Trading interactions: supplier empathy, consensus and bias

Alistair Brandon‐Jones (Bath School of Management, University of Bath, Bath, UK)
John Ramsay (The Business School, University of Staffordshire, Stafford, UK)
Beverly Wagner (Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Publication date: 27 April 2010



The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of buyers' attitudes towards the partial consensus surrounding the benefits of buyer‐supplier cooperation – the relational exchange perspective.


The extent to which buyers display an awareness of, and willingness to respond positively to, supplier needs, wants and preferences – termed supplier empathy – and how this influences their attitude towards buyer‐supplier cooperation and support of relational exchange is empirically assessed. In addition, factors that may influence levels of supplier empathy and the effect of supplier empathy on the incidence of supplier problems are examined. Finally, the extent to which social acceptability bias may mask attitudes in areas where consensus exists is considered. An empirical study utilising survey data from members of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply in the UK was completed. A total of 421 useable responses were received and analysed to evaluate hypotheses. The design also included efforts to identify the presence, and minimise the effects, of social acceptability bias.


The analysis indicates that the partial consensus surrounding the relational exchange approach is not shared by all practitioners. In addition, it is found that the level of supplier empathy exhibited by respondents is significantly influenced by supplier‐dependence aversion, innovation focus, extent of co‐design activity, existence of explicit partnership/cooperation objectives, and support for long‐term trading relationships.


The paper presents evidence that despite a significant but partial cooperation consensus in the academic literature, many large company practitioners appear unconvinced of the benefits of cooperation. Most analyses of buyer attitudes and behaviours are conducted by marketing researchers seeking to assist organisations‐as‐suppliers. This research is intended to help companies improve their performance as buyers. The paper also includes a rare attempt to identify and deal with the effects of social acceptability bias in the operations and supply management field.



Brandon‐Jones, A., Ramsay, J. and Wagner, B. (2010), "Trading interactions: supplier empathy, consensus and bias", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 30 No. 5, pp. 453-487.

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