Online interactions have emerged as a dominant exchange mode for companies and customers. Cultivating online relationships—defined as relational exchanges that are mediated by Internet-based channels—presents firms with challenges and opportunities. In lockstep with exponential advancements in computing technology, a rich and ever-evolving toolbox is available to relationship marketers to manage customer relationships online, in settings including e-commerce, social media, online communities, mobile, big data, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. To advance academic knowledge and guide managerial decision making, this study offers a comprehensive analysis of online relationship marketing in terms of its conceptual foundations, evolution in business practice, and empirical insights from academic research. The authors propose an evolving theory of online relationship marketing, characterizing online relationships as uniquely seamless, networked, omnichannel, personalized, and anthropomorphized. Based on these five essential features, six tenets and 11 corresponding propositions parsimoniously predict the performance effects of the manifold online relationship marketing strategies.
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In business-to-consumer contexts (the focus of this research), the customer is an individual person, and the seller is the firm as an overarching entity or an individual firm representative (e.g., salesperson, service manager), such that two types of relational dyads may emerge: individual–firm and individual–individual (Iacobucci and Ostrom 1996). Dedicated interpersonal relational ties with individual employees have important implications (e.g., Palmatier et al. 2007b), but for this study, we focus on the firm overall as a relational partner to address firm-based strategies to manage customer relationships. This subsumed role of individual representatives of the seller firm also reflects an online relationship context, in which dedicated interactions between a customer and a specific employee tend to be relatively rare, compared with offline settings.
In this literature review, we also cite some additional papers which offer valuable insights for online RM, beyond the articles we identified by means of our literature search. We thank the review team for their insightful suggestions on related research from other domains.
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Steinhoff, L., Arli, D., Weaven, S. et al. Online relationship marketing. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 47, 369–393 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-018-0621-6
- Relationship marketing
- Relationship selling
- Online relationships
- Online shopping
- Online retailing
- Social media
- Mobile shopping
- Virtual assistants