Over the past decade, the rapid pervasiveness of wireless networks and mobile devices (such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops) has made m-commerce an important business model [1
]. This trend is expected to accelerate in the coming years due to a number of m-commerce advantages: continuous connection, increased speed of service, simplicity and convenience, added value (e.g., tracking delivery of orders or searching for reviews), and cost reduction. As everything has two sides, in an “always-on” virtual environment, m-commerce activities contain significant risks due to their characteristics of ubiquitous connectivity, localization, and personal identity attachment [3
]. However, these are typical occasions in which trust has a function, because trust reduces uncertainty and insecurity which are key factors in the facilitation of purchases and prevention of altering intentions.
Given mobile technology’s intrinsic attributes of instantaneity and ubiquity [4
], m-commerce’s basic characteristic of being able to access the internet anywhere at any time makes consumers’ trust differentiate from that of both traditional face-to-face commerce and traditional e-commerce confined to a wireline environment [3
]. Consumers’ expectations, vulnerabilities, and proximities to trustees; the causes of trust decline; and ways of trustworthiness judgement vary considerably. For instance, compared with making purchases in a real shop, consumers in m-commerce lack commitment because they are able to conveniently switch between alternative vendors by a single click [4
]. Therefore, each business model raises different trust issues for researchers and practitioners. Moreover, in recent years, some studies have begun to focus on consumers’ trust issues in the m-commerce environment [1
], but surprisingly, the issue of how trust might be repaired in m-commerce has not yet received theoretical attention. Therefore, consumer trust repair in m-commerce merits research in its own right as an important theme in this emerging business model.
Hariguna et al. [6
] identified economic trust in the context of mobile banking, where it represented users’ perceptions regarding the benefits in saving time and costs, as well as the economical use of mobile services. In a business relationship, there are three sequential levels or types of trust: calculus-based trust (CBT: economic calculation of rewards and punishment), knowledge-based trust (KBT: full information and understanding), and identity-based trust (IBT: full internalization or collective identity) [7
]. In m-commerce transactions, consumers buy products without really seeing, touching, or experiencing them, and there is a lack of face-to-face communication. To complicate matters, the impact of online reviews of conflicting or mixed information leads to consumers to approach purchase decisions with an ambivalent attitude [8
]. Several studies related to recommender systems in online shopping endeavor to solve the issues related to the substitution of human vendors [9
]; for example, Sulikowski et al. [9
] found links between user behavior on certain product pages and preferences towards those products, which was useful for recommender systems design. However, consumers’ knowledge of the m-marketers and products remains insufficient. Furthermore, the emotional elements of trust in online consumers are also different from traditional face-to-face commerce (such as the sense of being certain and secure)—at best, the feelings of comfort and dependency in the transaction are present [11
], which is far from the full internal identity. These two points illustrate that KBT and IBT cannot be developed in m-commerce. Significantly, consumers’ actual benefits derived from remaining in the relationships culminate in the judgement of credibility of m-vendors. Therefore, consumer trust in m-commerce for transactional relationships is a typical calculus-based trust that begins and ends at this minimal level.
The specific type and its nature of trust influence its repairing emphasis. In buyer–seller relationships, current trust repair studies rarely consider the nature of a calculus-based trust by regarding that the single relational or affective strategy (such as apologies, denials or excuses) is effective [12
], or that the affective and tangible strategy (such as financial compensation) are equally effective in trust repairing [14
]. Our work bridges the existing research gap by identifying the nature of trust in m-commerce buyer–seller relationship and answers the following research questions are: Do consumers re-trust in benefits, emotions or both? Which strategy is essential for trust repairing—the tangible or affective strategy? What is the appropriate strategy for repairing trust in a certain situation in m-commerce? Will the repaired trust be higher than the pre-existing trust after successful trust repair efforts (the trust repair paradox issue)? By tackling the questions above, this study seeks to contribute to how trust in m-commerce is appropriately repaired after its decline, and ultimately, to advance the understanding of trust theory and provide useful guidelines for m-vendors.
