Limitations and Directions of Future Research

Even though the thesis at hand has contributed to online customer research by furnishing it with a conceptually, as well as psychometrically, sound measurement scale to assess individuals’ trust in online customer reviews and recommendations, several important issues can be identified that are currently beyond the scope of this study but nevertheless make sense to be investigated by further research.

First, the scale’s development procedure reflects general recommendations of scale development literature to evaluate its properties with multiple samples. However, further research may be required to re-test and replicate the scale with additional samples in order to confirm the scale’s validity, as well as reliability. Such an evaluation would provide meaningful insights into the stability of the instrument’s psychometric properties across various populations.

Second, while this research has embedded the construct of eWOM trust within a comprehensive nomological framework, it has tested only a part of the theorized relationships empirically. Additionally, there was no further investigation into the simultaneous influences and the relative importance of various concepts included in this framework. Future research, for example, could substantially investigate additional antecedents of eWOM trust, such as personality characteristics and consumer experiences. Research demonstrates that individual differences, such as need for cognition (Haugtvedt & Petty, 1992), need for closure (Kruglanski et al., 1993), need to evaluate (Jarvis & Petty, 1995), and preference for consistency (Cialdini & Trost, 1998), influence a person’s persuasiveness and should be related to trust development. Moderator variables (e.g., product category) should also be considered (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011). In addition, scholars could tie up with prior research on the investigation of differences in individuals’ susceptibility to interpersonal influence and trust based on gender and age. Prior research regularly identifies trust differences attributable to gender (e.g., Foubert & Sholley, 1996). Here, for example, it is claimed that females typically possess a stronger openness to interpersonal influence than males (Solomon, 1963). The same literature string posits that females also tend to interact with their peers concerning purchase- and consumption-related topics and they are generally more susceptible to social influence (e.g., consumption patterns are strongly influenced by social motivations) than males (Churchill & Moschis, 1979). Results from persuasiveness research on the gender topic, however, remain mixed. On the other hand, research was able to demonstrate variations in the influence of social relationships over a 320

person’s lifetime. Here, susceptibility to interpersonal influence seems to have a curvilinear relationship, with age having the highest impact on behaviours during teenage and young adulthood. On the other hand, research has also demonstrated that, concerning informational influence, individuals generally tend to consult others (e.g., family members) as information sources with advancing age (Phillips & Sternthal, 1977). The theoretical framework also suggests that eWOM trust is strongly rooted in personality (e.g., extraversion, openness). Additional research on these and alternative antecedent variables such as a person’s inner-other directedness (Kassarjian, 1962) or self-monitoring (Lennox & Wolfe, 1984) would be valuable in contributing to the current discussion about how trust in online reviews is formed.

Third, future research that tests the scale’s applicability beyond its current domain to other forms of C2C communication (e.g., communication in online brand communities or social media platforms (e.g., Facebook), expert reviews, online video reviews (e.g., on Youtube) is desirable. The focal scale was developed in the specific thematic domain to measure trust in anonymous, text-based customer reviews. On the Internet, however, similar forms of online market communication exist, but the scale’s generalizability to these regularly used information sources is still questionable. Additionally, there is a recognizable trend among social media platforms to furnish consumers with personalized recommendations from known individuals (e.g., friends, online contacts). The scale has to be assessed with regard to whether it is capable of capturing the trust construct also in such cases.

Fourth, the eWOM trust scale was developed in two German-speaking countries and was applied in three different cultures. This furnishes this research with valuable information and initial evidence for the scale’s stability in other country settings. However, additional crosscountry studies are still necessary. This would help to uncover additional or alternative trust dimensions attributable to cultural differences. As further assessments of the scale’s English version are advisable, the same research string could also help to overcome latent limitations of this research.

