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eWOM Trust Antecedents

Disposition to Trust

eWOM trust is inseparably linked to the individual’s personality. Disposition to trust (TDispo), also called trust propensity, is a personality trait that basically refers to the generalized tendency of a person to trust others (Ridings et al., 2002). Specifically, these authors describe the construct as “a general willingness based on extended socialization and life experience to depend on others” (p. 278). Hofstede (1980) has also found that this trait is related to the individual’s cultural background, personality type, and developmental experience. People’s difference in their tendency to trust others is not based upon experiences with or knowledge of a specific trusted party, but is instead the consequence of ongoing life experiences and socializations (Fukuyama, 1995; Kim et al., 2008; Kramer, 1999; Rotter, 1971). In line with prior and subsequent research, disposition to trust describes an individual’s tendency to believe or not to believe others (Gefen et al., 2003). This is regardless of who the interaction partners are and the actual situation (Casalo et al., 2008). Disposition to trust results from the individual’s inclination to display faith in humanity and to adopt a trusting stance towards others, independent of time and space (Gefen, 2000; McKnight et al., 1998) (for a detailed review see Chapter 2).

Various research provides evidence that disposition to trust is related to (interpersonal) trust development in a variety of situations (Gefen, 2000; Mayer et al., 1995). That is, it is often seen as an antecedent of this construct and it has been discussed as being specifically effective when the trusting parties are still unfamiliar with one another (Liu & Zhang, 2010; McKnight et al., 2004; Utz et al., 2012). Here, people apply disposition to trust as a kind of heuristic to overcome situational complexity. This has been proven, for instance, by investigations into the development of initial trust in a business-to-consumer environment, where it has been shown that the trust of individuals who had quite rare interactions with a selling party are predominantly affected by their tendency to trust others in general. Likewise, disposition to trust positively influences the initial trust of a consumer in a website (Lu & Zhou, 2007). In the context of e-commerce, dispositional trust impacts a person’s trust perceptions in other trusting entities (e.g., Gefen, 2000; McKnight & Chervany, 2002). The very same influence is also likely to be present in the context of online reviews. A distinctive characteristic of eWOM is that the reviews and recommendations often stem from persons with whom the reader is not familiar and the interaction parties have no or little prior relationship with one another (Lee & Koo, 2012). Ridings et al. (2002) argue similarly by stating that in virtual communities it is very likely that individuals do not have much information about one another. Accordingly, the authors are able to show that if an individual is predisposed to trust others in general, the same willingness also guides him/her to trust other community members. Additional support for a close relationship comes from the work of Casalo et al. (2008). Given the anonymous character of the eWOM communication, a person’s disposition to trust should be a good predictor of generalized eWOM trust. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

H1: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to the individual’s

disposition to trust.


An individual’s trust in eWOM may be affected by a number of personal predispositions and personality traits. One of these personality traits is the individual’s level of self-confidence or self-efficacy (the term is here used interchangeably). The construct has been identified as a critical factor for explaining individuals’ behaviours in a social context (Reynolds & Darden, 1971) and exerting influence in the context of spreading and seeking of WOM information. The close relationship between trust and self-efficacy can be drawn from the social cognitive theory (SCT). Research addressing this theory has heavily investigated the topic of how people perceive themselves and others in a variety of social situations. A key assertion of SCT is that individuals have specific goals - each one of them is associated with an expectation of a certain outcome. In order to achieve these goals, individuals constantly process environmental information and adapt their behaviour accordingly (McCormick & Marinko, 2004). In this context, individuals develop their own uncertainty control strategies (Kim et al., 2008). Their reactions towards and their evaluations of the external environment are guided by the individuals’ personal standards and their perceived self-confidence (Wood & Bandura, 1989. Bandura (1977b) states that the concept of self-efficacy (self-confidence) can be generally described as a person’s perception of how easy (or difficult) it would be to perform a certain behaviour. The author (Bandura 1982, p. 122) defines self-efficacy as “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”. Some years later, Bandura (1986, p. 391) adapted his view and redefined the concept as “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performance”. Research views self-confidence as a major variable that underlies human motivations (Venkatesh et al., 2003), affects perceptions and indirectly influences final behaviours (Hernandez et al., 2009). Accordingly, Bandura (1991, p. 257) notes that “people’s beliefs in their efficacy influence their choices, their aspirations, how much effort they mobilize in a given endeavor, and how long they persevere in the face of difficulties and setbacks”. In parallel, the concept should not be confused with being a measure of objective skills. Rather, self-efficacy should be understood as the extent to which a person believes that he/she is able to perform a specific task by applying his/her skills (Eastin & LaRose, 2000). In a similar vein, it has been regarded as a basic belief that an individual is capable of activating a certain motivation which is critical to overcome problems of a specific situation (Wood & Bandura, 1989).

