Always trust in old friends? Effects of reciprocity in bilateral asset specificity on trust in international B2B partnerships

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Grounded in Social Exchange Theory (SET), this study is motivated by two unresolved issues. First, scholars find mixed results on how relationship duration facilitates business-to-business (B2B) trust. The lack of consensus results from the assumption that relationship duration is a measure of prior trust-building efforts. We contend that trust-building lies in exchanges between B2B partners, and relationship duration moderates the effects of reciprocal exchanges. Second, although Transaction Cost Analysis (TCA) is one of the most used theoretical lens in the study of B2B trust, TCA is criticized for neglecting the exchange process in B2B trust-building. To provide clarity to these issues, we validate the expectation that bilateral asset specificity constitutes social exchange processes, which communicate goodwill reciprocity and equivalence reciprocity. Empirical findings suggest that, within bilateral asset specificity: (1) achieving goodwill reciprocity always enhances trust, regardless of the duration contingency; and (2) violating equivalence reciprocity impairs trust over the duration.


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