Fifth, eWOM trust is here conceptualized by following a trait-based definition and regarding the construct as a cumulative tendency to rely on information given in online customer reviews that is relatively stable but changeable. Such a conceptualization includes the assumption that an individual’s trust is likely to be enduring over a longer time period, but is also subject to change over time as a result of personal experience. The conceptualization of the construct emphasized in this thesis parallels the understanding of Sitkin and Weingart (1995), who regard a personal propensity as a changeable trait which is persistent and enduring; however, the trait can be “learned or inherited” (corsini & Osaki, 1984; p. 542-543). Hence, this view recognizes people’s ability to adapt. However, it does not deny that, as individuals gather more experience, they may be less susceptible to contextual influences and are more likely to show crosssituational patterns. This said, the present study nevertheless has conceptualized eWOM trust as a relative stable orientation, rather than a context-specific state. Further research is surely needed to empirically verify this theoretical assumption. In addition, periodical measurement of the construct is needed in order to assess dynamics which may be attributable to the changing role of the Internet in humans’ life. Another interesting question is which events in the life of an online consumer (e.g., eWOM scandals) can alternate his/her relationship to this kind of online information.

Sixth, while the measurement model applied in this research is conceptually justified, as well as empirically supported, the evaluation of alternative models should maybe also be reconsidered using additional data. There is still an open discussion concerning how to conceptualize trust accordingly (e.g., generalized vs. situational trust). However, this research recognizes that different types, contexts and objects of trust exist and the construct has to be conceptualized differently in respect to the demands of the various appearances of the trust construct. Research endeavours in the same direction could also further test the relationship of the various trust components and their differential effects on consumer behaviour. The proposed scale could provide valuable basics for the future development of sub-scales and related eWOM-scales. For instance, future research should assess whether an adopted version eWT-S (one that eventually applies an alternative measurement model - e.g., a type II model) is applicable to quantify situational trust in specific reviews.

Seventh, the new scale should also be useful in experimental research. Here, a consumer’s trust in reviews can be manipulated in order to investigate effects on review perceptions and outcomes. Another interesting stream of research could be initiated by studying the determining effects of dispositional eWOM trust on situational trust. Such an approach would parallel various contributions in advertising research (e.g., Tan & Chia, 2007). An adopted version of the scale deemed to be capable of measuring situational eWOM trust could also be used to compare various types of eWOM messages, such as rational (negative) vs. emotional (positive) reviews in different product categories and their impact on consumer behaviour.

Eigth, this research has investigated a variety of profiling variables aimed at describing online consumers as an actionable segment of different forms of market communications. However, there are still additional characteristics that seem to be critical to understanding the different segments and which should be emphasized in future research; amongst them, for instance, opinion leadership (e.g., Childers, 1986), risk perceptions (e.g., Sitkin & Weingart, 1995), selfefficacy (e.g., Bishop & Barber, 2012; Dunning, 2007),price consciousness (e.g., Lichtenstein et al., 1993), consumer knowledge (e.g., Park & Kim, 2008; Zou et al., 2011), shopping goal (e.g., Lee & Ariely, 2006) and gender (e.g., Awad & Ragowsky, 2008; Barber, 2008). Additionally, further insights into media preferences, channel usage, extent of online search and consumption patterns would provide interesting insights for marketing managers. This thesis’ segmentation approach was limited to the US market. Conducting similar research in other countries and contrasting the research at hand with these findings would surely provide interesting insights into cultural differences. For instance, eWOM trust patterns are likely to differ between Western cultures (e.g., United States), in which the individualistic self is valued and Eastern cultures (e.g., Japan, India), whose members are striving for collectivism and interdependent self and where group loyalty and honesty are more valued (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). By drawing on earlier studies, eWOM trust can be expected to differ across cultures. This research would tie in already existing cross-cultural eWOM/online research (Fong & Burton, 2006; Pavlou & Chai, 2002).

Finally, this thesis’ segmentation approach has shown that persons with a high trust in eWOM only can be contrasted from a group of media literates who possess high trust in online reviews, as well as online advertising, by means of psychological characteristics, consumption-related attitudes, behavioural intentions, as well as behaviours. Nevertheless, this research only makes a first contribution into the investigation of consumers’ willingness to purchase ad- or eWOM- recommended products, the real consumption of such market offerings, and the role of eWOM information contrasted from ad claims in purchasing decisions. Hence, future research should address additional outcome variables, including online consumers’ willingness to pay, intentions to purchase or to switch a product, and discrete perceptions of market offerings - to name a few. This research may also investigate the coherent effects between consumers’ online and offline shopping patterns. Taken together, this should enable research to comprehensively describe online consumers and their shopping habits.

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