3. Development of Research Hypotheses
In the marketing relationship, a psychological contract consists of a consumer’s perceptions about the promises made by a brand, and it is emphasized that it is simply the perceptions of the consumer [34
]. Disconfirmation has been developed as a model for understanding customers’ satisfaction/dissatisfaction regarding the service provider’s recovery actions after a service failure [35
]. As a typical CBT, when a service failure of an m-vendor occurs, the consumer’ benefits are damaged. Consumers cognitively determine the causes of this negative outcome, and an implicit psychological contract for compensation (such as substantial actions, favorable attitudes, or apologies) generates concurrently. They compare the repair strategies that the m-vendor provides with their psychological contracts, and the discrepancy determines the consumers’ general judgment of trust or lack thereof. Thus, trust repair in service failures needs to be studied from the perspective of the fulfillment of consumers’ psychological contract for compensation.
A psychological contract includes two types: transactional and relational, where the former emphasizes tangible content and explains “what to exchange”, while the latter explains “how to exchange” and does not involve a tangible element [36
]. In repairing trust of m-commerce consumers, the transactional psychological contract embodies a collection of tangible economic compensation for consumers, for example, free exchange, refund, price discount, and gifts. In contrast, the relational psychological contract emphasizes process quality and involves intangible exchange, for example, face, identity and respect. Specific behaviors of the relational psychological contract in trust repair of m-commerce include acknowledgement, apologies, and solving problems in a proactive and timely manner. Following the above discussion, the hypotheses are formally presented below.
Hypothesis 1 (H1a,b).
Following a competence-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the (a) transactional and (b) relational psychological contract for compensation positively influences trust repair.
Hypothesis 2 (H2a,b).
Following an integrity-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the (a) transactional and (b) relational psychological contract for compensation positively influences trust repair.
Several studies have concluded that simultaneous tangible and relational strategy are effective in trust repair in buyer–seller relationships [14
]. Alternatively, Haesevoets et al. [37
] demonstrated that even in economic settings, relational strategies enhanced the effects of tangible compensation in situations where the tangible compensation alone was insufficient. From the perspective of the relationships between two distinct types of psychological contract, Rousseau pointed out that the transactional and relational psychological contract could promote each other thus forming an interaction pattern [36
]. This perspective suggests that in m-commerce, the fulfillment of the transactional psychological contract indicates that the vendors are concerned with not only self-interest but also with the consumers’ losses, which facilitates the implementation of the relational strategy. Meanwhile, the fulfillment of the relational psychological contract confirms the vendors’ goodwill, which may, in turn, raise the “values” of tangible compensation by adding emotional content. Thus, as the combination of both strategies also positively influences trust repair, the following hypotheses are presented:
Hypothesis 1 (H1c).
Following a competence-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the transactional × relational psychological contract for compensation positively influences trust repair.
Hypothesis 2 (H2c).
Following an integrity-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the transactional × relational psychological contract for compensation positively influences trust repair.
In organizational settings, violations reduce the benefits that an employee receives and make him or her feel a sense of injustice or betrayal; thus, that employee offers an increase in the transactional psychological contract and a decrease in the relational psychological contract in return [38
]. De Cremer [39
] found tangible compensation was more important than apologies when the victim suffered direct financial losses. In m-commerce buyer–seller relationships, as a typical form of calculus-based trust, any relational strategy is no more than emotional reparation; thus, the relational strategy is clearly less effective than tangible compensation. As mentioned above, there is likely an interaction effect in which the transactional and relational contract strategies are complements in trust repair. Accordingly, the impact on trust repair of the respective psychological contract strategies and the interactive strategy may differ considerably. Thus, the following hypotheses are presented:
Hypothesis 1 (H1d).
Following a competence-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the transactional, relational, and interactive psychological contract has significant differences in terms of the effects of trust repair.
