Abstract: In retail (e.g., grocery stores, apparel shops, online retailers), inventory managers have to balance short-term risk (no items to sell) with long-term-risk (over ordering leading to product waste). This balancing task is made especially hard due to the lack of information about future customer purchases. In this paper, we study the problem of restocking a grocery store’s inventory with perishable items over time, from a distributional point of view. The objective is to maximize sales while minimizing waste, with uncertainty about the actual consumption by costumers. This problem is of a high relevance today, given the growing demand for food and the impact of food waste on the environment, the economy, and purchasing power. We frame inventory restocking as a new reinforcement learning task that exhibits stochastic behavior conditioned on the agent’s actions, making the environment partially observable. We make two main contributions. First, we introduce a new reinforcement learning environment, RetaiL, based on real grocery store data and expert knowledge. This environment is highly stochastic, and presents a unique challenge for reinforcement learning practitioners. We show that uncertainty about the future behavior of the environment is not handled well by classical supply chain algorithms, and that distributional approaches are a good way to account for the uncertainty. Second, we introduce GTDQN, a distributional reinforcement learning algorithm that learns a generalized lambda distribution over the reward space. GTDQN provides a strong baseline for our environment. It outperforms other distributional reinforcement learning approaches in this partially observable setting, in both overall reward and generated waste.
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Submission Length: Long submission (more than 12 pages of main content)
Assigned Action Editor: ~Michal_Valko1
Submission Number: 769