due to revenue maximization. One way of modeling this trade-off is using the multi-arm bandit modeling approach. Many algorithms have been proposed to solve stochastic multi-arm bandit problems. Our focus is on the Thompson Sampling (TS) algorithm which takes a Bayesian approach and was introduced by William R. Thompson. We propose a pricing mechanism called Strategic Thompson Sampling algorithm which is built upon the TS algorithm. Our main contribution in these two chapters is to merge the literature on strategic behavior with the literature on dynamic pricing and demand learning based on the classical multi-arm bandit modeling approach. In these chapters, the retailer is applying our proposed Strategic Thompson Sampling algorithm to learn expected demand in an exploration-versus-exploitation fashion. We start our analysis with a Bernoulli demand scenario in chapter 1 and extend our work to a Normal demand scenario in chapter 2. For both Bernoulli and Normal demand scenarios, we demonstrate numerically that the retailer's long run price offer decreases as the patience level of the strategic customer increases. We further show that the retailer can be better off in terms of his expected cumulative revenue when facing strategic customers. One potential explanation for this observation is the retailer's lower exploration of non-optimal arms in the presence of strategic customers rather than myopic ones. Our intuition is analytically and numerically confirmed for both Bernoulli and Normal demand scenarios. We further provide and compare expected regret bounds on the retailer's expected cumulative revenue for both types of customers. We conclude that the retailer's regret is lower when facing strategic customers as compared to myopic ones. Our objective in chapter 3 is to improve our starting point by building an informative prior and more specifically, an empirical Bayes prior for the Bayesian online learning algorithm that performs binary prediction. The underlying model used in this chapter is a Bayesian Linear Probit (BLIP) model which performs binary classification on a public data set called "Census Income Data Set". Our goal is to build an informative prior using a portion of the training data set and start the BLIP model with the built-in prior rather than the non-informative standard Normal distributions. We further compare the prediction accuracies of the BLIP model with informative and non-informative priors. An empirical Bayes model (Blip with empirical Bayes prior) has been implemented recently in the production system of one of the largest online retailers. The web-lab experiment is currently running.
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