Hypothesis 2 (H2d).
Following an integrity-based trust decline caused by a service failure, the fulfillment of the transactional, relational, and interactive psychological contract has significant differences in terms of the effects of trust repair.
In economic exchange relations, m-vendors’ inaction may lead to a natural reduction in business exchange for benefits, and, correspondingly, the consumers’ trust declines based on the gradual dissolution with time. Arousal is the basis of motivation, information processing, emotions, and behavioral reactions [40
], which can reconnect the benefits of both m-vendors and the “sleeping consumers”, thus evoking consumers’ prior trust memories and repairing trust. Therefore, our third hypothesis is as follows:
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Following trust decline caused by m-vendors’ inaction, arousal positively influences trust repair.
M-vendors’ excessive actions may damage consumers’ benefits and, thus, lead to trust decline. To repair trust, consumers need to believe that in the future, the m-vendors’ untrustworthy behavior will be constrained. Lewicki and Brinsfield [18
] propose that the longer-term repair strategies for broken trust include actions to provide more permanent “structural” changes or boundaries in the relationship. Dirks et al. [41
] define regulation as setting up a system to ensure future trustworthy behaviors and limit future trust violations, and they show that regulation can promote trust following a violation. In a situation of excessive actions, m-vendors need to regulate such actions in relatively permanent “structural” arrangements and make consumers perceive the preventive activities in order to improve trust. Therefore, the fourth hypothesis is presented in order to verify the outcomes of regulation on the repair of trust:
Hypothesis 4 (H4).
Following trust decline caused by m-vendors’ excessive actions, regulation positively influences trust repair.
The service recovery paradox, that is, after a service failure, businesses take appropriate remedial measures which can bring more satisfaction to customers than before [35
]. Echoing similar sentiments of the service recovery paradox, the trust repair paradox (TRP) is defined as after trust decline, vendors take the appropriate repair strategies to allow them to be trusted more so than before. The trust repair paradox appears as an important phenomenon to both academics and practitioners because it may be seen as an opportunity to gain a higher degree of customer trust through successful trust repair. Tax et al. [42
] used trust and commitment as the dependent variables in consumer-facing industries and confirmed the existence of the service recovery paradox again. Soars et al. [43
] validated the influence of quick resolution and compensation on the service recovery paradox in a call center setting of mobile telecommunications. In line with these studies, the trust repair paradox is expected to exist in the new context of m-commerce. Following the above discussion, the hypotheses are formally presented below.
Hypothesis 5 (H5a).
In the case of a competence-based trust violation caused by a service failure, consumers’ repaired trust will be higher than the prior trust followed by the fulfillment of the (1) transactional, (2) relational, and (3) interactive psychological contract for compensation.
Hypothesis 5 (H5b).
In the case of an integrity-based trust violation caused by a service failure, consumers’ repaired trust will be higher than the prior trust followed by the fulfillment of the (1) transactional, (2) relational, and (3) interactive psychological contract for compensation.
Hypothesis 5 (H5c).
In the case of trust decline caused by m-vendors’ inaction, consumers’ repaired trust will be higher than the prior trust followed by arousal.
Hypothesis 5 (H5d).
In the case of trust decline caused by m-vendors’ excessive actions, consumers’ repaired trust will be higher than the prior trust followed by regulation.
displays the model of consumer trust repair in the m-commerce environment of the study.
