Types of eWOM Trust
Earlier research typically proposes a trust typology that comprises different types of trust that commonly manifest a person’s level of trust. Within literature, trust researchers distinguish between the constructs of people’s (1) beliefs (i.e., trusting beliefs) and (2) attitudes (i.e., trusting attitudes) about the object of trust, as well as their (3) willingness to rely on the trustee for making a decision or performing a specific action (i.e., trusting intentions), coupled with a sense of vulnerability or risk in cases where the trust is violated (Luhmann, 1979; Mayer et al. 1995; Rosseau et al., 1998). For example, Gefen et al. (2003) note that trust should be best viewed as a combination of a set of distinct beliefs, attitudes or “feelings of confidence and security” (Rempel et al., 1985, p. 96), and “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another” (Mayer et al., 1995, p. 712). This thesis has earlier recognized this view by referring to it as the concept of the “trust triangle” (see Chapter 2). The trust literature provides sound evidence that numerous and often-cited researchers have conceptualized trust as a composition of trusting beliefs which represent the truster’s expectations about the trustee, based on certain characteristics which the object of trust possesses or lacks (Becerra & Korgaonkar, 2011; Bhattacherjee, 2002; Kee & Knox, 1970); McKnight & Chervany, 2002) and trusting intentions (Lewis & Weigert, 1985; McAllister, 1995; McKnight et al., 1998; Moorman et al., 1993). The latter can be understood as the extent to which a person is willing to be vulnerable or take a risk in a relationship. Or, in other words, an individual shows trusting intentions when he/she is willing to depend on or intends to depend on the trusted party in a given situation (Deutsch, 1962; Kaplan & Nieschwietz, 2003; Mayer et al., 1995; Stewart, 104
2003). For example, according to Zand (1972), trusting refers to an individual’s willingness to take a risk in the relationship with another person. In a similar manner, Moorman et al. (1993, p. 82) define trust as the “willingness to rely on an exchange partner” and conclude that trust becomes more important under conditions of vulnerability and uncertainty. In their often-cited work, Mayer et al. (1995, p. 712) define trust as “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party”. As a result of their interdisciplinary review, Rosseau et al. (1998; p. 395) conceptualize trust as an individual’s intention to accept vulnerability in situations characterized by risk and interdependency. McKnight et al. (1998) emphasize a two-side nature of trust by viewing the concept as consisting of trusting beliefs and trusting intentions. Here, the authors define trusting intentions as the truster’s readiness to depend on the trustee in a given situation. Hence, a truster’s willingness (i.e., trusting intention) along with trusting beliefs both seem to be a key aspect of the definition of trust. While the topics of uncertainty, vulnerability, risk, etc. are all recognized by the discussed researchers, none of these advances a more profound insight into the various forms, kinds and levels of risk. Therefore, the current knowledge is still shallow.
Recent research recognizes that trusting attitudes are another critical component of trust. In general, the concept of attitude represents a simple mental process of evaluation of the trust object’s attributes mirrored in a person’s feelings or perceptual judgments about the trusted party (Kim and Tadisina 2007). According to Eagly and Chaiken (1998), attitude represents a psychological tendency or status expressed by evaluating a specific entity with some degree of favor or disfavor. In the more narrow sense, attitude is often regarded as a state of preparedness or readiness for behaviour (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Jung’s (1971, p. 687) definition of attitude emphasizes this perspective, as he views the concept as the “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. While being impersonal, eWOM nevertheless represents indirect human interaction that is likely to be mirrored in consumers’ readiness to favor this kind of market information. It is very likely that trust manifests itself in various attitudinal dimensions or forms of trusting attitudes.
With such theoretical distinction of the key concepts of trust in mind, the current thesis adopts most influential prior conceptualizations as it proposes that trust in eWOM is composed of (1) trusting beliefs and (2) attitudes towards the characteristics of the information conveyed in online reviews (these two types of trust together represent something that various authors would call the concept of eWOM trustworthiness, i.e., the perception of eWOM as a trust object itself), as well as (3) the consumer’s willingness to act and rely on other consumers’ opinions and recommendations under the conditions of vulnerability, uncertainty and risk (i.e., trusting intention). Hence, in accordance with literature, trusting intention is defined as a person’s active mental status or motivation that may result in actual behaviour. By applying the three underlying trust concepts to the context of eWOM, a person is said to have high disposition of trust in online reviews when he/she thinks that eWOM is honest, useful, benevolent etc. - that is, has positive characteristics (i.e., certain beliefs); is confident about and likes eWOM (i.e., positive attitude); and wants to use the information and to follow its advice (i.e., intention). That is, the person has a consistent opinion towards OCR which is also stable over time. The collectivity of these mental structures facilitates dealing with social information and simplifies judgments about the usage of eWOM information for purchase-related decisions through generalizations which are independent of the situation.
Here, one has to note that the conceptualization of eWOM trust at hand incorporates behavioural intention (i.e., the consumer’s willingness to rely on eWOM information) rather than actual or consequent behaviour (i.e., relying on eWOM information). In trust literature, there exist two divergent views of the topic (see Chapter 2 for a more detailed discussion). Some scholars following the first literature stream consider actual behaviour as an aspect of trust which has to be integrated in any trust definition. For example, in their work, the recognized trust researchers Lewis and Weigert (1985a, p. 971) state that “to trust is to act as if the uncertain future actions of others were indeed certain in circumstances wherein the violation of these expectations results in negative consequences for those involved”. Trust as an actual behaviour is also mentioned in the definitions of trust proposed by other scholars (e.g., Deutsch, 1962). In contrast, the second stream of literature which is also followed by this research refrains from including actual behaviours from the definition of trust. This view surfaces, for instance, in the work of Rosseau et al. (1998, p. 395), who make the statement that “trust is not a behaviour (e.g., cooperation), or a choice (e.g., taking a risk), but an underlying psychological condition that can cause or result from such actions”. This approach is well supported in the appropriate trust literature (McLain & Hackman, 1999). Among others, Mayer et al. (1995) also separate trust from trusting behaviours as they treat trust (i.e., the willingness or behavioural intention to take a risk) as an antecedent of actual behaviour (i.e., taking of risks). This thesis advances the thinking that the latter approach makes more sense, because a central argument of this school of thought is that trusting behaviours (e.g., cooperation or reliance) may be related to other factors besides trust. That is, for instance, some behaviours may result from situational factors (e.g., power or control) and not from true trust in others based upon positive expectations or beliefs in the trustworthiness of the interaction partner (McKnight et al., 1998; Moorman et al., 1998; Pearce, 1974). A basic example illustrates this argument in the context of customers’ eWOM usage: if a consumer is faced with a lack of an alternative source of purchase information (e.g., Consumer Reports, commercials), he/she might be forced to use and accept information that is provided in the form of eWOM, even though the consumer does not have confidence in the trustworthiness of the eWOM-conveyed information. Separating trusting intentions from actual behaviour and excluding behaviour from a trust definition also helps to eliminate an inherent measurement problem. That is, if risk-taking behaviour is not solely based on trust, trusting behaviour is simply not a dimension of trust (Kim & Tadisina, 2007). Therefore, this study proposes that trusting intention is a fundamental part of eWOM trust and a more appropriate indicator of the construct than actual trusting behaviour. Additionally, the 106
research at hand assumes that actual behaviour may be influenced by trust (i.e., trusting intention) - besides other factors. The separation of attitude and behaviour is also well established in literature (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011).