Drivers, types and value outcomes of customer-to-customer interaction: An integrative review and research agenda

Kristina Heinonen (Department of Marketing, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Elina Jaakkola (Marketing and International Business, Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland)
Irina Neganova (Department of Marketing, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Publication date: 12 November 2018



Customer-to-customer (C2C) interaction plays a significant role in service. The purpose of this paper is to identify the drivers that motivate customers to interact with other customers, the interactions through which customers affect other customers and the value outcomes of C2C interactions for the participants.


The paper is based on a systematic literature review of C2C interactions. The authors analyzed 142 peer-reviewed articles to synthesize existing knowledge about C2C interactions. A generic value framework is used to categorize earlier research and reveal areas for further research.


The main outcome of this study is an integrative framework of C2C interaction that bridges C2C interactions and customer value. The findings indicate customer-, firm- and situation-induced drivers of C2C interactions. Outcome- and process-focused C2C interactions are identified to result in functional, emotional and social value outcomes. Avenues for additional research to explore issues related to current technology-saturated service settings are proposed.

Research limitations/implications

The paper proposes an agenda for future research to extend the C2C interaction research domain and explore how such interactions create value for the customer. The role of the service provider is not explicitly addressed but is an important area for further research.

Practical implications

Companies can use the framework to understand how they can become involved in and support beneficial C2C interaction.


This paper reviews empirical studies on C2C interaction, offering a systematic review of C2C interaction and producing an integrative framework of C2C interaction. It identifies a research agenda based on the framework and on topical issues within service research and practice.



Heinonen, K., Jaakkola, E. and Neganova, I. (2018), "Drivers, types and value outcomes of customer-to-customer interaction", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 28 No. 6, pp. 710-732.

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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

1. Introduction

The increasing connectivity of consumers and the social nature of consumption have put customer-to-customer (C2C) interaction (i.e. interpersonal interactions between customers) in the spotlight (e.g. Hennig-Thurau et al., 2010; Nicholls, 2010; Libai et al., 2010). C2C interactions affect the service experience and value creation (Harris et al., 2000; Schau et al., 2009) and are therefore considered highly important for business performance (Libai et al., 2010). For decades, traditional service marketing and management literature frameworks, such as the classic servuction (Eiglier and Langeard, 1987) and servicescape (Bitner, 1992) models, acknowledged that customers’ experiences are affected by fellow customers. In their seminal article on C2C interaction, Martin and Pranter (1989) highlighted a range of customer behaviors that influence customer satisfaction, perceptions of service quality and customer retention. Their article inspired a rich body of research investigating C2C interaction (see Nicholls, 2010).

The pivotal role of C2C interaction is also evident outside the domain of service management. Through technology and social media, customers can interact and influence each other beyond geographical boundaries (Libai et al., 2010), expanding the relevance and scope of C2C interactions. Research on online brand communities indicates that customers’ collective interaction, such as sharing, entertaining or supporting peers, creates value for customers (e.g. Schau et al., 2009; Brodie et al., 2013). Customers may influence and mobilize other customers and, eventually, affect value creation beyond the firm–customer relationship (Jaakkola and Alexander, 2014). Scholars have encouraged more research to examine value creation in the customer domain (Heinonen et al., 2010; Grönroos and Voima, 2013), accentuating the importance of the role that C2C interaction plays in value creation. Customers are increasingly seen as the most important market actors, who perform many traditional service processes, and it will be increasingly challenging for companies to be involved in the interactions between customers (Heinonen and Strandvik, 2018).

