B2B eWOM on Alibaba: Signaling through online reviews in platform-based social exchange

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20 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates the contemporary role of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) in business exchanges through buyers’ signaling of observable and unobservable supplier characteristics on the Alibaba e-commerce platform. Utilizing a qualitative pre-study of 20 interviews (five buyer–supplier dyads with two interviews per firm) and more than 8000 buyer reviews on Alibaba, we identify characteristic patterns of this type of B2B eWOM. Signaling Theory and Social Exchange Theory underpin the empirical investigation. To enable further conceptualization, the study distinguishes between online B2B reviews based on the extent to which they are controlled by organizational partners. Unlike some other forms of B2B reviews, reviews on Alibaba are uncontrolled and comprise a form of eWOM. Findings indicate that the relational patterns of B2B eWOM shared on Alibaba can be aggregated into three categories: human touch, responsiveness, and resilience. Besides these new categories, the importance of product/service quality has been confirmed. Through Alibaba reviews, buyers’ signals are sent not only to suppliers as feedback, but also to other prospective buyers to influence their purchase decisions. Our study aims to contribute to the B2B literature on eWOM and signaling in business relationships. By showing that human touch occurs even in online-only buyer–supplier relationships, the study provides evidence that bonding, the development of mutuality, and relationship intimacy in buyer–supplier relationships does not always require in-person contact. Managerial implications are offered with a focus on the signaling of unobservable qualities, such as human touch, with the help of B2B eWOM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number140
Pages (from-to)226-240
Number of pages14
JournalIndustrial Marketing Management
Issue numberMay 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2022


  • WOM
  • eWOM
  • Signaling
  • Online reviews
  • Online B2B marketing
  • Human touch


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