Online relationship formation

Irina V. Kozlenkova, Robert W. Palmatier, Eric Fang, Bangming Xiao, Minxue Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As online shopping evolves from being primarily transactional to being more relational, sellers aim to form online relationships. This article investigates online relationship formation, identifies the performance payoffs that result from forming different types of online relationships (unilateral vs. reciprocal), and tests the most effective relationshipbuilding strategies. Study 1, based on a longitudinal buyer-level analysis of an online shopping community, reveals that buyers use community-, seller-, and buyer-generated signals to identify suitable relationship partners and reduce online shopping risk. These signals generally diminish in importance as buyers gain experience but become more important when buyers are forming reciprocal relationships. Study 2 evaluates the dynamic payoffs of online relationship formation (seller-level analysis) on sales; the effect on sales of reciprocal relationships is three times greater and lasts seven times longer than that of seller-initiated, unilateral relationships. Study 3 is a field experiment testing managerially actionable strategies for leveraging relationships to grow online sales. Tenets arising from differences between online and offline relationships, together with the results from the three studies, inform an emerging theory of online relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-40
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Marketing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2017


  • E-commerce
  • Online shopping
  • Reciprocity
  • Relationship marketing
  • Shopping communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing

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