Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Circumventing Communication Blindspots and Trust Gaps in Technologically-Mediated Corporate Relationships: The Case of Chilean Business-to-Consumer E-Commerce

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Circumventing Communication Blindspots and Trust Gaps in Technologically-Mediated Corporate Relationships: The Case of Chilean Business-to-Consumer E-Commerce

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Trust is an essential ingredient of constructive human relationships, including economic exchanges. This article outlines the main areas in which customer trust is under stress in Chilean business-to-consumer (B2C) electronic commerce (e-commerce), and how clients manage to circumvent these difficulties. We believe that problems of trust on relationships based on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) between e-sellers and e-buyers can be an important reason for this relative weakness.

We analyzed the relationships and exchanges occurring in e-commerce of large department stores, and the way these organizations relate to their customers within a wider arrangement of stakeholders such as employees, shareholders, suppliers, and other actors. The analysis was made in Chile, where retail in general and department stores in particular are especially dynamic and powerful, both in terms of sheer economic size (Chilean retailers became multinational companies and have expanded throughout South America) as well as in terms of shaping everyday life. We analyzed the major brick and mortar retailers, i.e. those companies whose main business come from physical stores and have implemented websites and call centers as complementary channels of sales and postsales. These are Business-to-Consumer firms (B2C), oriented to individual consumers.

This article is divided into five parts. Section 2 summarizes the main advances in research on trust and e-commerce. Section 3 exposes the methodology used, mostly of qualitative and inductive nature yet complemented by a quantitative analysis of a survey to the general population. Section 4, dedicated to the findings, identifies four areas that affect trust building in B2C commerce in Chile and describes four compensatory strategies used by clients to build trust, in scenarios of uncertainty. Section 5, these findings are discussed following the perspective of both clients and retailers, where corporate blindspots in B2C e-commerce are identified as well. Finally, conclusions are outlined in Section 6.

2 Theoretical Framework: Definitions and Contributions

This article focuses on analyzing the existence of blindspots and trust gaps in the technologically mediated relationship between customers and large department stores in Chile, which-along with supermarkets chains and drugstores (which are not analyzed in this paper)- are the most important retail actors. Particularly, we focus on e-commerce from retailers (or shops) to individual consumers (B2C, Business to Consumers). We do not address the virtual transactions between companies (B2B, Business to Business) or between individuals (P2P, Peer to Peer). By e-commerce we understand business transactions mediated by computer technologies [44], [45] and which are normally supported by other communication channels such as telephone systems (call centers) and face-to-face interactions (vendors or assistants in physical premises). This definition therefore considers e-commerce through the internet, which nowadays is gradually shifting from desktop PCs to mobile devices.

2.1 Context of Retail and E-commerce in Chile

As a relatively small developing country of 17 million inhabitants, Chile has relatively high levels of technologization both among its people and its organizations [24]. Retail, meanwhile, is a very dynamic economic sector which accounted for 21% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007 [10]. However, there are some notorious paradoxes. One is the persistence of important gaps of access and use of ICTs, also known as digital divides. The digital divide among people has received considerable public policy attention since the 1990s [19], [29], [30]. But there is an even sharper gap between large and small companies which causes important inefficiencies in the economy as a whole [30], [38]. This is reflected, as discussed later, in disparities and lack of coordination between the large department stores analyzed and the smaller, fragmented providers of logistics subcontracted by the retailers. …

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