A Neural Network Based Choice Model for Assortment Optimization

by   Hanzhao Wang, et al.

Discrete-choice models are used in economics, marketing and revenue management to predict customer purchase probabilities, say as a function of prices and other features of the offered assortment. While they have been shown to be expressive, capturing customer heterogeneity and behaviour, they are also hard to estimate, often based on many unobservables like utilities; and moreover, they still fail to capture many salient features of customer behaviour. A natural question then, given their success in other contexts, is if neural networks can eliminate the necessity of carefully building a context-dependent customer behaviour model and hand-coding and tuning the estimation. It is unclear however how one would incorporate assortment effects into such a neural network, and also how one would optimize the assortment with such a black-box generative model of choice probabilities. In this paper we investigate first whether a single neural network architecture can predict purchase probabilities for datasets from various contexts and generated under various models and assumptions. Next, we develop an assortment optimization formulation that is solvable by off-the-shelf integer programming solvers. We compare against a variety of benchmark discrete-choice models on simulated as well as real-world datasets, developing training tricks along the way to make the neural network prediction and subsequent optimization robust and comparable in performance to the alternates.


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