• retail demand;
  • Poisson mixtures;
  • dispersion;
  • maximum likelihood;
  • model selection

Estimation of retail demand is critical to decisions about procuring, shipping, and shelving. The idea of Poisson demand process is central to retail inventory management and numerous studies suggest that negative binomial (NB) distribution characterize retail demand well. In this study, we reassess the adequacy of estimating retail demand with the NB distribution. We propose two Poisson mixtures—the Poisson–Tweedie family (PTF) and the Conway–Maxwell–Poisson distribution—as generic alternatives to the NB distribution. On the basis of the principle of likelihood and information theory, we adopt out-of-sample likelihood as a metric for model selection. We test the procedure on consumer demand for 580 stock-keeping unit store sales datasets. Overall the PTF and the Conway–Maxwell–Poisson distribution outperform the NB distribution for 70% of the tested samples. As a general case of the NB model, the PTF has particularly strong performance for datasets with relatively small means and high dispersion. Our finding carries useful implications for researchers and practitioners who seek for flexible alternatives to the oft-used NB distribution in characterizing retail demand. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.