These developments have created momentum for a fresh review of C2C interaction research, which is an important step toward understanding the role of C2C interactions in value creation. We argue that there are three key motivations for undertaking such a review. First, despite the importance of C2C interaction, there have been no systematic literature reviews on this topic, and earlier reviews do not provide an integrative framework of C2C interaction. Essentially, existing research on C2C interaction is scattered across different research streams, such as service marketing, consumer research, interactive marketing, retailing and advertising. While this research offers evidence regarding the drivers, nature and impact of C2C interaction in different contexts, its findings have not yet been examined within a broader conceptual overview of the topic. The usefulness of systematically conducted reviews that provide an integrated, synthesized overview of the current state of the knowledge in a field is well acknowledged (Palmatier et al., 2018), as such reviews can provide an outline for fresh research on the forms and implications of C2C interaction. Second, the boundaries of service delivery and processes have expanded, mainly due to technological advancements such as the rise of social media and virtual communities. These developments have not only highlighted the relevance of C2C interaction but also provided platforms for C2C interactions that no longer require a physical setting for services (e.g. Libai et al., 2010) or firm-controlled settings for service processes conducted within customers’ homes. Because of these developments, the understanding of C2C interactions must be revisited. Third, how C2C interaction is connected to customers’ value outcomes should be revealed. While individual studies provide evidence for specific outcomes of C2C interaction, their insights remain scattered and fragmented within the larger pool of literature, of which there is no comprehensive overview. Synthesizing current research on the value outcomes of C2C interaction can provide a foundation on which to understand value creation between customers in the customer domain (e.g. Heinonen et al., 2010). In addition, this perspective extends extant value creation research, which is predominantly focused on the customer–service provider dyad (e.g. Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004; Payne et al., 2009), and it contributes to a broader understanding of customers in a service context.

The purpose of this paper is to develop an integrative framework of the drivers, types and value outcomes of C2C interaction. This is achieved through a systematic literature review that identifies the following elements: the drivers that motivate customers to interact with other customers, the types of interaction through which customers affect other customers and the value outcomes of these interactions for participants. This paper contributes to service research with a systematic, integrative review that synthesizes and conceptualizes the current knowledge about C2C interactions. As such, it provides a complementary perspective to that of Nicholls’ (2010) selective review, which focused on a thematic overview of the main achievements in C2C interaction research. The review was important because it illustrated the key themes of C2C interactions, but it was not systematic and did not analyze the drivers, types or value outcomes of C2C interaction. As Webster and Watson (2002) state, when an accumulated body of research exists, a thorough literature review that produces a conceptual model to synthesize and extend existing research stimulates further research in the area. Thus, this review creates a foundation for advancing knowledge concerning C2C interaction from a service marketing perspective, supported by a discussion of research gaps in the current literature that suggests future development of the topic. By evaluating inter-customer behavior and the value outcomes of C2C interaction, this paper also bridges C2C interaction and customer value research, thus contributing to the ongoing discussion about customer value formation and value creation (e.g. Heinonen et al., 2013; Grönroos and Voima, 2013; Ranjan and Read, 2016). The following section explains how the literature review was conducted and provides an overview of it. Then, an in-depth analysis of C2C interaction is presented. The paper concludes with a discussion of the theoretical and managerial implications of the findings, limitations of the study and avenues for future research.

2. Method

We conducted an integrative, systematic literature review to synthesize research on C2C interaction. Integrative reviews review, critique and combine representative literature on a topic to generate new frameworks and perspectives (Torraco, 2005; Booth et al., 2012) and a state-of-the-art understanding of the research topic (Palmatier et al., 2018). Systematic literature reviews, which synthesize existing research, are pivotal for mature topics for which a vast body of research exists (Webster and Watson, 2002; Palmatier et al., 2018). We aimed to create a comprehensive overview of the existing knowledge concerning the motives, manifestations and outcomes of interaction among customers. Employing a systematic method, we identified research that was relevant to our study, analyzed and integrated the research findings, and developed conclusions based on this evidence (Denyer and Tranfield, 2009). The integrative review was intended not merely to summarize existing research but also to provide a coherent and wide-ranging framework (Booth et al., 2012), which is important since previous research has not systematically synthesized C2C interactions and their drivers and value outcomes.

2.1 Identifying relevant literature

To identify relevant research, we performed two literature searches in academic repositories that together offer a comprehensive range of business-related, peer-reviewed journals. The searches were conducted from March to May 2014, and an additional search was conducted in October 2017 to include papers published from 2014 to 2017.

To identify articles focused on C2C interaction, we used the broad key phrases “C2C” and “consumer-to-consumer.” A paper was included in the initial article pool if either of these terms appeared in its title, abstract or keywords. We limited the search to peer-reviewed academic journal articles published in English because academic journals contain the most advanced knowledge in any field (Mustak et al., 2013). We did not impose limitations regarding the time period, so the search extended across the whole period covered by the chosen databases, resulting in publications dating from 1989 to 2017.

