The effect of social interactions on demand and service levels of online retailers in the social shopping context
Social shopping has emerged as a popular online retailing segment. Social shopping revolves around online communities that bring consumers together to shop for deals. Online retailers have been making significant investments to encourage consumers to join online communities linked to their websites in the hope that social interactions among consumers will increase consumption rates. However, the assumption that social interactions increase consumption rates in social shopping remains largely untested in empirical settings. Also, the mechanisms of such an effect remain unclear. Moreover, extant literature has overlooked the role played by elements of the marketing mix, including product characteristics and the commercial context, in defining the effect that social interaction mechanisms have on consumption rates in this focused context. Furthermore, common knowledge in the operations management discipline challenges the largely held assumption, in the social interactions literature, that increasing consumption rates will always be beneficial to online retailers. Higher consumption rates may lead to stockouts, leading to lower service levels. This dissertation develops and empirically tests a theoretical framework that addresses these managerially relevant issues. Specifically, the investigation centers on the effects of social interaction mechanisms on consumption rates in social shopping. In turn, it assesses the nature of the relationship between consumption rates and service levels, after controlling for inventory provision. Finally, it assesses the role played by elements of the marketing mix in defining the relationship between social interaction mechanisms and consumption rates in this focused context. The research methodology uses experiments as the primary source of data collection, and employs econometrics techniques to statistically assess the conceptual framework. The results from the empirical analysis provide interesting insights. First, they unveil influential consumers in social shopping according to relational and structural elements of the social network of consumers and time of purchase. Second, the influence of early buyers' purchases on consumption rates becomes weaker when the quality of the products being offered as part of a deal increases, but it becomes stronger when the price of those products increases. Finally, as deals' consumption rates increase, their service levels decrease at a faster pace.