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I have a piecewise constraint that I am having a hard time converting using big-M modelling. The context is a gym owner that is updating membership costs subject to churn restrictions. The owner can increase or decrease the prices which will have an effect on the churn probability of a customer, $n$. However, if the change in price is small enough, there is no churn. The function looks like:

$ch_n$ =

\begin{cases} 0, & |p^*_n - p_n|\leq \epsilon \\ m_n(p^*_n - p_n), & p^*_n - p_n > \epsilon \end{cases}

Where $ch_n$ is the churn probability of customer n. This is zero is the price increase is less than some threshold epsilon ($p^*_n$ is the new price and the decision variable. $p_n$ is the old price). If the change is greater than epsilon, the churn probability is a linear function of the price change (so $m_n$ is known for each customer).

The difficulty I am having the the presence of the absolute values in the constraint definition.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to OR SE. We need some clarifications on the question. First, you said $p_n$ is the decision variable, but deciding the old price doesn't really make sense (barring possession of a time machine). Should $p^*_n$ be the decision variable and $p_n$ data? Second, either $p^*_n \ge p_n$ (in which case the absolute values are unnecessary) or $p^*_n$ can be smaller than $p_n$ (in which case the churn probability is negative, which makes no sense). Can you clarify that? $\endgroup$
    – prubin
    Jan 12, 2023 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ Apologies, I mis-placed the comma. I meant that $p^{*}_{n}$ is the decision variable and $p_{n}$ is the old price. Your second point is also very valid and something I had overlooked. I will update the post to make this clearer. $\endgroup$
    – akkha
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:21

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While the clarification sought by Prof Paul is relevant here generally how abs is handled:
Define $z \in R^n$
$p_n^* - p_n \le z_n $
$p_n - p_n* \le z_n $

$z_n-(ϵ+\sigma) \le Mx_n $
$ϵ - z_n \le M(1-x_n)$

$m_nz_n + M(x_n-1) \le ch_n \le m_nz_n + M(1-x_n) $
$0 \le ch_n \le x_n $ $\ \ \forall n $
In the above two constraints M can be replaced by 1.

$x \in \{0,1\}^n $
$\sigma$ is a small number say like 0.001 depending upon scale of $ϵ $

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  • $\begingroup$ Many thanks for the reply. I think I am following the logic. One follow up question: would it be correct to think of $z_{n}$ as the upper bound of the increase in price? $\endgroup$
    – akkha
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ For the $n$th customer, yes $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2023 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot Sutanu, I have gone over your answer a few times now and I think I understand how to deal with absolute values now. Much appreciated! $\endgroup$
    – akkha
    Jan 16, 2023 at 20:04

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