The initial search in the EBSCO, Emerald, ProQuest and Science Direct databases returned 1,051 articles, which were examined to identify those that were most relevant to the focus and scope of this study (Booth et al., 2012). Selected articles had to deal with C2C interaction and activities performed by customers or indicate the drivers and outcomes of such interactions or activities. During this examination, we reviewed the titles, abstracts and keywords of the articles. When necessary, we read the whole paper. In total, 965 articles were excluded because they primarily addressed business-to-customer relationships (e.g. Barnes, 2003); did not focus on interaction between customers, but on firms’ perspectives on C2C phenomena, such as online consumer auctions (e.g. Abdul-Ghani et al., 2011; Antony et al., 2006); or addressed marketing approaches, such as customer relationship management (e.g. Payne and Frow, 2005) or internal marketing (e.g. Rafiq and Ahmed, 2000). Subsequently, to avoid missing key articles, we reviewed the reference lists of the identified articles and analyzed works that cited them. This resulted in the inclusion of 16 additional papers for a total of 102 relevant publications. The second literature search was conducted in October 2017 with the same principles. The search, which involved the Ebsco, Elsevier and Emerald databases and works published between 2014 and 2017, resulted in 749 articles, 40 of which were sufficiently relevant. The process of selecting the 142 articles for analysis is illustrated in Figure 1.

Subsequent analysis focused only on the 119 empirical papers within the pool. The research approach is summarized in Table I.

2.2 Analyzing the literature

Next, we conducted a structural analysis of the papers selected for full review and created an analysis framework that allowed for conceptual structuring (Torraco, 2005) of the evidence base. The framework drew upon a model of customer value formation (Heinonen et al., 2013) comprising five categories: what (i.e. what benefits and sacrifices are experienced by parties involved in interactions), how (i.e. what is the type/nature of the interaction that takes place between customers), where (i.e. in what platform or context does the interaction take place), when (i.e. what is the type of situation in which C2C interaction occurs) and who (i.e. which parties are involved in C2C interaction).

Initial analysis indicated that “where,” “when” and “who” were not sufficiently examined in the majority of the articles. As a result, we excluded them from subsequent analysis and added a sixth category: why (i.e. what drives C2C interaction). Consequently, the analysis mainly focused on the factors comprising the main framework: the drivers, types and value outcomes of C2C interactions.

Three researchers coded the articles independently and then reviewed each other’s analyses. When there was a discrepancy, the article was reanalyzed and conflicting views were resolved. Each paper was coded according to the categories of the framework, which were further defined by the themes that emerged during coding. We sought excerpts related to particular categories and analyzed texts that fell within each category. Use of open coding allowed subcategories to emerge inductively. Some categories or subcategories were similar to those in existing research, but the integrative framework is unique because it structures earlier research as a whole that is more than the sum of its parts (Booth et al., 2012).

Analysis of the C2C literature shows variation in research streams and publication outlets (Table AI) and an increasing number of publications over the last 25 years (Figure 2). The 142 reviewed articles were primarily focused on marketing and management, with the highest number of publications related to the specialized areas of services marketing, consumer research and business studies. After steady growth from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the amount of C2C literature increased sharply after 2005 because the development of modern information technologies, social networks and online communities fostered C2C interaction online beyond service encounters.

3. Findings

Our inductive analysis of existing research concentrated on the fundamental questions of why C2C interaction occurs, how it occurs and what it is. By answering these questions, we could identify and categorize the central research findings regarding the drivers, types and value outcomes of C2C interaction.

Figure 3 presents a preliminary conceptual framework that organizes the sections covered in the discussion of our findings. We concentrate on the types of customer interactions that are targeted at, or affect, other customers. We also identify and describe the subset of factors that motivate C2C interaction (i.e. drivers), the types of C2C interaction, and the value outcomes of C2C interaction. However, we exclude from our discussion the context of when and where such interaction occurs and who are involved.

3.1 Why: drivers of C2C interaction

We analyzed the articles to map research findings concerning why customers engage in C2C interaction. A broad range of drivers of C2C interaction, categorized into customer-, firm- and situation-induced drivers, were identified (Table II).

Most studies identify drivers that originate from the customer. Customers interact with each other because they want to gain or share information about products or service providers (e.g. Bailey, 2004; Davies et al., 1999). Customers who are satisfied with certain products or services want to reward and support those who provide them, while dissatisfied customers vent their negative feelings and warn others (Munzel and Kunz, 2014). Information seekers perceive the first-hand advice of experienced peers as highly valuable and objective sources of information (Zaglia, 2013).

