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Centralization vs. Decentralization in a Multi-Unit Organization: A Computational Model of a Retail Chain as a Multi-Agent Adaptive System


  • Myong-Hun Chang

    (Cleveland State University)

  • Joseph Harrington

    (Johns Hopkins University)


This paper explores the effect of organizational structure - in terms of the allocation of authority - on the rate of innovation in multi-unit organizations such as retail chains and multi-plant manufacturers. A computational model is developed in which store managers continually search for better practices. In a decentralized organization, a store manager adopts a new practice if it raises her store's profit. Headquarters (HQ) is assumed to observe the new practice and then decides whether to disseminate it to other stores. In a centralized organization, a store manager who generates an idea that would raise her store's profit passes the idea up to HQ for approval. Due to lack of detailed information about stores' markets, HQ decides whether or not to mandate it across the chain on the basis of chain profit. Given that stores are assumed to have heterogenous markets, the obvious virtue to decentralization is that it gives authority to those who have the best information and this allows practices to be tailored to each market. What our analysis reveals, however, is the presence of an implicit cost to decentralization. Allowing stores the freedom to develop very different practices is shown to reduce the amount of inter-store learning; that is, the frequency with which one store's idea is of value to another store. By keeping stores near each other in store practice space, centralization enhances learning spillovers and, in some cases, this results in higher chain profit than is achieved under decentralization. We find that centralization outperforms when stores' markets are not too different, consumer demand is sufficiently sensitive to a store's practices, and markets are changing sufficiently rapidly over time.

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  • Myong-Hun Chang & Joseph Harrington, 2000. "Centralization vs. Decentralization in a Multi-Unit Organization: A Computational Model of a Retail Chain as a Multi-Agent Adaptive System," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0860, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:0860

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    Cited by:

    1. Chang, Myong-Hun & Harrington, Joseph Jr., 2006. "Agent-Based Models of Organizations," Handbook of Computational Economics, in: Leigh Tesfatsion & Kenneth L. Judd (ed.), Handbook of Computational Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 26, pages 1273-1337, Elsevier.
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    6. Myong-Hun Chang & Joseph E. Harrington, Jr, 2003. "Multimarket Competition, Consumer Search, and the Organizational Structure of Multiunit Firms," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(4), pages 541-552, April.
    7. Jan W. Rivkin & Nicolaj Siggelkow, 2003. "Balancing Search and Stability: Interdependencies Among Elements of Organizational Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(3), pages 290-311, March.
    8. Dong, Ciwei & Chen, Chenyi & Shi, Xiutian & Ng, Chi To, 2021. "Operations strategy for supply chain finance with asset-backed securitization: Centralization and blockchain adoption," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 241(C).
    9. Jason Barr & Nobuyuki Hanaki, 2005. "Firm Structure, Search and Environmental Complexity," Working Papers Rutgers University, Newark 2005-007, Department of Economics, Rutgers University, Newark.
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    13. Giannoccaro, Ilaria, 2011. "Assessing the influence of the organization in the supply chain management using NK simulation," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(1), pages 263-272, May.
    14. Marko Reimer & Sebastiaan Doorn & Mariano L. M. Heyden, 2018. "Unpacking Functional Experience Complementarities in Senior Leaders’ Influences on CSR Strategy: A CEO–Top Management Team Approach," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 151(4), pages 977-995, September.
    15. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich, 2010. "Organizing for external technology exploitation in diversified firms," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 63(11), pages 1245-1253, November.
    16. Paul Amadieu & Karine Picot-Coupey & Jean-Laurent Viviani, 2013. "Organizational choices and financial performance: the case of company-owned stores, franchisee-owned stores and stores-within-a-store among French fashion retailers," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201335, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    17. He, Zhou & Wang, Shouyang & Cheng, T.C.E., 2013. "Competition and evolution in multi-product supply chains: An agent-based retailer model," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 146(1), pages 325-336.
    18. Rezapour, Shabnam & Allen, Janet K. & Mistree, Farrokh, 2016. "Reliable product-service supply chains for repairable products," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 299-321.
    19. Yuki Inoue & Takeshi Takenaka & Koichi Kurumatani, 2019. "Sustainability of Service Intermediary Platform Ecosystems: Analysis and Simulation of Japanese Hotel Booking Platform-Based Markets," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 11(17), pages 1-22, August.
    20. Jerker. Denrell & Christina. Fang & Daniel A. Levinthal, 2004. "From T-Mazes to Labyrinths: Learning from Model-Based Feedback," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(10), pages 1366-1378, October.
    21. Jing Zeng & Keith W. Glaister & Tamer Darwish, 2019. "Processes Underlying MNE Subsidiary Absorptive Capacity: Evidence from Emerging Markets," Management International Review, Springer, vol. 59(6), pages 949-979, December.
    22. Dennis Campbell & Frances Frei, 2011. "Market Heterogeneity and Local Capacity Decisions in Services," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 13(1), pages 2-19, April.
    23. Ravshanbek Khodzhimatov & Stephan Leitner & Friederike Wall, 2022. "Controlling replication via the belief system in multi-unit organizations," Papers 2206.03786,
    24. Kawai, Norifumi & Strange, Roger, 2014. "Subsidiary autonomy and performance in Japanese multinationals in Europe," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 504-515.

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