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A typology of interfirm relationships: the role of information technology and reciprocity

Pingsheng Tong (College of Business Administration, California State University, Sacramento, California, USA)
Jean L. Johnson (Department of Marketing, College of Business, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)
U.N. Umesh (Department of Business and Economics, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, USA)
Ruby P. Lee (Department of Marketing, College of Business, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 14 March 2008




This paper aims to advance interfirm relationship (IR) research by applying a theoretically based typology in IR settings and empirically investigating the association of information technology (IT) and relational reciprocity with IR types.


This study draws on Fiske's relational models theory to conceptualize an IR typology. In a business service context, a questionnaire was administered and IR types modeled via a multivariate logistic regression with IT pervasiveness, IT customization, reciprocity and embeddedness as predicting variables.


The IR typology comprises communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing types. The authors find that reciprocity is more likely to associate with an equality‐matching relationship and a communal sharing relationship than with a market‐pricing relationship. Pervasive use of IT fosters an equality‐matching IR, but IT‐enabled customization distances an IR from an equality‐matching relationship.

Research limitations/implications

A theoretical implication flows from the innovative application of Fiske's relational models theory to a context of business interactions and investigation of IT in association with IR types. The affirming findings empirically validate the IR typology and offer a new perspective in studying IR structures. This research also exemplifies the theoretical value and great potentials for further exploration of the theory in IR research.

Practical implications

The IR typology equips marketing managers with a useful tool in comprehending the intricate IRs and developing appropriate strategies for effective IR management. In designing IT use in IR interactions, both the scope and specific function of IT should be considered in order to ensure that all aspects affect consistently. Managers may encourage reciprocal exchange in shifting an IR away from a calculating relationship but consider intensive IT to foster an IR emphasizing balance and correspondence.


The novelty of this paper lies in the innovative application of Fiske's relational forms in IR settings and the empirical examination of the IT‐IR structure association. The IR typology advances IR research by offering a theoretically compelling and practically advantageous framework in studying IR structure, and the examination of IT‐IR associations brings to light the significance of IT in IR structures, which has been largely under‐explored.



Tong, P., Johnson, J.L., Umesh, U.N. and Lee, R.P. (2008), "A typology of interfirm relationships: the role of information technology and reciprocity", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 178-192.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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