Nomological Validity: A Social Shopping - Trust Framework
The scale development paradigm postulates that the validity of a measure is also determined by its “lawful” fit into a set of hypothesized interrelations of the intended construct with other constructs (MacKenzie et al., 2011; Netemeyer et al., 2003; Spector, 1992) or a “nomological network” (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). Nunnally and Bernstein (1994) also note that an important aspect of the scale-validation strategy is to evaluate the extent to which a measure operates within a set of theoretical constructs and their respective measures. A novel measure has to show its nomological validity in order to be accepted as valid (Peter, 1981). The assessment of validity type is based on investigations on the construct and its measure by formulating hypotheses derived from theory about the construct’s causes, correlates, and consequences of the construct under scrutiny. Then, nomological validity of the eWOM trust scale is evidenced if the eWOM construct is not only theoretically related to other constructs but also empirically, and behaves in a manner that is consistent with prior theory (i.e., the measures correlate significantly in the predicted direction) (MacKenzie et al., 2011).
To examine nomological validity and to demonstrate the construct’s relevance, this thesis embeds the eWOM construct into a network of intertwined constructs. While in the literature on trust it seems usual to use the model “antecedents-trust-consequences” to investigate trust (Shankar et al., 2002), the proposed framework specifically adopts the work of Obermiller and Spangenberg (1998) and extends it to the trust context. This approach demonstrates the focal construct’s role in eWOM persuasiveness and additionally enables the profiling of eWOM trusters in respect to various attitudinal, behavioural and socio-economical characteristics. The relationship of eWOM trust with its antecedents, correlates, and consequences is illustrated in Figure 3. In this research antecedents are defined as constructs that are theorized to cause the focal construct. In contrast, consequences are constructs that are themselves caused by the focal construct and correlates are constructs whose conceptual definitions overlap with the focal construct (MacKenzie et al., 2011).
This study defines eWOM trust as a relatively stable and a generalizable disposition towards online customer reviews and more specifically as a personal difference characteristic of the truster, describing his/her tendency towards relying on information conveyed in eWOM. By acknowledging the construct as being a internally-caused variable of the human being, this research agrees with the psychological literature that eWOM trust results from more basic personality traits, prior consumption experiences, introspective and extrospective observations, and social-emotional attitudes, such as an individual’s tendency to associate and to bond with similar others. By now, several frameworks have been proposed to classify the antecedents of trust (Gefen et al., 2003; Kim et al., 2008; Zucker, 1986). In reference to these contributions, the eWOM trust antecedents are categorized as:
- (1) Personality-based trust antecedents (i.e., truster’s stable personality characteristics, such as disposition to trust, general scepticism, cynism, susceptibility and openness to experience). For instance, cynism expresses an individual’s belief in the untrustworthiness of others which leads to an orientation of being hostile to others (Williams, Barefoot & Shekelle, 1985). Hence, since this trait is transferred to any life situation, it is likely that cynics also do not have trust in assertions made by fellow consumers in online reviews and recommendations. Hence, they may be less responsive and persuable to eWOM in general as they simply don’t trust it.
- (2) Experience-based trust antecedents which focus on trust building through earlier consumption experiences (e.g., experiencing selfish or opportunistic behaviours of reviewers, age, education) as well as repeated interactions and familiarity with the object of trust. For 130
instance, consumers who had only positive experiences in the past (e.g., because reviews helped them to shape their buying decision and guided them to a good shopping outcome) are likely to generalize such experiences and anticipate them to the present. Hence, they are more willing to rely on eWOM claims.
- (3) Cognitive-based trust antecedents refers to trust building through cognitive evaluation processes and is associated with self-observations (e.g., a generalized attitude towards eWOM information quality), self-perceptions (e.g., perceptions institutional reliability, schemata about reviewer and channel characteristics), and self-interests (e.g., eWOM image). For example, it is theorized that eWOM trust is caused by various general perceptions or attitudes of the reviewer community (e.g., reviewer credibility) which result from a social learning process or the observation of others’ behaviours.
