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

Justice for Consumers Complaining Online or Offline: Exploring Procedural, Distributive, and Interactional Justice, and the Issue of Anonymity

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

Justice for Consumers Complaining Online or Offline: Exploring Procedural, Distributive, and Interactional Justice, and the Issue of Anonymity

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The dramatic increase in online commerce over the past decade has raised concern over the perceived fairness of complaint handling methods in this venue. The study described in this article uses justice theory to determine whether respondents who sought complaint resolution online were satisfied in the same manner as respondents who used conventional complaint mechanisms. In this study of consumers residing in several different countries, authentic complaint experiences were analyzed. The authors found that both online and offline complaining consumers experienced justice (in general) in the complaint process. Procedural justice emerged as the dominant justice dimension, but new insight was gained with respect to how interactional justice was manifested in distinctly different ways for both online and offline complaining consumers. Some online consumers seek the anonymity that technology affords while a significant portion of the offline consumers seek the transparency and openness that many of the conventional complaint mechanisms offer (e.g. face-to-face and phone). Contrary to some other studies investigating justice perceptions and complaining behavior, distributive justice did not emerge as a top theme.

INTRODUCTION

The increase in online commerce suggests the need for an increase of investigations into online complaint activity. The primary purpose of the study described herein is to determine whether consumers who seek complaint resolution online are satisfied in the same manner as consumers who use conventional (offline) complaint mechanisms.

Justice theory is used to assess consumers' perceptions of fairness in complaint handling methods. Our study is particularly interested in how interactional justice is experienced for online versus offline complaint consumers. This interactional dimension of justice becomes particularly worthy of further investigation when a technology interface is substituted for the human interface part of the complaint process. Thus, to the degree that an agent-to-consumer interaction is not as evident in an online environment, a deeper investigation of customer satisfaction and justice is warranted.

The marketplace continues to experience a healthy growth in the use of technology for furthering relationships and completing transactions between businesses and endconsumers. Global e-commerce sales are forecasted to exceed one and a quarter trillion dollars by 2013, with the United States remaining the largest online market according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) (Montaqim 2012). Furthermore, Forrester research predicts that U.S. online retail sales will reach $278.9 billion in 2015 (Indvik 2011). The evolution of the concept of cyber-Monday, as a follow-up to black Friday, provides additional evidence of this growth.

As commercial activity in general, and online commerce in particular continue to proliferate, entities such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have continued to track consumer complaints. The FTC reported in 2011 that the top ten complaints it received included shop-athome and catalog sales, and internet services (Federal Trade Commission 2012). In 2009, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that complaints to it, increased by nearly ten percent (Council of Better Business Bureau 2010). The 2009 records included increases over the previous year for complaints on cellular phone service. In addition, there were increases for complaints on television, cable and satellite service, and banking services. Internet shopping complaints were also among the top ten for the BBB.

As the exchange of goods and services are increasingly facilitated through technological means, a subsequent outcome continues to be the need for organizations to manage any consumer dissatisfaction that occurs during these exchanges. The research discussed in this article further explores whether consumers who seek complaint resolution online are satisfied in the same manner as consumers who use conventional complaint mechanisms. …

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