Our analysis shows that a key driver of C2C interaction is customers’ sense of affection and desire for social interactions. In other words, customers wish to bond with (e.g. Blazevic and Lievens, 2008) or simply talk to other people (Munzel and Kunz, 2014). For example, Curth et al. (2014) demonstrate that affective commitment to another customer motivates helping behavior toward others.

Another driver is identification and shared interests; some studies show that customers want to interact with others who are similar to them (e.g. Brack and Benkenstein, 2012, 2014; Johnson et al., 2013). For example, Wang et al. (2012) state that the strength of ties between peers and identification with a peer group have positive effects on the extent to which customers communicate about products via social media. According to Zaglia (2013), members of a brand community perceive customers with similar values as trustworthy. Also, Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012) find that sharing passion for a brand makes customers more likely to interact.

Some studies show that customers’ desire for self-enhancement and approval is an important driver of C2C interaction. By talking to others, customers can display their knowledge of the service (Jarvenpää and Tuunainen, 2013), thereby enhancing their reputation and gaining social approval (e.g. Nambisan and Baron, 2009; Wasko and Faraj, 2005). Finally, customers have been found to interact more with others if they possess the necessary abilities and resources, such as navigation of internet platforms (Gruen et al., 2006, 2007) and possession of a good network (Davies et al., 1999; Black et al., 2014).

Another group of drivers of C2C interaction relates to the provider and the service. Providers can design a service setting to stimulate customer interaction, for example, by equipping customers with name tags that make them easier to approach (Levy, 2010). Providers can also create platforms and tools for interaction, such as online discussion forums (Cui et al., 2010), or engage in various triggering activities, such as inviting user-generated content and providing a commenting or reviewing function (Kozinets et al., 2010; Kulmala et al., 2013; Ertimur and Gilly, 2012).

Finally, our review identifies some situation-induced drivers of C2C interaction. Studies by Davies et al. (1999) and Parker and Ward (2000) indicate that high-involvement or high-risk products and services induce more C2C interaction. In addition, an unusual event, such as a product or service failure, prompts customers to vent their feelings and warn others (Harris and Baron, 2004; Munzel and Kunz, 2014) or to discuss an unexpected situation, such as a flash mob performance, with fellow customers (Grant et al., 2012). Furthermore, simply having idle time, such as when queuing, may induce customers to turn to each other (Davies et al., 1999).

3.2 How: type of C2C interaction

The literature analysis revealed 11 different types of C2C interaction. Of these, seven were helpful and three were categorized as negatively loaded (Tables III and IV).

Knowledge exchange involves general sharing of ideas, information and opinions between customers (Gruen et al., 2007; Jeppesen, 2005); providing helpful answers (Zhang et al., 2010); and asking for tips and advice (Kulmala et al., 2013). According to Gruen et al. (2007, p. 538), “[k]now-how exchange occurs when customers come in contact with each other, and they exchange knowledge, contacts, processes, concerns, complaints, stories, or recommendations that will enhance their well-being.” In addition, customers engage in knowledge production because they want to help others make sense of the service experience.

Problem solving refers to customers’ provision of instrumental help in the form of advice, technical support or other types of aid to other customers. It differs from knowledge production because it involves goal-directed help to solve a specific problem. Examples include helping others find products (Johnson et al., 2013), helping with an important purchase (Zhang et al., 2010) and providing physical assistance (Davies et al., 1999) or help with shopping (Yi et al., 2013).

Collective meaning making refers to customers’ consumption-related sharing of rituals and experiences, joint symbolic sharing and mimicking of meaning, and collective construction and dissemination of history. It involves individuals acting symbolically together to achieve communal goals (Gainer, 1995), discussing and reflecting upon their experiences (Minkiewicz et al., 2014), acting as reminders of tradition (Pongsakornrungsilp and Schroeder, 2011) and sharing experiences with individuals with whom they identify (Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera, 2012). It is also related to the creation of intragroup distinctions and identification of similarities between customers (Schau et al., 2009).

Community building refers to purposeful social networking and “serve[s] to convene consumers for interaction and fostering relationships” (Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera, 2012, p. 310). Customers that engage in community building make professional contacts (Gruen et al., 2007) and develop friendships (Moore et al., 2005). It has been argued that “friendships between customers are not uncommon due to frequently extended and intimate experiences during service delivery” (Yoo et al., 2012, p. 1314).

