A numerical study on the effect of the balance assumption in one-warehouse multi-retailer inventory systems

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One-warehouse multi-retailer systems under periodic review have been studied extensively in the literature. The optimal policy has not been characterized yet. It would require solving a multi-dimensional dynamic program, which is hard due to the curse of dimensionality. In order to let the dynamic program decompose, researchers often make the so-called balance assumption. All available heuristics for periodic review distribution systems are based on some form of this assumption. For these heuristics, often further approximate steps are applied. We investigate the pure effect of the balance assumption in this paper. The balance assumption is the relaxation of a set of constraints in the original dynamic program and yields a lower bound model, which we solve exactly. This gives us a lower bound for the optimal cost of the original model. An upper bound for the true optimal cost is obtained by simulating the optimal policy for the relaxed problem with a slightly modified allocation rule. This modified policy is referred to as the LB heuristic policy. We use the relative gap between the upper and lower bound as a measure to assess the impact of the balance assumption. Based on extensive testing, we identify when the gap is small, and when not. For those instances with small gaps, both the lower bound is tight and the performance of the LB heuristic policy is close to the optimal. We also identify many practically relevant settings under which the balance assumption yields large gaps. For these instances, either the lower bound is poor or the LB heuristic policy is far from optimal, or both. In any case, it implies that more research is needed to develop better lower bounds and/or better heuristics for these instances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-147
JournalFlexible Services and Manufacturing Journal
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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