6.1. Trust Repair in Competence vs. Integrity Trust Violation
The results of H1 and H2 indicate that, in m-commerce, the fulfillment of the psychological contract for compensation has a significantly positive impact on trust repair following a competence violation; contrary to our initial hypothesis, following an integrity violation, the fulfillment of the psychological contract has a significantly not positive but negative effect. Since consumers identify the strategies of the fulfillment of both the transactional and relational psychological contract for compensation (the mean of these two strategies following a competence violation was 4.333 and 4.239, and that of an integrity violation was 4.437 and 4.434, respectively); however, the identification of repair strategies does not always change into re-trust towards m-vendors, and, as such, the question arises as to why trust can be repaired following a competence violation but cannot be repaired following an integrity violation. As many studies have discussed [41
], when trust violation is due to a lapse of integrity rather than due to a lapse of competence, trust is hardly repaired because the violation causes are stable, and the violation will occur again. Hence, it is logical that we can obtain the same conclusions in m-commerce. Interestingly, it is most perplexing that the results of H2 indicated that after integrity violations in m-commerce, trust and the strategy of fulfillment of psychological contracts for compensation are linked with a negative relationship, thus revealing the “boomerang effect” in which the more the m-vendors repair, the more the trust decreases.
By returning the survey to the participants after the experiment, a considerable number of them said that the mobile trust breakers were supposed to provide the transactional or relational compensation, which was manifested in the form of the psychological contract. Moreover, they used the words of “tricks”, “swindle”, or “gimmicks” to describe the trust breakers’ repair behaviors. More specifically, they used the phases of “afraid of communication, an unsought confession” to describe what they perceived only when the transactional strategy was used, and they used “cheater, big fake or want to deceive again” only when the relational strategy was used. Additionally, they used the sentence “my judgment will not change” when both the transactional and relational strategy were used. Clearly, the lower level of trust cognition was motivated together with the repair strategies towards an integrity trust violation.
An explanation for this may be attributed to consumer psychological reactance evoked by trust repair strategies. Consumers psychological reactance means that consumers perceive the externally imposed influence and regard it as a threat to freedom, thus entailing overreaction, or moving in the direction opposite to the influence efforts [54
]. Koslow [55
] has shown that consumer skepticism may evolve as a defensive coping and reactance response to pervasive advertising attempts, even if they do not have the rational reasons for doing so. Analogous to consumer psychological reactance caused by advertising, as an integrity trust violation occurs, the stereotyping of the violators’ deliberate acts of wrongdoing obviously makes consumers perceive more manipulative intentions (for the purpose of repurchase and profits) behind the trust repair. Thus, psychological reactance occurs in this situation, which further deteriorates the low trust level.
This novel finding has important theoretical implications that sheds some light on how consumers’ subtle psychological state operates in relation to integrity-type trust repair, hence contributing new knowledge in the trust repair literature. Moreover, this study provides an empirical evidence to reinforce the meaning of the ethics of businessmen—not knowingly to do harm [56
]. For practical implications, this finding suggests that mobile marketers must understand that the best thing for them is to avoid opportunistic actions of integrity-based trust violations rather than to respond to the failure with repair strategies, which not only fails to elicit more trust but may also even decreases trust.
Regarding reparative power, our findings show that following a competence trust violation, the sequence of the positive effects of the repair strategies of psychological contracts on trust is as follows: transactional × relational, transactional, and relational (supporting H1a, H1c and H1d; rejecting H1b). In contrast, following an integrity violation, the sequence of the negative effects is as follows: relational, transactional, and transactional × relational (supporting H2a, H2b and H2c oppositely; supporting H2d). The results demonstrate that in the calculus-based trust repair of m-commerce, the strategy of fulfillment of the transactional psychological contract for compensation exerts the most critical and universally useful effects on the trustworthiness judgment, because the transactional strategy provides a basis for benefits for rebuilding trust. Moreover, there is a significant transactional-by-relational strategy interaction effect, such that the relational strategy magnifies the repair effect of the transactional strategy.
In contrast to prior research that only regards the single affective strategy or the simultaneous tangible and affective strategy for repairing trust in buyer–seller relationships [12
], our findings further expand on these insights by revealing the sequence of the tangible and affective strategy by focusing on the transactional psychological contract for compensation. In addition, several studies reveal that the single affective strategy is the appropriate trust-repaired strategy for competence or integrity trust violations [12
]. Nevertheless, the present study reached different conclusions: the fulfillment of the transactional psychological contract for compensation (tangible strategy) must be warranted, and then the relational psychological contract (affective strategy) has a function. The reason for this lies in the cognitive benefits that play a critical role in trust repair due to the calculative nature of trust in the purely economic environment of m-commerce. These findings enhance our understanding that each stage’s nature of trust clarifies its repairing emphasis, thus enriching trust theory.
