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Home arrow Engineering arrow Measuring Electronic Word-of-Mouth Effectiveness: Developing and Applying the eWOM Trust Scale

eWOM Scepticism

A concept related to eWOM distrust is eWOM scepticism. Earlier research has shown that consumers are generally sceptical about personal experiences made by others concerning product performance and quality (Ford, Smith & Swasy, 1988; Nelson, 1974). Similarly, it can be assumed that when consumers read online reviews they may ask themselves whether or not the reviewer who recommends or refrains from doing so receives an incentive from the producing company or another interested party. As a consequence, consumers may show a certain degree of scepticism, as they don’t know whether they can believe this kind of information or not. Especially the contributions of Obermiller and Spangenberg provide theoretical as well as empirical insights to the evident fact that consumers are often sceptical towards advertising in general (Obermiller & Spangenberg, 1998, 2000). This is also true for advertisement that is disguised as peer information.

Obermiller and Spangenberg (1998) describe consumer scepticism as a market belief which is stable over time and reflects the implicit view of how the marketplace works. Specifically, it is the generalizable tendency towards the disbelief of claims made in ads (or other forms of marketing messages). This definition makes the connection to the trust concept evident as ad (eWOM) scepticism can be understood as a consumer’s lack of belief in advertising (eWOM) (Boush, Friestad & Rose, 1994; Mangleburg & Bristol, 1998). The inclination to disbelieve marketing messages is the result of a socialization process and earlier purchasing experiences, for instance, with the Internet which is likely to produce some scepticism towards the available information (Sher & Lee, 2009). While Obermiller and Spangenberg regard consumer scepticism as uni-dimensional, other researchers question this approach. For instance, Boush et al. (1994) find that the construct has two dimensions, namely mistrust of advertiser motives and disbelief in ad claims. Ford et al. (1990) show in their empirical research that an individual may have different levels of scepticism towards claims made in advertising and the motives of advertisers. Their work leads to the assumption that consumer scepticism is both a function of the product type as well as the individual’s personality. Here, the direct connection to the concept’s opponent, eWOM trust, becomes more obvious. However, eWOM scepticism solely deals with the negative expressions concerning claim believability (i.e., the construct is regarded as the opposite of perceived eWOM integrity/honesty), while trust is a richer concept which introduces additional elements (e.g., ability). While the issue of the dimensionality of consumer scepticism is not completely resolved yet, Obermiller and Spangenberg’s (1998) conceptualization remains the point of reference for eWOM researchers (e.g., Sher & Lee, 2009), which also guides this thesis’ standpoint that eWOM trust and scepticism are likely to be negatively related. This is also mirrored by the items usually used to measure consumer scepticism (Obermiller & Spangenberg, 1998). According to this literature, eWOM scepticism is best defined as a single dimension. This separates this concept from eWOM distrust, which is multi-dimensional and includes further (negative) evaluations of the trust object.

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