Providing qualified services is considered an essential strategy for success and survival in today's competitive environment (Dawkins and Reichheld, 1990; Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, 1985; Reichheld and Sasser, 1990; Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry, 1990). As most retail markets have reached maturity and have difficulties differentiating themselves based on merchandise selection only (Berry and Gresham, 1986; Ghosh, 1994), retailers are more than ever voluntering to continually seek out products, processes, and technologies that increase consumer value (Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Parasuraman et al., 1988; Woodruff, 1997). However, retailers generally have little knowledge about the types of consumer value drivers, they should focus at (Beatty, Coleman, Reynolds, and Lee, 1996). Bendapudi and Berry (1997) and Bitner (1995) conceptualized what some of these drivers might be, but no systematic, empirical investigation has been reported. Especially research pertaining to relationship marketing in consumer markets has advanced little (O'Malley and Tynan, 2000).
In general, marketing literature focused at product and service efforts as drivers of total consumer value to the neglect of relationship efforts (Bolton and Drew, 1991; Frenzen and Davis, 1990; Gwinner, Gremler, and Bitner, 1998; Hennig-Thurau and Klee, 1997). Besides, research has shown that service quality enhancement and relationship marketing (Berry and Thompson, 1982; Day, 1985; Moriarty, Kimball and Gay, 1983) are appropriate strategies for commercial banks and other services institutes. What is more, Kimball (1990) has suggested "relationship- and product-oriented strategies are diametrically opposed to one another, with relationship-oriented banks striving to consolidate scattered consumer accounts, and product-oriented banks chipping away at competitors' relationship-oriented consumers." Therefore, our study defines and operationalizes three types of relationship efforts and empirically validates their impact on consumers' trust, relationship commitment and behavioral loyalty.
Relationship efforts increasingly become important as a source of consumer value. First, consumers' quality expectation related to consuming products and services have risen (Crosby et al., 1990). Second, retailers are increasingly competing with each other on basis of the same or highly comparable marketing tactics and strategies. Third, retailers are faced with new challenges of the marketing atmosphere such as blurring boundaries between markets or industries, an increasing fragmentation of markets, and shorter product life cycles (Juttner and Wehrli, 1994). Furthermore, several authors have argued that when companies offer similarly high levels of product or service quality, the delivery of relationship benefits becomes an important means of gaining competitive advantage (Berry, 1995; Gwinner et al., 1998; Juttner and Wehrli, 1994; Wray et al., 1994).
This paper aims to test the relationship between relationship efforts, and relationship outcomes (consumer attitudes and behavior). The underlying concept of this paper is that if relationship effort relates to behavioral outcome, then evidence of its impact on consumers' behavioral responses (i.e., trust, commitment and behavioral loyalty) should be detectable. Specifically, as relationship duration and product involvement are used as control variables, we want to test whether customers with longer relationship duration or higher product involvement are the more reciprocal ones of retailer's relationship efforts. Therefore, sequences of relationship efforts on consumer behavioral intentions can be viewed as signals of retention or defection and are desirable for monitoring. With that in mind, our objectives are five-fold:
1. To test the effects of relationship duration and product involvement as controllable variables in our relationship efforts model.
2. To summarize existing evidence about the behavioral sequences of relationship efforts and relationship outcomes at the individual consumer level. …