The impact of cyberostracism on online complaint handling: Is "automatic reply" any better than "no reply"?

Anna S. Mattila, Luisa Andreau, Lydia Hanks, Ellen E. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Purpose: This research aims to examine how consumers react to being ignored by a company once they have complained about an online service failure. The authors seek to propose that automatic reply e-mails to customer complaints are considered a form of cyberostracism, thus having equally harmful effects on customer perceptions as a mere no reply. Design/methodology/approach: The authors first conducted a qualitative study to ensure that consumers feel ignored when companies fail to respond to their e-mails. This was followed by an experimental study that tested the research propositions. The experimental design was a 3 (ostracism) × 2 (severity of failure) factorial between-subjects design. Findings: The results indicated that consumers did not perceive any significant difference between an automatic reply e-mail and no reply at all and perceived both to be a form of cyberostracism. It was also found that cyberostracism led to higher levels of negative emotions, lower levels of satisfaction, and higher levels of negative behavioural outcomes. The prediction that these impacts would be moderated by failure severity was partially supported. Practical implications: These findings should alert retailers to the fact that when an online failure occurs, proactive and personalised recovery efforts are necessary to maintain customer loyalty and mitigate negative behavioural outcomes. Originality/value: The authors extend the online failure literature by showing that automatic reply e-mail responses are perceived as cyberostracism and have an equally negative impact on consumer perceptions and post-failure behaviours as a mere no reply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-60
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Retail and Distribution Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Marketing


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