It is widely agreed that there exist two different forms: (1) specific self-confidence and (2) general self-confidence. According to Lau and Ng (2001), the former is related to a person’s belief to perform a specific task, while the latter is aimed to describe a person’s overall selfconfidence.

Self-confidence can be developed in the face of various skills and across different situations (e.g., economic self-confidence, social self-confidence, legal self-confidence, Internet selfconfidence) (Kucuk, 2009). For instance, the social aspect of self-confidence is highlighted in the work of Mourali et al. (2005, p. 309), who state that self-confidence refers to the “differing ways in which individuals relate to each other. Some people are inherently more comfortable than others in interpersonal interactions”. General self-confidence reflects these facets and is expected in this research to have a relationship with a consumer’s trust in eWOM. The concept has been defined as “the extent to which an individual believes himself to be capable, significant, successful, and worthy” (Locander & Herman, 1979, p. 270). More specifically, this thesis narrows the notion of self-confidence down to the consumption context and adapts the view of Bearden (2001) of a consumer’s self-confidence in marketplace decisions by describing it as “the extent to which an individual feels capable and assured with respect to his or her marketplace decisions and behaviours” (p. 122) and expects a clear relationship between a consumer’s general self-confidence and eWOM trust. In this research it is assumed that consumers with a low level of self-confidence, may be more likely to engage (passively) in eWOM communication and may place more trust in information from others (Levy, 2012). Self-confidence is regarded as a critical factor that determines whether a consumer seeks word- of-mouth communication or not (Bansal, 1998). Research in the offline world has made some investigations into the relationship between self-confidence and opinion seeking. For instance, the research of Kiel and Layton (1981) provides the insight that information search is negatively related with self-confidence. This essentially means that consumers who have low levels of self-confidence put a lot of time and effort in the collection of external information. They do not trust themselves. Likewise, it has been shown that higher self-esteem, another personality trait which is closely related to the concept of self-confidence, guides individuals to lower levels of opinion seeking (Pornpitakpan, 2004a). Wood and Stanger (1994) argue that individuals who are more confident in their own judgments are consequentially less influenced by others' opinions. At its heart, this thesis argues that consumers with low self-confidence are more likely to consult the opinions of fellow shoppers in order to find out more about the thoughts and recommendations. This enables them to make better-informed purchasing decision and to get confirmation from others. Collection of external information furnishes them with confidence that they possess an adequate level of information which they otherwise would not have. The work of Mourali et al. (2005) supports this view by stating that the consumers with “good” selfconfidence are more likely to rely on their own knowledge as well as skills when making decisions and do not rely on others. General self-confidence has also been shown to be a determinant of subjective product knowledge (Park et al., 1994), which makes persons who 136

exhibit heightened degrees of self-confidence less likely to collect information from others, but to rely on their own person. Similarly, Cox (1962) finds that persons with high self-confidence regularly reject advice because they feel that they do not need it and instead prefer to trust their own judgment. Later, this is also supported by Webster (1968) and Cox and Bauer (1964) who conclude that persons who are low in self-esteem are generally more susceptible to interpersonal influence. Various authors emphasize the nature of the construct of selfconfidence by generally stating that persons with high self-confidence are most likely to believe that difficult tasks (e.g., making a purchase decision) are something that can be mastered on their own (Banbura, 1982) - without the support of others. Hence, it is more likely that those consumers challenge themselves and their purchase knowledge in order to solve difficulties in an uncertain purchase environment (Kucuk, 2009; MacDonald & Uncles, 2007). In essence, self-confident persons trust themselves more than others, especially when they belong to an anonymous crowd. Hence, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H 2: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and negatively related to the individual’s


