Optimizing Discount and Reputation Trade-Offs in E-Commerce Systems: Characterization and Online Learning
Feedback-based reputation systems are widely deployed in E-commerce systems. Evidences showed that earning a reputable label (for sellers of such systems) may take a substantial amount of time and this implies a reduction of profit. We propose to enhance sellers’ reputation via price discounts. However, the challenges are: (1) The demands from buyers depend on both the discount and reputation; (2) The demands are unknown to the seller. To address these challenges, we first formulate a profit maximization problem via a semiMarkov decision process (SMDP) to explore the optimal trade-offs in selecting price discounts. We prove the monotonicity of the optimal profit and optimal discount. Based on the monotonicity, we design a QLFP (Q-learning with forward projection) algorithm, which infers the optimal discount from historical transaction data. We conduct experiments on a dataset from to show that our QLFP algorithm improves the profit by as high as 50% over both the classical Q-learning and speedy Q-learning algorithm. Our QLFP algorithm also improves the profit by as high as four times over the case of not providing any price discount.