Abstract: This paper investigates whether online recommendation of products that exhibit corporate social responsibility (CSR) penalizes the purchase intention of non-CSR products. When consumers browse online retail stores and consider buying a particular product, online recommendation is made (e.g., “Customers who viewed this item also viewed”). This recommendation is often made between products of which attributes have a trade-off relationship (e.g., CSR vs. price). (A trade-off is where one thing increases, and another must decrease. A trade-off relationship between CSR and price suggests a pair of competing products are available: a more expensive, CSR product and an economical, non-CSR product.) We borrowed from the psychological literature of evaluability to hypothesize that when a CSR product is recommended, consumers would decrease their purchase intention of the economical product. However, when an economical product is recommended, consumers would maintain their purchase intention of the CSR product. We further hypothesized that this asymmetric effect would disappear when reinforcement information regarding the CSR is provided. Two carefully designed experiments conducted in China supported these hypotheses. Our findings contribute to the growing literature on online retailers by elucidating the psychological impact of online recommendations, which may influence manufacturers’ sales in an unexpected manner. The findings also indicate that online recommendations could be a potential source of channel conflict. While this study newly verifies the unintended CSR violation effect of online recommendations, future studies are required to expand our understanding of the CSR violation effect by investigating the effect under the trade-off relationship with other attributes of the product.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility; economical; evaluability; online recommendation