Wang Fenghua: The Power of Social Learning: Observational Learning, Word of Mouth Learning, and Online Purchase Decision Process


When consumers shop online, they often use social learning methods such as observation learning and word-of-mouth learning to assist in purchasing decisions. Observing learning refers to determining how to adopt purchasing behavior by observing the behavior of others (such as the historical sales of a product), while word-of-mouth learning refers to consumers learning from the perspectives of other consumers (such as user reviews of browsing products) and being influenced by them. Although existing studies have explained the impact of two types of socialized learning methods on consumer willingness to pay and other decisions, the differences and reasons for their impact have not been thoroughly explored. In fact, online purchasing decisions involve multiple decision-making stages, and product involvement can affect consumers' information search efforts and product evaluation patterns, thereby affecting their online purchasing decisions. So, how do observation learning and word-of-mouth learning affect consumers' different decision-making stages for products with different levels of involvement?

To answer this question, Professor Wang Fenghua and her collaborators jointly explored the relationship between social learning, product engagement, and online consumption decision-making processes. The authors considered three stages of the online purchasing decision-making process: "product search", "product selection and evaluation", and "final purchasing decision", and conducted two studies: (1) using behavioral experiments to explore the differences in the impact of observational learning and word-of-mouth learning on consumers' online decision-making process, as well as the moderating effect of product involvement; (2) Based on the theory of motivation reinforcement, a structural equation model is used to further reveal the impact mechanism of observational learning and word-of-mouth learning on the three stages of online purchasing.

Research has found that when consumers purchase high penetration products, word-of-mouth learning has a greater impact on the consumer decision-making process than observational learning; When consumers purchase low penetration products, the impact of observational learning on consumer decision-making process is greater than that of word-of-mouth learning. Furthermore, observation learning influences the decision-making process by enhancing consumers' external motivation; Word of mouth learning influences the decision-making process by enhancing consumers' intrinsic motivation. The impact of both social learning methods on the online purchase decision-making process is negatively moderated by product involvement. This study helps to theoretically understand the impact and mechanism of social learning on consumer decision-making processes. The research conclusion can provide inspiration and suggestions with scientific management basis for e-commerce platform managers and e-commerce enterprise operators.

Fenghua Wang1, Mohan Wang1, Yan Wan, Jia Jin, Yu Pan*. The power of social learning: How do observational and word-of-mouth learning influence online consumer decision processes? Information Processing and Management, 2021, 58(5), e102632. doi: 10.1016/j.ipm.2021.102632.

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