tl;dr - Read the two bold statements below for the answers. Read the filler for the explanation.
After doing some experimentation, I've determined that:
- PPM rating is per level
- you get that number of customers regardless of stocking level
- the customers generally choose products evenly based on which ones are stocked
This means that if you only stock the 3 credit item, and you have a 10PPM elevator, then you'll make 30 credits per minute.
If you stock all three items, and have a 10ppm elevator, you'll make 20 credits per minute.
It's always less efficient to build the lower credit products of a given level even if you take into account the time it takes to make a product.
So, back to the question:
which is better: staffing three levels with two people each or staffing two levels with three people, and leaving one level empty.
If you only stock the most expensive item in each case, then the following occurs:
3 levels of 2 credit items and a 10ppm elevator will earn 60 credits per minute.
2 levels of 3 credit items and a 10ppm elevator will earn 60 credits per minute.
The math works out the same no matter how you mix and match - essentially each bitizen will earn at most one credit per bitizen per ppm each minute, if you only stock the top level item available given the staffing level. If you stock the less expensive items you reduce the profitability of each bitizen.
However, as the below meandering explanation will show, the 2 levels of 3 credit items is better because the level's production speed bonus is higher, which can earn you up to 20% more per bitizen per minute because they are selling more of the time than they are making items.
If you crunch the numbers on each level's production quantity and how fast you can make it, you'll find that with a skill level of zero, and a bitizen who's not doing their favorite job, the level gets stocked at a rate that is the same across all levels: 10 products per minute.
So the 9,000 items of the execution product in imperial courts takes 15 hours, which is 900 minutes. The 100 items in the workout center takes 10 minutes.
This means that with a 10ppm elevator you will consume products at the same rate you can make them, meaning you will spend half your time making a product, then half consuming it.
This leaves you with a 50% profit per minute per bitizen, and given the above math then you end up with 0.5 credits per minute per employed bitizen if you stock only the highest available product in a given level, don't have skilled bitizens, and give none of them their favorite job.
Give them their favorite jobs and you can double that to 1 credit per bitizen per minute.
Their skill level does affect the time it takes to build a product, but not by a lot, maybe as much as 20%. Note: if you only stock a level with 2 people, the overall production rate of the level is less than with three people of similar ranking. So you'll receive less of this 20% bonus, and that will make a difference in how this question is answered.
So the maximum you can earn is 1.2 credits per bitizen per hour if they have their favorite job, all levels are stocked with rank 9 bitizens, and you only ever stock the top item in each level.
There are other minor bonuses this doesn't take into account - for instance there's a chance (seems to be around 1 in 5) that fully stocking a level will spur a buying spree. These probably don't count for much in the long run, but might be worth investigating.
The elevator upgrades won't speed up production, only consumption. So if you have a 20PPM elevator, you'll double consumption speed, which will give you more credits per bitizen per minute in the long run, but you'll have to tend to the levels more frequently.