Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Customers' Perceived Benefits of Interacting in a Virtual Brand Community in China

Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Customers' Perceived Benefits of Interacting in a Virtual Brand Community in China

Article excerpt


This study examines how customer interactions in virtual brand community (VBC) affect perceived benefits and brand loyalty. We propose an integrated framework to conceptualize the relationships between VBC interactions, perceived benefits, participation and loyalty, with brand identity as moderating variable. Given the popularity of Apple's products in China, Mcfans, a VBC frequented by Apple customers, was chosen as study platform to administer an online survey to 207 Mcfans members. Results were analyzed by Partial Least Squares method, revealing (1) different customer interactions (i.e. product-content, human-computer, & interpersonal) have different effects on perceived benefits (including cognitive, social-integrative, personal-integrative and affective); (2) customer VBC interactions significantly influence future participation and brand loyalty; (3) brand identity has positively moderating effects on the links from interpersonal VBC interactions to perceived cognitive, social-integrative, personal-integrative and affective benefits; and (4) brand identity also negatively moderates the impacts of product-content VBC interactions on perceived cognitive and personal-integrative benefits. This research addresses a literature gap in relation to VBC participation and its benefits, from both customers' and managers' perspectives. Findings offer practitioners actionable measures for facilitating VBC interactions and boosting desired benefits for customers and the brand.

Keywords: virtual brand community in China, customer interactions, perceived benefits, brand identity, brand loyalty

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1. Introduction

Advances in information technology have redefined the roles of customers play in all aspects of business. For instance, in virtual brand community (VBC), customers can voice opinion and influence product innovation, value creation, and even delivery processes [Bagozzi & Dholakia 2006; Bitner et al. 2000; Kim et al. 2012; Nambisan & Baron 2009; Urban & Hauser 2004]. VBCs are defined as computer-mediated, virtual spaces where customers communicate and exchange information on specific brand and/or product [Chen et al. 2013; Hagel & Armstrong 1997; Kim et al. 2008; McWilliam 2000]. Compared to traditional brand communities [McAlexander et al. 2002; Muniz & O'Guinn 2001], VBCs have the advantages of both because they are specialized, structured (in terms of communication patterns among brand admirers), non-geographically bound, with no time constraint, and allow continuous communications between many-to-many members [Heinonen 2011; Kim et al. 2008; Laroche et al. 2013; Watson 1997; Wu & Fang 2010]. As people are now keen to share their every opinion online, VBC becomes a very important platform for brand manger to "listen" to and interact with their customers. In spite of its growing importance, research on VBCs is relatively limited and mostly inconclusive [e.g. Laroche et al. 2013].

We attempt to address this knowledge gap, with special focus on Chinese customers, who are characteristically distinct and avid users of online communication platforms. Among the many luxury products and services offered to Chinese consumers, Apple is a reputable and well-admired brand with many loyal customers. Mcfans is a VBC popular among Apple fans in China; hence was chosen as our research platform. Collecting data from a single VBC allows us to solicit sufficient responses while minimizing errors. This is also a good starting point to develop a knowledge base on how and why Chinese consumers participate in VBCs.

We begin with a review of extant literature on virtual communities and VBCs. An integrated framework is derived by expanding Nambisan and Baron's 2009 conceptual model of interaction-based antecedents and customer perceived benefits from participating in virtual customer environments (VCEs). The Nambisan-Baron 2009 model however focuses exclusively on value co-creation in product development and support processes, while our proposed framework incorporates more than product-related interactions in VBCs. …

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