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B2B eWOM creation on Alibaba: Signaling through online reviews in platform-based social exchange  

Tóth, Zsófia and Mrad, Mona and Itani, Omar and Luo, Maria (Jun) and Liu, Martin J. (2022) 'B2B eWOM creation on Alibaba: Signaling through online reviews in platform-based social exchange  .', Industrial Marketing Management, 104 . pp. 226-240.


This study investigates the contemporary role of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) in business exchanges through buyers’ signaling of observable and unobservable supplier characteristics on the Alibaba e-commerce platform. Utilizing a qualitative pre-study of 20 interviews (five buyer–supplier dyads with two interviews per firm) and more than 8,000 buyer reviews on Alibaba, we identify characteristic patterns of this type of B2B eWOM. Signaling Theory and Social Exchange Theory underpin the empirical investigation. To enable further conceptualization, the study distinguishes between online B2B reviews based on the extent to which they are controlled by organizational partners. Unlike some other forms of B2B reviews, reviews on Alibaba are uncontrolled and comprise a form of eWOM. Findings indicate that the relational patterns of B2B eWOM shared on Alibaba can be aggregated into three categories: human touch, responsiveness, and resilience. Besides these new categories, the importance of product/service quality has been confirmed. Through Alibaba reviews, buyers’ signals are sent not only to suppliers as feedback, but also to other prospective buyers to influence their purchase decisions. Our study aims to contribute to the B2B literature on eWOM and signaling in business relationships. By showing that human touch occurs even in online-only buyer–supplier relationships, the study provides evidence that bonding, the development of mutuality, and relationship intimacy in buyer–supplier relationships does not always require in-person contact. Managerial implications are offered with a focus on the signaling of unobservable qualities, such as human touch, with the help of B2B eWOM.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 12 May 2024.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© 2022. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:28 April 2022
Date deposited:09 May 2022
Date of first online publication:12 May 2022
Date first made open access:12 May 2024

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