Keywords: Multi-agent Systems, Reinforcement Learning, Platform Design
Abstract: Algorithmic pricing on online e-commerce platforms raises the concern of tacit collusion, where reinforcement learning algorithms learn to set collusive prices in a decentralized manner and through nothing more than profit feedback. This raises the question as to whether collusive pricing can be prevented through the design of suitable "buy boxes," i.e., through the design of the rules that govern the elements of e-commerce sites that promote particular products and prices to consumers. In this paper, we demonstrate that reinforcement learning (RL) can also be used by platforms to learn buy box rules that are effective in preventing collusion by RL sellers. For this, we adopt the methodology of Stackelberg POMDPs, and demonstrate success in learning robust rules that continue to provide high consumer welfare together with sellers employing different behavior models or having out-of-distribution costs for goods.
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