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Relationship quality: a critical literature review and research agenda

Pinelopi Athanasopoulou (University of Peloponnese, Athens, Greece)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 29 May 2009




In today's highly competitive environment losing customers is very costly. Customer retention and loyalty have become possible through the development of long‐term, mutually beneficial relationships with customers. This paper seeks to critically review the literature on relationship quality (RQ) and to suggest avenues for further research.


Data were collected with impartial cross‐referencing of papers published in all major journals in the marketing area. Papers are presented in tabulated form based on six rigorously cross‐checked categories of information.


Most RQ research centres on business‐to‐business (b‐to‐b) markets and products use survey data, look at relationships from the customer perspective and analyse either the US or European markets. Also, results differ in various contexts and there is no universally accepted framework for RQ. By analysing the different variables used in previous studies, a general conceptual framework is provided for the study of RQ.

Research limitations/implications

The characteristics of RQ research that were identified from the review indicate that future research should focus on service and retail settings; validate existing conceptual frameworks across countries and contexts; do more seller and dyad studies; use more qualitative approaches to capture the subtle differences between contexts; analyse RQ in different relationship development stages, and look at new types of relationships between parties that may not be individuals or businesses or may not assume the traditional roles of buyer and seller.

Practical implications

The framework developed here provides firms with a guide to the factors that may affect the quality of their relationships with customers and helps them in developing effective relationship marketing strategies.


The paper provides a comprehensive review of the RQ literature that has not been done before and develops a general framework that can be applied in all contexts and will guide future studies in the area. Overall, the study helps researchers identify the critical issues and concepts related to RQ and shapes future research in the field.



Athanasopoulou, P. (2009), "Relationship quality: a critical literature review and research agenda", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 43 No. 5/6, pp. 583-610.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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