Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration

Specialization

Marketing

Department

Interdepartmental Program

First Advisor

Christy Ashley

Abstract

Written online communications between consumers have emerged to play an important role in the consumer decision-making process (Cheung and Lee 2012). Though electronic word of mouth (eWOM) has been studied widely, less is known about how reviews and, more specifically, product recommendations, affect attribution of credit or blame for a post purchase outcome. Attribution is important because it can affect repurchase behavior, loyalty, and word of mouth. Therefore, this dissertation experimentally examines how recommendation context affects attribution of credit or blame to consumers, reviewers, and retailers. It tests the thesis that context factors that are independent of the product recommendation can affect how consumers assign responsibility for the product’s performance.

Study 1 demonstrates that, relative to offline recommendations from friends, retailers get less blame for a poorly performing product when recommendations are online. In contrast to the existing literature, the results suggest the source of the recommendation can affect who consumers blame or assign credit for the purchase outcome. The results indicate that online recommendations may create a buffer for the retailer against blame for a negative purchase outcome, and may garner the retailer more credit for a positive purchase outcome.

In Study 2, reviews from friends and strangers are communicated online and the sole focus is negative purchase outcomes. Identification with the firm was measured as another factor that can affect attribution of blame. While there were not significant differences between blame assigned to the retailer or reviewer based on the source of the review, identification with the retailer helped protect the retailer from blame following a negative purchase outcome, regardless of the review source. These results have implications for the literature, as there is debate over whether feeling close to a retailer can protect or hurt the retailer during a negative experience.

Study 3 focuses on online reviews from strangers. It tests whether incentivized reviews undermine the effects of identification with the retailer on attribution of blame to the retailer. The results suggest incentivized reviews are a boundary condition to the effect of identification that is found in Study 2. This finding is consistent with previous research that shows when consumers feel strongly that they have been wronged by a retailer, identifying with the retailer increases, instead of decreases, blame. This also adds incentivizing reviewers as a new contributing factor for the change in attribution by consumers that identify with the firm.

The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the role of reviews in post-purchase processes and the theoretical and managerial implications of retailers’ strategies related to posting online reviews, considering contextual factors such as whether the retailer has earned strong identification from its consumers and whether the retailer offers incentives for reviews.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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