Products and services in the digital age : Findings of a multi-perspective approach

Raff, Stefan Christoph; Wentzel, Daniel (Thesis advisor); Paluch, Stefanie (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2019, 2020)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2019


The digitalization has prompted numerous changes in business and society. These changes can be witnessed, for example, in the increasing transformation of products and services, which in turn raises exciting questions for research in management. The aim of this cumulative dissertation is therefore to tackle some of the most pressing issues in current management research in order to shed light on some of the conceptual and behavioral peculiarities underlying the intertwined digitalization of products and services. Overall, this anthology consists of three interrelated but independent research essays which revolve around the overarching topic Products and Services in the Digital Age. Each essay looks at the topic from a unique perspective and addresses different research gaps on the basis of distinct underlying data. The first essay is conceptual in nature and is based on data gathered from the Web of Science Database (WoS). The second essay is based on empirical data that was collected in the facilities of the TIME Research Area at the RWTH Aachen University and via Amazon Mechanical Turk as well as social media channels. The data for the third essay was gathered in the facilities of the RWTH Aachen University behavioral lab (AIXperiment lab) and via Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Essay I sheds light on the different understandings of Smart Products in current research. Presently, there is no consensus regarding the definition of a Smart Product. Thus, extant literature suffers from the fact that studies rely on varying and partly conflicting conceptualizations, which has led to a rather scattered and patchy body of literature with unclear language and conceptual boundaries. This limits comparability across studies and hinders the incorporation of the Smart Product into related concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Smart Services. There is thus a need to take stock of extant articles and develop a common language that allows for cumulative research and, consequently, supports a more structured advancement of the field. To this end, first, existing articles on Smart Products were reviewed across contributing disciplines by means of a systematic literature review (SLR). This led to an overview of the status quo, that is, an initial set of criteria that are currently applied to characterize "Smart Products". Using systematic coding, these criteria were standardized into 19 defining criteria within a 5-level hierarchy. After that, a bibliometric analysis was performed to reveal structural patterns underlying the current literature, allowing deeper insight into the nature of the diverse understandings of "Smart Products" within and across disciplines. In summary, this study contributes to improving the understanding and conceptual clarity of the Smart Product, paves the way for more cumulative research advancements and puts forth implications for practice. Essay II explores the phenomenon of resistance to Smart Products. Despite their positive and useful facets, consumers' feelings with regard to Smart Products may not always be entirely positive which can lead to consumer resistance. This urges research to gather specific knowledge about the underlying beliefs and suspicions that may cause resistance. This study examines resistance in the context of a cutting-edge Smart Product, the intelligent assistant. The overall purpose of this mixed-methods study is twofold. The first study seeks to open the black box of people's minds by employing a mental model study to comprehensively scrutinize belief structures that may promote resistance with a particular interest in revealing hitherto unknown and technology-specific inhibitors to intelligent assistants. The second study aims to dive deeper into the thus identified inhibitors by testing them in a contextualized research model using a quantitative study. The results from this study provide valuable starting points to tackle potential resistance to AI-empowered household technology as well as bear the potential to spark fruitful discussions in research related to AI-empowered consumer technologies in general. Essay III explores the potentially harmful impacts of robo-advice on service relationships. Professional service firms across different industries are increasingly replacing human advice by robo-advice. However, robo-advice might not capture the social dimension of advice, which may harm existing relationships. Three studies show that stand-alone robo-advice, one of the most common types of robo-advice, reduces the relationship quality compared to a combination of human and robo-advice (i.e., hybrid robo-advice). Moreover, it has been demonstrated that this effect is dependent on the type of relationship customers have with a service provider. When customers have a communal relationship with a service provider, stand-alone robo-advice is more harmful than hybrid robo-advice, as stand-alone robo-advice violates communal relationship norms. In contrast, when customers have a mere exchange relationship with a service provider, they are more open to stand-alone robo-advice as they do not perceive a violation of relationship norms. An additional experiment also shows that robo-advice which mimics human social behavior may backfire by further reducing relationship quality. These findings emphasize the incompatibility of marketing initiatives to promote communal relationships and robo-advice. In addition, they demonstrate how managers should introduce robo-advice while avoiding harmful effects on their customer relationships. Additionally to its relevance for practice, the findings from this study offer valuable insights for the scientific discourse related to the application of AI in services at large.


  • Chair of Marketing [812310]