Risk Propensity

A key consideration of risk literature is the assumption that one’s tendency to take (avoid) a risk across different domains and variety of situations is a stable personality trait (e.g., Wang et al., 2009). As a consequence, persons can be classified as having risk-seeking or risk-averse decision styles - which can be regularly observed in respective research (Bromiley & Curley, 1992; Farmer, 1993; MacCrimmon & Wehrung, 1990). In this thesis, the author adopts the view of Sitkin et al., who define risk propensity as an individual’s current tendency either to take or avoid risks (Sitkin & Pablo, 1992). Similarly, MacCrimmon and Wehrung (1990) define the concept as a person’s generalizable willingness to take risks. The idea that this propensity may have a significant influence on decision making under conditions of risk and uncertainty is grounded in various previous studies (e.g., Gosh & Ray, 1992; Kim, 1992; Taylor & Dunnette, 1974). An often-emphasized aspect of risk propensity is its impact on the relative salience of contextual perils or prospects and, hence, results in altered risk perceptions (Brockhaus, 1980; Vlek & Stallen, 1980). For instance, risk-averse individuals are theorized to put more weight on potentially negative outcomes than positive ones (Schneider & Lopes, 1986). This leads to an overestimation of the probability of loss relative to potential gain. Research has demonstrated that a reverse relationship is also true for risk-seeking people (March & Shapira, 1987). Individuals with an enhanced orientation towards the acceptance of risks are also predisposed to taking riskier decisions than others (Brockhaus, 1980) and more positive attitudes. As demonstrated earlier, trust is deeply related with risk. Regularly, trust is defined as the willingness of an individual to rely on something or, in other words, to take some kind of risk. In the context of eWOM, the acceptance of personal vulnerability is equalized to this risk. In line with risk literature, it is theorized that risk-seeking consumers are more likely to overestimate the positive outcomes of relying on this kind of information in contrast to risk- averse individuals. They think that they considerably benefit from others’ experiences, as the reviews provide them with a picture of consumption reality. In other words, risk seekers tend to trust eWOM more easily than others because they generally perceive very limited risk - like the risk of being deceived and manipulated. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H 3: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to the individual’s

risk propensity.


Another personality trait likely to affect an individual’s level of eWOM trust is extraversion, as the concept has been found to be closely related to the quality of social interactions (Costa & McCrae, 1989). Extraversion appears in one form or another in most personality inventories often being attributed as a part of the “big five” personality traits (Norman, 1963) - or even forming with neuroticism the “big two” (Wiggins, 1968). In general, extrovert persons are said to be focused on the outside world (Walczuch & Lundgren, 2004). Because of this, they are more sociable, open to others, like to be in other people’s company, as well as being interested in the well-being of other individuals (Fahr & Irlenbusch, 2008). Additionally, extrovert people can be characterized as lively, spontaneous, careless, and enthusiastic. Accordingly, Barnes et al. (2007) characterize extroverts as talkative and sociable. As using eWOM (communicating with the world) is a truly outward directed social behaviour, it can be argued that an extrovert person is generally more likely to trust eWOM communication compared to individuals scoring low on this trait. This is also supported by previous reseach (Gholamisaman, 2012), that identifies extraversion as a major factor of opinion seeking and giving in social networks. Matzler et al. (2006) find in their research that extroversive consumers have a higher level of socialization and are also more willing to take other people’s suggestions into consideration. This may be due to the fact that extrovert persons also have a higher degree of affiliation, which makes them more likely to have warm and friendly feelings towards others and value close interpersonal relationships with fellow consumers (Lee, 2002). People scoring high on gregariousness, a factor that is often described as being an integral part of the concept of extraversion, are said to have strong social needs and have trouble being alone (Wiggins, 1994). Arndt (1967) also provides evidence that sociable persons are more likely to engage in traditional WOM communication than those who are less sociable. Sociable persons are outgoing and are therefore more likely to actively participate in online social networks and be influenced by these networks as a result (Valck et al., 2009), as well as perceive trust in similar information such as OCR. In parallel, extroversion may have a positive impact on an individual’s intention to form trust in general (Tan & Sutherland, 2004), and therefore also may lead indirectly to higher levels of eWOM trust. Hence, this thesis proposes:

P 1: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to the individual’s



The personality trait of agreeableness is often described in terms like social adaptability, likeability, friendly compliance, and love (John & Srivastava, 1999). Individuals who have a higher level of agreeableness are more likely to form friendly relationships with others (Digman & Inouye, 1986) and have higher trust (Tsao & Chang, 2010). Agreeable persons have, in general, positive beliefs towards others and appreciate their values and convictions (Walczuch & Lundgren, 2004). Individuals who score high on agreeableness are best described with terms like friendly, helpful, altruistic, modest, trusted, and straightforward (e.g., Picazo-Vela et al., 2010). In contrast, less-agreeable people are found to be more suspecting and less trusting (Pervin et al., 2004). Additionally, these people have little respect for others’ interests and wellbeing and do not care much about social norms (Walczuch & Lundgren, 2004). In literature, it is widely agreed that individuals who feel respect for others also believe that others have respect for them. Hence, it is assumed that consumers who are high in agreeableness are more easily trusting and influenced by the words of others online.

