Can Trustworthiness in a Supply Chain Be Signaled?
61 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2014
Date Written: September 2014
The relationship between a buyer and its suppliers is important and often relies on factors beyond the terms of a contractual agreement. Buyers can therefore benefit from identifying trustworthy suppliers. We argue that pre-contractual actions by the supplier, for example making costly buyer-specific investments without a long-term contract, can signal a supplier's trustworthiness. We develop a theoretical model to reflect supplier trustworthiness, and identify when a buyer can benefit from identifying trustworthy suppliers. We show that costly relationship-specific investments can serve as a signal of trustworthiness, and that supply chain profits increase when trustworthy suppliers are able to identify themselves in this fashion. We demonstrate the importance of the signaling mechanism using laboratory experiments. The experimental results show that relationship-specific investments lead to more collaborative transactions, with buyers offering higher prices and suppliers reciprocating with higher quality goods. This results in increased profits for both buyers and suppliers. Additionally, we show that the benefit of the relationship-specific investment depends directly on the signaling mechanism. Finally, we show that the benefits of buyer-specific investments for both suppliers and buyers are strengthened when firms interact repeatedly.
Keywords: reciprocity, collaboration in supply chains, behavioral operations
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