Endorsement relates to customers’ other-directed sympathizing and empathizing activities. It includes admiring, advocating, cheering, congratulating, listening and supporting other customers (Ertimur and Gilly, 2012; Martin, 1996; Rosenbaum and Massiah, 2007) as well as reassuring customers about a product’s suitability (Davies et al., 1999). It can be described as “customers’ perceptions of the resources they receive from other customers within the service setting that result in feelings of belonging and enrich the service experience” (Black et al., 2014, p. 392).

Recreation refers to customers’ hedonic and non-task-oriented behavior. It is driven by entertainment and time-insensitive interactions, such as sending and receiving group mail (Phelps et al., 2004), conversations between strangers during the service experience (Harris and Baron, 2004; Zhang et al., 2010), customers’ personal amusement (Georgi and Mink, 2013) and time spent waiting and engaging in activities (Yoo et al., 2012; Martin and Pranter, 1989).

Disciplinary and protocol behavior is observed in customers who willingly take responsibility for others and create and enforce collective rules or principles. Such interactions include moderating threads and forum posts, articulating behavioral expectations (Schau et al., 2009), disciplining poorly behaved members, settling conflicts between members and enforcing community rules and standards (Pongsakornrungsilp and Schroeder, 2011; Schau et al., 2009). Table III summarizes all seven types of positive, helpful C2C interaction.

Three negatively loaded types of interaction were also identified (Table IV). Verbal misbehavior describes customers’ thoughtlessness or insensitivity, that is either intentionally or unintentionally directed at other customers. It includes negative verbal interactions (Kim and Choi, 2016), inappropriate or crude acts (Martin, 1996; Wu, 2007, 2008; Zhang et al., 2010), rudeness (Zhang et al., 2010), loudness (Martin and Pranter, 1989; Miao, 2014), complaining and poor or unsolicited advice (Martin, 1996; Zhang et al., 2010).

Physical misbehavior refers to customers’ other-oriented dissatisfaction, frustration and discontent. It manifests in the form of physical behavior, such as fighting, kicking and violence toward other customers or participants in a service setting (Martin, 1996; Zhang et al., 2010).

Contextual misbehavior includes adversarial interactions, such as refusal to follow norms and regulations, wishes, common patterns or codes. Compared to physical misbehavior, it is more indirect. It may include maintaining separation from other customers (Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera, 2012; Martin, 1996), overhearing complaints (Zhang et al., 2010; Martin, 1996), spoiling others’ service experience through behavior (McGrath and Otnes, 1995), avoiding eye contact (McGrath and Otnes, 1995), smelling unfavorably (Martin, 1996), being tardy (Martin, 1996), exhibiting restless body language (Zhang et al., 2010) or participating in a crowd or queue (Kim and Choi, 2016; Pranter and Martin, 1991).

3.3 What: value outcomes of C2C interaction

Our analysis revealed a rich set of value outcomes that customers experience as a result of C2C interaction (Table V). While the majority of the research on C2C interaction has addressed its positive outcomes, some studies have highlighted negative ones. We identified four distinct types of value outcomes, each comprising a positive and a negative dimension.

First, C2C interaction arouses emotions and feelings. Conversations or friendly encounters with other customers create personal enjoyment and pleasant feelings (Zhang et al., 2010; Bruhn et al., 2014) but may also lead to anxiety (Johnson and Grier, 2013) or feelings of dissatisfaction (Grove and Fisk, 1997).

Second, C2C interaction impacts participants’ social status and affinity. By displaying knowledge and expertise when interacting with fellow users, customers can establish or reinforce their expertise-based reputation in a product-related community (Nambisan and Baron, 2009). Such interactions allow people to achieve a shared experience (Schau et al., 2009), gain a sense of connectedness to others (Brodie et al., 2013) and even form friendships (Abdul-Ghani et al., 2011). At the same time, Hildebrand et al. (2013) found that, when customers receive feedback from other community members regarding their self-designed products, criticism leads to decreased satisfaction and stifled customer creativity, indicating that the social outcomes of C2C interaction can also be negative.

Third, C2C interaction influences decision making. Some studies show that knowledge exchange between fellow customers facilitates purchase decision making. Cheung et al. (2014) find that customers’ purchase decisions are influenced by peers’ opinions and reviews and, to a greater extent, actual purchasing behavior. Word-of-mouth communication is perceived as a reliable source of information by customers (Gruen et al., 2006). Furthermore, information from peers has been shown to have a stabilizing effect on customer expectations; when customers know what to expect, they experience less risk and dissatisfaction (Harris and Baron, 2004), especially when the information comes from a user perceived as an expert (Adjei et al., 2010). However, Zhang et al. (2010) show that information and recommendations from others may cause customers to make decisions they later regret.