P 2: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to the individual’s


Openness (to Experience)

Matzler et al. (2006) state that besides the personality trait of extraversion, openness should be examined because of its potential relevance for trust perceptions. Literature provides several hints for describing open people. For instance, Tsao and Chang (2010) characterize individuals who are more open to experience as having more imagination and curiosity, like variability, and less likely to be prejudiced (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991). These authors further notice that persons who are more open to experience are more willing to consider various viewpoints and others’ opinions, and seek out new opportunities to learn new things. Hence, it can be assumed that these individuals are also more likely to use and trust the recommendations and views of fellow shoppers in the online medium. Open people represent a specific kind of consumer that generally tends to be more knowledge-seeking than others, preferring alternative routes of information flow - aside from corporate information. These consumers do comparison shopping on the Internet and are constantly looking for the latest and the greatest or the best values (Tsao & Chang, 2010). The concept of openness to experience is able to explain behaviours and intentions of individuals who are curious, insightful, and also have a broad range of interests (Ranjbarian & Kia, 2010). More openness leads to a greater willingness to take risks (Diehm & Armatas, 2004) and more carelessness with respect to new situations and experiences. Therefore, open people are expected to be less aware of the potential risks and dangers present in mostly anonymous eWOM communication. It is assumed that people with a high openness to experience are also more likely to trust eWOM:

P 3: A person’s trust in eWOM in general is significantly and positively related to the

individual’s openness.


Literature suggests that cynicism should show a negative relationship to eWOM trust. According to Kanter and Wortzel (1985, p. 6), cynicism is defined as “the suspicion of other people’s motives, faithfulness, and goodwill”. In their research, the authors directly linked the concept to the perceived believability of advertising claims. Kanter and Wortzel (1985) argue further that cynics are less likely to believe in information from any source and are especially likely to attribute advertising claims to (nebulous, one-sided) selling motives rather than strict honesty and passion towards the consumer (Obermiller & Spangenberg, 1998). This thesis assumes that a similar pattern is true for eWOM communication. Here, consumers with a heightened cynical personality are more likely to consider the “dark sides” of reviews and recommendations. They generally assume that reviewers are driven by selfish or purely economic motives that distort the content of their communication. Reviews mirror the interests of clever marketers that want to steer consumers wrong. Cynics may regard themselves being “used” by the reviewers or being manipulated. This view corresponds also with the description of the cynicism concept by Kanter and Mirvis (1989, p. 3), who define it as “a sense of being let down or of letting oneself down, and more darkly, the sense of being deceived, betrayed or used by others”. Cynicism is often described as a learned, unfavourable attitude that can be broad or specific in its focus. It is a complex concept that is represented by cognitive, affective, and behavioural components (Stanley et al., 2005). Others view it as a “negative affect” (Dean et al., 1998). Cynicism is related to feelings of manipulation or ethical violation and individuals - who can be best described as having a cynical personality - typically assume that others exploit them for their own interest (Chaloupka, 1999). In general, cynicism is commonly related to terms including suspicion, distrust, scepticism, dissatisfaction, alienation, and resistance or even hostility towards the agent (Chylinski & Chu, 2010). At the heart of the cynicism concept is the consumer’s assumption about the others’ pretence of unselfishness to mask selfish goals (Helm, 2004). In parallel, this is associated with the general criticism about eWOM messages as well. In turn, it is proposed that:

P 4: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and negatively related to the individual’s


Consumer Experience

Various trust researchers agree that trust develops over time as it is built up in a gradual manner through a series of interactions (Hart & Saunders, 1997; Kumar, 1996; Ramawami et al., 1997). Blau (1964), for instance, explains that familiarity or experience are antecedents of trust as he states that trust is built through beneficial earlier interactions with the trusted party. Through experience, the trusting party acquires beliefs concerning the characteristics (i.e., the trustworthiness) of the trusted party (Gefen, 2000; Giffin, 1967; Mayer et al., 1995). This ultimately determines general orientations towards the trust object. The person learns from instrumental conditioning. Hence, in the eWOM context, it seems also reasonable that consumers who had positive experiences with eWOM in the past (that is received positive reinforcement) tend to have a more positive orientation towards it. And as a consequence, they are more likely to place more trust in this kind of information at the present. Positive experiences with eWOM arise when consumers have the impression that the usage of eWOM enabled them to be more efficient during the buying process, as this kind of information was perceived to be a valuable source of purchase information. They mean that they did better in their purchase decisions by trusting OCR. Additionally, persons who place higher trust in eWOM are more unlikely to be exposed to negative experiences such as opportunistic behaviours of the reviewers and information that steered them wrong, leading to negative reinforcement. Hence, it is argued:

P 5: A person’s trust in eWOM in general is significantly and positively related to the

individual’s prior positive eWOM experience.