A practical implication for m-vendors is that the central role of the fulfillment of the transactional contract, rather than of the relational psychological contract, for compensation should be underlined, and a substantial offer of compensation rather than “sweet talk” alone should be provided in order to repair trust. We also propose that on the basis of the transactional strategy, it can be even more powerful when combined with relational strategies, such as “icing the cake”.
6.2. Trust Repair in Inaction and Excessive Actions Trust Decline
Our study also focuses on trust repair after a gradual trust decline with time: inaction and excessive actions, which the existing trust repair literature regarding buyer–vendor relationships has ignored. H3 was verified, as arousal had significant effects on repaired trust triggered by inaction. This finding suggests that regarding the natural dissolution of trust decline caused by inaction, m-vendors should not let it be, just “give up”, and not think any act of repair would be effective. In this sense, m-vendors may arouse consumers’ benefit requirements by distributing promotional information, special discounts, or electronic coupons through appropriate instant messages or calls, thereby rebuilding trust with “rewards” that meet the requirements of the consumers’ benefits.
In CBT, this form of trust is grounded not only in the rewards to be derived from preserving it but also in the fear of punishment for violation [7
]. H4 was verified, as regulation had significant effects on repaired trust triggered by excessive actions. The result also has implications for the operating platform of m-commerce. Gillespie and Dietz [47
] identified two complementary mechanisms that underlie trust repair: distrust regulation and trustworthiness demonstration, the former acting by punishing the faults that lead to the failure, and the latter representing attainment of a sense of hope, faith, and assurance through improved desirable actions. In m-commerce, as consumer trust decline is triggered by excessive actions, the regulation strategy is conducted for the purpose of applying these two complementary mechanisms in order to protect and increase consumers’ benefits. It is recommended that rules be established on the platform for distrust regulation, for example, not sending marketing information without consumers’ consent and appropriate punishment. Furthermore, consumers should be encouraged to perceive the platform’s regulation actions aims of trust demonstration, for example, shielding spam information or providing useful marketing information in a precise (rather than bombarding) manner.
6.3. Trust Repair Paradox
The present results show that repairing strategies pertaining benefits can prove to be a critical factor that determines whether consumer trust may be effectively repaired, with the except of an integrity violation. However, the results of H5 show that the trust repair paradox has not been verified in m-commerce. Eventually, when trusting again, the repaired trust is below the prior trust level, and a complete recovery of trust to its former state may not be possible. This finding suggests that in m-commerce, consumers may rebuild destroyed trust after appropriate repairing, but not all is forgotten.
Our work is an initial study about the trust repair paradox in m-commerce. As Lewicki and Brinsfield [18
] note, the repaired trust may include elements of distrust and hence may be “healthier” than pristine trust because the victim may be more cautious in future interactions. On the one hand, the repaired trust of a healthier level provides personal assurance for consumers with a more rational and beneficial relationship with m-vendors, while, on the other hand, for m-vendors, consumers’ repaired trust is less beneficial in comparison with the unbroken trust for promoting transactions. Therefore, m-vendors should try to take measures to prevent any actions which may cause trust decline.
