Controlling risk and demand ambiguity in newsvendor models

Hamed Rahimian, Güzin Bayraksan, Tito Homem-de-Mello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We use distributionally robust optimization (DRO) to model a general class of newsvendor problems with unknown demand distribution. The goal is to find an order quantity that minimizes the worst-case expected cost among an ambiguity set of distributions. The ambiguity set consists of those distributions that are not far—in the sense of the total variation distance—from a nominal distribution. The maximum distance allowed in the ambiguity set (called level of robustness) places the DRO between the risk-neutral stochastic programming and robust optimization models. An important problem a decision maker faces is how to determine the level of robustness—or, equivalently, how to find an appropriate level of risk-aversion. We answer this question in two ways. Our first approach relates the level of robustness and risk to the regions of demand that are critical (in a precise sense we introduce) to the optimal cost. Our second approach establishes new quantitative relationships between the DRO model and the corresponding risk-neutral and classical robust optimization models. To achieve these goals, we first focus on a single-product setting and derive explicit formulas and properties of the optimal solution as a function of the level of robustness. Then, we demonstrate the practical and managerial relevance of our results by applying our findings to a healthcare problem to reserve operating room time for cardiovascular surgeries. Finally, we extend some of our results to the multi-product setting and illustrate them numerically.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)854-868
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 16 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Calibration of level of robustness
  • Distributionally robust optimization
  • Inventory
  • Newsvendor problem
  • Operating room time reservation problem


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