Self-adapting Robustness in Demand Learning

Boxiao Chen, Selvaprabu Nadarajah, Parshan Pakiman, Stefanus Jasin

We study dynamic pricing over a finite number of periods in the presence of demand model ambiguity. Departing from the typical no-regret learning environment, where price changes are allowed at any time, pricing decisions are made at pre-specified points in time and each price can be applied to a large number of arrivals. In this environment, which arises in retailing, a pricing decision based on an incorrect demand model can significantly impact cumulative revenue. We develop an adaptively-robust-learning (ARL) pricing policy that learns the true model parameters from the data while actively managing demand model ambiguity. It optimizes an objective that is robust with respect to a self-adapting set of demand models, where a given model is included in this set only if the sales data revealed from prior pricing decisions makes it "probable". As a result, it gracefully transitions from being robust when demand model ambiguity is high to minimizing regret when this ambiguity diminishes upon receiving more data. We characterize the stochastic behavior of ARL's self-adapting ambiguity sets and derive a regret bound that highlights the link between the scale of revenue loss and the customer arrival pattern. We also show that ARL, by being conscious of both model ambiguity and revenue, bridges the gap between a distributionally robust policy and a follow-the-leader policy, which focus on model ambiguity and revenue, respectively. We numerically find that the ARL policy, or its extension thereof, exhibits superior performance compared to distributionally robust, follow-the-leader, and upper-confidence-bound policies in terms of expected revenue and/or value at risk.

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