7. Conclusions, Limitations and Future Research
The existing literature lacks analyses of trust repair specifically for m-commerce. This study can fill the research gap and develops a trust repair model in m-commerce. The nature of trust in each stage helps to clarify its appropriate repairing emphasis. In conclusion, we return to our basic premise with a significantly enhanced perspective: in exchange relations of m-commerce, consumer trust is a calculus-based trust; thus, the trust-repairing belief of “benefits first”, in which cognitive benefits play a critical role in trust recalibration, is established. “Benefits first” determines the corresponding trust repair strategies and can explain why these reparative strategies work in three typical m-commerce situations of service failure, inaction, and excessive actions-based trust decline. Specifically, this study supplements previous research by proposing and verifying that the fulfillment of psychological contract for compensation (basic transactional type and supplementary relational type), arousal, and regulation are the three appropriate repair strategies for trust declines of competence, inaction, and excessive actions, respectively. Combined, these repairing strategies constitute fundamental guidelines for how vendors should handle consumer trust repair in m-commerce. As some past work has shown that trust cannot be repaired in an integrity-based trust decline, this study also supports this result but further revealed the “boomerang effects” in m-commerce trust repair caused by integrity violations, in which the more m-vendors try to repair, the more the trust decreases. Furthermore, in m-commerce, the trust repair paradox is not verified, and consumers’ trust can never fully recover.
In view of the attribution of consumers’ trust decline in m-commerce, four typical situations are examined in this study: competence, integrity, inaction, and excessive actions-based trust decline. However, there may be some other causes of trust decline, such as service failure concerning matters of the third party (i.e., express companies), or privacy breaches (i.e., unauthorized personal information disclosure). Hence, it is necessary to explore the repair strategies and effects in additional scenarios involving different types of trust decline. The magnitude of harm of trust violation has important implications for how trust can be repaired [18
]. To test the research hypotheses concerning service failures, this study conducted an experiment only using Nike sport shoes, which represented a product that caused actual loss but no significant harm to consumers. This, in turn, provides a starting point for future studies, in which products with value variation according to the severity of service failures can be used to investigate and compare consumers’ responses.
In addition, future work may refine trust repair at different levels of relationship decline. As a minimal level of typical CBT, consumers’ trust towards m-vendors is a fragile type of trust, and it can quickly plunge to zero if there is a violation [7
]. Rather, in m-commerce, consumers usually face the choices of over-rich products and have different “zero level” trust relationship with vendors, meaning that the ending point of trust decline or the starting point of trust repair has its own nature in relation to the different degree of trust or distrust. Accordingly, future studies on trust repair can be undertaken from the perspective of different trust decline levels of total distrust (confident negative expectation), a no-trust and no-distrust condition (a neutral expectation condition), and ambivalence (simultaneous presence of trust and distrust). Additionally, trust is a dynamic construct, and longitudinal studies play an important role in trust research. CBT embodies the relatively short term or long duration based on the rational calculation of benefits and costs [7
]; indeed, full trust repair is likely to be a complex process, and the repair effects may involve time, even in professional other than personal relationships. The present study focuses solely on verifying the short-term effects of the repair strategies in the CBT relationship of m-commerce, and, therefore, a longitudinal study of the long-term effectiveness and viability of these strategies should be conducted.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of the study is the “boomerang effect”, in which trust repair leads to a further deteriorated level of trust perception; however, the “boomerang effect” in regard to the specific type of integrity failure is probably related to the low social trust in China. As noted above, the sample used was restricted to university students enrolled in one course, all of which were of Chinese nationality. Fukuyama [57
] has described China as a low-trust society. Su et al. [58
] found that economic development in China has provoked a state of generalized social anomy, thus leading to a serious crisis of decline in social trust. The low social trust of Chinese society may have significantly influenced the participants’ over-responses in the case of integrity trust violation. As previously discussed, psychological reactance theory provided an explanation for the “boomerang effect” in trust repair. The importance of a threatened freedom, costs of resistance, and the influence of threat altogether determine the magnitude of reactance [59
]. In this research, the participants were freedom-preferring university students that were in a safe m-commerce environment without facial interactions, and, hence, the participants may have experienced relatively more reactance. Thus, for future research, it may be interesting to use samples including individuals from different countries or with different ages to test the effects of these socio-demographic variables.