Fourth, we find that C2C interaction affects customer resources. By interacting with others, customers learn, gain new knowledge and skills (Nambisan and Baron, 2009) and find solutions to their problems (Bruhn et al., 2014). Customers gain a sense of power as they can punish or reward providers for the quality of their offerings through word-of-mouth communication (Brodie et al., 2013). Interacting with peers also leads to resource sacrifices, as doing so takes time and energy (Evans et al., 2001). Further, C2C interaction may provide customers access to illegal resources, such as pirated music (Plouffe, 2008).

4. Discussion and conclusion

4.1 An integrative view of C2C interaction

The results of the integrative research review represent an aggregate picture of past research in the field, outlining what has been studied and implying what has not. The drivers, types and outcomes of C2C interaction are integrated into a single framework (Figure 4) of C2C interaction. A main contribution of this study is its “integrated, synthesized overview of the current state of knowledge” (Palmatier et al., 2018, p. 2), which reveals future research opportunities for service research and practice. We found that a range of drivers of C2C interaction that originate from customers, the firm or the context and situation, and therefore, we argue that any driver can lead to any type of interaction. Moreover, the literature review demonstrated many types of C2C interaction, which range from positively valenced, helpful behaviors, such as problem solving (Johnson et al., 2013) and community building (Moore et al., 2005), to negatively valenced behaviors, such as verbal misdemeanor and contextually impaired behavior (Zhang et al., 2010). These types can be further categorized into offering-focused and process-focused interactions. Customers engaging in the former provide information, help, and affirmation to others regarding choice and use of products (e.g. Johnson et al., 2013). The latter shapes the service process, either by affecting the process (e.g. by disturbing it or upholding appropriate behaviors) or social intercourse, which allows consumers to develop relationships and experiences and engage in recreation with others. For example, inconsiderate behavior disturbs the planned service process (e.g. Martin and Pranter, 1989), but companionship among fellow customers makes the process more pleasant (e.g. Moore et al., 2005).

Regarding value outcomes, our review demonstrated that C2C interaction could affect consumers in three ways: emotional value (i.e. by inducing positive or negative emotions and feelings), social value (i.e. by enhancing or detracting from a customer’s social status and sense of affinity) and functional value (i.e. by facilitating or impairing decision making and leading to resource gains or sacrifices; Figure 4; see also Table IV). For example, interaction with others can create a sense of connectedness (e.g. Schau et al., 2009) as well as feelings of irritation or embarrassment, which affect the social and emotional value experienced by the consumer (e.g. Kim and Yi, 2017). Information obtained from others helps customers find, choose and use products and services in a way that optimally satisfies their needs, which ultimately increases functional value (cf. Harris and Baron, 2004), but unsuitable advice from a fellow customer may result in suboptimal decision making (e.g. Minkiewicz et al., 2014). Thus, the value implications of C2C interaction can be positive or negative, irrespective of the valence of the interaction, and may ultimately impact customers’ perception of the overall value of a firm’s offering (Gruen et al., 2007).

Based on this analysis, we conclude that C2C interactions denote customers influencing other customers through service interactions occurring in the firm and customer domains that are motivated by customer, firm or situational drivers and result in a range of positive and negative value outcomes. This statement adopts a broad view that includes both current and potential customers. C2C interaction is one part of a customer’s value creation process and has the potential to enhance value beyond the C2C interaction itself. For example, the value outcomes related to enhanced decision making, social status or positive emotions may be resources to achieve enhanced well-being, quality of life or social relationships. We provide insight into how customers connect to each other’s value processes through interaction, which is a key premise of C2C value creation that has been overlooked (Heinonen et al., 2013). The existing evidence relating to C2C interaction allows for greater understanding of C2C value creation. As such, this study represents an important contribution to value creation research and meets the growing need to understand value creation in the customer domain (Heinonen et al., 2010; Grönroos and Voima, 2013).

The framework can be used to identify conceptual, empirical and topical issues for future service research. Therefore, the following section provides an extensive agenda for future research that enables expansion of the topic into service research and practice.