Reviewer Credibility

Online consumers’ trust in eWOM is likely to be influenced by a set of assumptions about the creators of eWOM as a social group; that is, reviewer stereotype and role schema (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011). Here, one factor that is likely to form a constant level of eWOM trust is the reader’s general attitude towards the reviewers’ credibility (Scred). Source credibility has been repeatedly regarded as a “trust facilitator” in a variety of contexts (Barber, 1983). Recently, the concept was also introduced to eWOM research (Ku et al., 2012). In general, it is here assumed that consumers who view reviewers as highly credible are also more likely to have more trust in the information conveyed in the reviews written by these reviewers. Consequently, research has demonstrated that opinions of credible or reputable sources are perceived as more likely to be adopted by the members of the consumer community (Komiak & Benbasat, 2006). In the eWOM context, two different aspects can be identified to be related to the credibility of eWOM reviewers (see also previous discussion). First, sender credibility is based on his/her trustworthiness (i.e., believability) as the concept of reputation mirrors a collective measure of reliability of the reviewer population. Various research contributions support the view that sender trustworthiness is a critical determinant of eWOM acceptance (Lee et al., 2011). The


second major factor that determines reviewer credibility is the expertise of the reviewer. The latter refers to the extent to which readers of eWOM believe a source to have a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a particular subject (Martin & Lueg, 2013). The degree to which a source is said to have expertise is determined by the evaluation of multiple aspects of the source, such as knowledge, ability, or skills (Erdogan, 1999). Generally, persons who are trained or are in the possession of significant information in a specific area are viewed to have greater expertise than others. If eWOM readers perceive the sender’s expertise as unacceptable because the reviewer is perceived as having inadequate experience with the brand, he/she will appear less credible or reputable. In contrast, if the expertise level of the contributing reviewer appears adequate, the sender is deemed to be more reputable and knowledgeable. Related research has shown that source expertise exerts positive influence on consumer behaviour. In line with this literature string, it is assumed that the reviewer’s opinions and recommendations are more likely to be adopted by consumers when they generally assume that the information source possesses a high level of expertise. This view is supported by various research approaches that all agree that such sources exert greater influence over consumers than do other sources (Sweeney et al., 2008; Woodside & Davenport, 1974). For instance, proficient consumers have been found to be often consulted by others (Gilly et al., 1998). The sender’s expertise is an influential factor of information (Solomon et al., 2006) and the receiver’s search extent (Bansal & Voyer, 2000). Hovland and Weiss (1951) identified sources who possess relevant product knowledge or expertise as significantly more influential than other sources. The author also showed that changes in a consumer’s attitude and opinion can be attributed to this concept. Hence, various studies provide sound evidence that a sender’s level of expertise and trustworthiness both have a positive influence on influence of the endorser (Feick & Higie, 1992; Gilly et al., 1998; McCracken, 1989). Reviewer credibility perceptions been found to make shoppers more trustful in the online peer recommender (Chang et al., 2008; Smith et al., 2005). Hence, this thesis proposes that generalized perceptions of reviewer credibility are likely to impact the level of trust that consumers place in eWOM in general:

H4: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to perceived

reviewer credibility.

Reviewer Conscientiousness

The concept of conscientiousness is often described with terms like dependability, task interest, willingness to achieve, impulse control, and dedicated work (John & Srivastava, 1999). A recent literature review conducted by Picazo-Vela et al. (2010) describes highly conscientious individuals as being thorough, responsible, self-disciplined, organized, self-motivated, achievement-oriented and task-oriented (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Costa & McCrae, 1992b; Goldberg, 1993), but also cooperative (Molleman et al., 2004). A similar description is provided by Walczuch et al., who emphasize that persons who score high on conscientiousness are thought to be responsible, dutiful, and trustworthy (Walczuch & Lundgren, 2004). Conscientious individuals tend to be more serious and are cautious in making their purchase decisions. Previous research on this characteristic states that persons scoring high on the trait are purposeful as well as dependable (Witt et al., 2002) and are striving for the accomplishment of their goals (Costa & McCrae, 1992a). These attributes are generally valued by eWOM readers. It is hence theorized that consumers who perceive reviewers and recommenders as conscientious persons are more likely to trust the information provided by such individuals.

P 6: A person’s trust in eWOM is significantly and positively related to perceived

reviewer conscientiousness.

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