- (4) Affect-Social-based trust antecedents refers to generalized emotional and social bonds between the reader and the reviewer. This category includes attitudes as well as traits related to interpersonal relationships. For example, literature agrees that social similarities contribute to trust building. Various scholars (Duhan et al., 1997; Feick & Higie, 1992; Gilly et al., 1998; Smith et al., 2005) have suggested that perceived rapport and similarity (i.e., homophily) between a consumer and an information agent (reviewer or recommender) with respect to demographic characteristics, lifestyles, tastes, attitudes, personality and interests may also influence the amount of trust a consumer places in the information agent. This view is strongly supported in eWOM literature.
Hence, various determinants or underlying conditions are likely to shape the consumer’s orientation to have confidence in relying on eWOM. On the other hand, the focal psychological construct is also associated with related beliefs and attitudes towards the marketplace. For instance, eWOM trust is a correlate of consumer’s generalized (e.g., eWOM attitude) or narrow attitude towards online reviews (e.g., eWOM helpfulness), eWOM distrust or his/her involvement in peer information search. eWOM trust may also impact an individual’s attitude toward the Internet as a search or shopping tool. Consumers who have a lack of trust in eWOM are inclined to dislike eWOM for that reason and thus as the Internet nowadays is more or less a synonym for interactive social interaction and shopping, they are inclined to dislike Internet product search in general.
Further, it is hypothesized that eWOM trust impacts responses to eWOM appeals and has ultimate consequences on product/brand attitudes and information-gathering behaviours. In contrast to traditional WOM, which involves personal communication between friends, family and affiliates, eWOM is characterized by the anonymity of the interaction partners. Hence, consumers tend to doubt the information in general. In such a situation, the importance of the individual’s disposition to trust eWOM is heightened as different levels of trust may lead to different attitudes toward an object (Kim & Benbasat, 2003). Therefore, in accordance with
prior findings (Wang, 2010; Yu & Tang, 2010) it is expected that generalized eWOM trust indirectly moderates the relationship between eWOM appeals and consumer reactions (e.g., product/brand attitude) through situational eWOM trust. This thesis assumes that if a consumer’s trust in eWOM is high, he/she should attend more to eWOM, should be less likely to counter argue, and should form beliefs that are consistent with eWOM claims. For instance, if an individual has a strong belief in positive eWOM, he/she will form more positive attitudes toward the product and will feel good about using the product. Therefore, high trusters are more likely to use eWOM for product information and should be more persuaded by online reviews and recommendations in general. In contrast, low trusters are less likely to be convinced by positive eWOM, which means that they will not form positive product/brand attitudes which mirror the positive opinions of others.
eWOM trust’s moderating role is itself affected by individual factors (e.g., consumer’s knowledge, motivation, involvement) which have been shown to determine persuasion effects but also by additional situational factors that are likely to impact consumers’ acceptance of eWOM claims (Obermiller & Spangenberg, 1998). Hence, eWOM message perceptions may vary depending on the shopping occasion (e.g., product type) but also the situational consideration of characteristics of the reviews just read. For instance, some reviews may be perceived as more manipulative than others. This perception may influence the situational trust towards the just read reviews; this results in specific reactions towards the product/brand. Hence, as described earlier, a person’s reactions to specific reviews is mainly guided by situational trust aspects. However, generalized eWOM trust has a great indirect influence on these reactions through situational trust. In general, individuals are not able to evaluate whether or not specific reviews are trustworthy (e.g., cues for the source’s reputation are missing). Hence, they use generalizations as a proxy to determine their level of trust. Generalized eWOM trust is especially influential when peripheral route processing is used. It functions as a schema or cognitive short-cut.
Based on this nomological network, selected relationships between eWOM trust and its theoretically related constructs should be tested empirically. Accordingly, the following hypotheses and propositions are introduced. While the hypotheses target a further empirical assessment in this research, the aim of the presented propositions is to demonstrate theorized relationships that may be investigated empirically in future empirical research.
Figure 3: The Nomological Framework