Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Consumer Participation and the Trust Transference Process in Using Online Recommendation Agents

Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Consumer Participation and the Trust Transference Process in Using Online Recommendation Agents

Article excerpt


Online product recommendation agents (hereafter RAs) can provide important benefits to consumers. But whether consumers trust RAs and integrate an RA's recommendations into their product choices has not yet been examined. Nor has there been research on whether different levels of consumer participation in using RAs lead to different levels of trust in the RA. Using an experimental design that combined the benefits of a field study with those of a lab study, active consumer participation in using an RA was found to have increased consumers' trust in the RA, which in turn increased intentions to purchase based on the RA's recommendations. The study also proposed and found support for a trust transference process, hitherto not tested in the RA context, wherein trust in the website was a key driver for trust in its RA and the RA's recommendations. These findings extend the extant literature on RAs as well as research in offline contexts on consumer participation and the trust transference process. Managerial implications and directions for future research are also provided.


Electronic screening tools and intelligent decision aids such as online product recommendation agents can offer important benefits to consumers who shop online or simply search for product information on the Internet (e.g., Alba et al. 1997; West et al. 1999). Based on software technology, online product recommendation agents (hereafter RAs) are designed to understand consumers' product preferences by eliciting inputs from consumers and making recommendations that allow consumers to screen large sets of product alternatives in a systematic and efficient manner (Häubl and Trifts 2000; Xiao and Benbasat 2007). Marketers have begun to equip their websites with recommendation technology because of the strategic importance of making RAs available to

consumers as a value-added service. For example, Economist (2005) reported that eBay paid $620 million for, a shopping website with recommendation agents that offer product and price comparisons. Amazon, Yahoo, and other e-business leaders also offer recommendation agents on their websites.

RAs make product recommendations based on consumers' inputs generated from a preference elicitation process. The recommendations may involve no direct discussion of preferences or may be a result of personalized, two-way dialogues between individual consumers and the RAs. When the RA on suggests a new purchase, it makes recommendations tied to the customers' recent purchases, in the form of "Customers who bought this item also bought _____." In contrast, the RA on asks the consumer many questions and then recommends a product choice. Thus, the basic difference between these two types of RAs is that whereas' s RA makes product recommendations based on the consumer's browsing patterns, the RA on recommends products based on the consumer's specific inputs regarding his/her product interests and preferences. Our study focuses on studying the latter type of RAs because we believe that they are more attuned to fulfilling specific consumer needs. But do consumers integrate either type of recommendation into their product choices? To a large extent, this depends on the trust consumers have in the RA or in the website where they are shopping. Trust is a salient factor of concern within the online shopping environment (e.g., Hoffman, Novak, and Peralta 1999; Urban, Sultan, and Quails 2000). Moreover, consumers who seek advice from RAs for their purchase decisions may be unsure whether the RA is looking out for them or for the retailer.

Scholars have made a good start in examining the role of trust in consumers' adoption of RAs. For example, Wang and Benbasat (2005) found that perceived ease of use of an RA positively affected consumers' trust in the RA, which in turn, positively affected perceived usefulness of the RA and consumers' intentions to adopt the RA. …

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