MALLARGE Jérôme, ZIDDA Pietro, DECROP Alain
The service evaluation process in the sharing economy: Why consumers seem to be more tolerant towards poor service quality
Abstract A new economic model for which using a good or a service prevails over ownership has recently emerged. This type of usage is made possible through sharing, exchange, barter, (re)sale or renting. This new model has been given labels such as “sharing economy” or “collaborative consumption” (Belk, 2014; Botsman & Rogers, 2010) and consists in temporary accessing to products or services with the collaboration of other consumers and/or intermediaries. From transportation to food sector, collaborative initiatives are massively present. Since a few years, there is a tremendous growth of the number of profit (e.g., Uber, Airbnb) as well as not-for-profit initiatives (e.g., Couchsurfing, TimeBank). The abundance of such initiatives has in turn started to alter the way consumers do their shopping and make shopping decisions as well as how companies manage their business. Given the numerous changes this phenomenon brings into the service provider-service user relationship, a particular point of interest concerns how collaborative consumption alters the traditional service quality-satisfaction framework. This paper aims to provide a better understanding of consumers’ expectations about collaborative services, as well as the potential differences with conventional types of services and the consequences in terms of consumers’ evaluation. We ran a large qualitative study among Belgian consumers in various service sectors such as transportation (e.g., bike sharing and ride sharing), accommodations (e.g., Airbnb, Couchsurfing) and local exchange systems. A first round of semi-structured in-depth interviews was undertaken with eleven consumers and non-consumers of collaborative consumption initiatives. The goal was to highlight reasons why individuals participate (or do not) in collaborative initiatives. We then proceeded to a second round amongst fifteen collaborative consumers with the aim to gather their experiences and the underlying evaluation process. Finally, we proceeded to two complementary focus groups in order to deepen our understanding of such evaluation processes. Data were analyzed using an abductive approach (Peirce, 1958, 1966), which refers to a successive use of inductive and deductive techniques. Based upon thematic and content analyses, findings suggest that consumers seem to be more tolerant towards poor service quality. Our study highlights several interesting issues with respect to how collaborative consumers perceive the service quality, the service failures and the associated risks, how they evaluate their experience and most importantly how do they form their satisfaction out of that. Though collaborative consumption initiatives can be fully considered as services, the satisfaction process and its antecedents are different from what one would expect from the service marketing literature. Amongst elements influencing the evaluation process, the lower self-serving bias and the role played by empathy, shared similarities and trust can be identified as elements making collaborative consumption unique. We confront our findings with the most widely used theories in the field, such as the disconfirmation of expectations and the specific application for services with adequate vs desired expectations (i.e. zone of tolerance), attribution theory, social exchange and role theory. These elements allow us to generate a series of theoretical propositions and research avenues concerning the very idea of consumers’ tolerance.