4.2 Limitations and future research

Like all research, this study has some limitations. Some arise from technical decisions during data collection, like our focus on English research found in online databases, while others have significant consequences. For example, our choice of keywords may have caused some articles to be overlooked if they used terminology other than “C2C” or “consumer-to-consumer.” To reduce this risk, we manually examined the reference lists of the initial articles to locate additional studies. After doing so, we were confident that we located all the key research exploring the phenomenon. Additionally, we acknowledge that, because we excluded conceptual papers from the pool of articles, we did not tap into the potential of such works for fresh, unique perspectives on the studied phenomenon. Therefore, we argue that the conceptual underpinnings of C2C interactions are an important avenue for future research, especially studies that conceptualize C2C value creation.

The research on C2C interaction is a mature area, especially in the field of service management. However, while some C2C interactions have been extensively studied, our integrative literature review revealed several opportunities to address overlooked topics. We developed a research agenda with two aims: to use the systematic and integrative framework of C2C interaction to reveal what is missing from earlier research regarding the drivers, types and value outcomes of C2C interaction and to extend the scope of C2C interaction research to topical developments in contemporary markets as well as the conceptual and methodological scope of the research area to new emergent theories and approaches (Table VI) to stimulate research on novel issues concerning marketing-relevant C2C interactions and increase the understanding of how customers collaborate to create value for themselves. Examination of the linkages between types of interaction and the resulting value outcomes contributes to the advancement of C2C interaction research. Specifically, due to its broad approach, the framework bridges earlier research on C2C interaction with service value research to accommodate contemporary markets, in which customers increasingly interact and influence each other beyond service settings. This expansion is necessary when envisioning the future of C2C interactions in service research and practice.

There are several issues identified in the framework related to the drivers for C2C interaction that must be considered by future research. Our study pointed out the existence of drivers, but their relative importance and influence has not yet established. Some may not be relevant (or interesting) to all types of customers, and further research needs to establish which drivers are most important. In addition, future research should explore which drivers or combinations thereof can lead to each type of interaction, which drivers function as moderators and facilitate rather than initiate C2C interactions, and whether the customer-related drivers outlined in Figure 4 will be increasingly significant in technology-mediated markets, where customers are empowered and have more options. In addition, it should investigate the negative drivers of C2C interaction (i.e. what hinders interaction and which factors moderate the effects of particular drivers). Overall, we urge more work addressing drivers within the broader systemic and institutional context.

While previous research has addressed various types of C2C interaction, we know little about their interrelations and configurations. Such information would be relevant to analyses of the experiences and value perceptions of customers as it can reveal the relative importance of different types of C2C interaction and whether particular interaction types mediate or moderate the effect of other types on customer value. Further, as extant research is predominantly focused on C2C interaction occurring in the provider domain, researchers should examine settings with limited firm presence and firms’ potential for collecting and using information about interactions that occur in these settings. Additionally, future research should explore the contextual contingencies of different types of C2C interaction and how involuntary C2C interaction may influence value outcomes.

The value outcomes of C2C interaction deserve more research to better conceptualize the link between C2C interactions and value creation. Researchers are increasingly emphasizing the role of customers as creators of value (Grönroos and Ravald, 2011; Heinonen and Strandvik, 2015). Since value is created jointly during interactions (Grönroos and Voima, 2013; Vargo and Lusch, 2008), research on C2C interactions is conceptually linked to this topic. However, extant C2C literature does not focus on inter-customer value creation. Our study found some positive effects and value outcomes resulting from C2C interactions; however, further research could conceptualize C2C value creation and empirically examine how customers facilitate value creation for each other. Researchers could, for example, explicate specific paths through which C2C interactions affect different types of value outcomes for the customer and how value unfolds over time. From a service management perspective, research on the effects of such interaction on value creation is essential as these factors represent the roots of market dynamics. For example, research on discussions about environmental issues that lead customers to collaborate with others may reveal the potential value outcomes of such interaction not only for a specific customer or group but also for society. Additionally, further research is needed to understand what moderates the role of C2C interaction in value outcomes.

The value outcomes of C2C interaction for firms should also be investigated. We postulate that the value outcomes for the customer and firm are connected but distinct and their link can be positive or negative. A positive C2C interaction that improves customer value outcomes does not necessarily lead to favorable outcomes for a firm. For example, a customer may be advised by other customers to avoid an offering because of its low quality (Brodie et al., 2013) or obtain help from others to access pirated material (e.g. Plouffe, 2008).

We also suggest broadening the conceptual, methodological and contextual scope of extant research on C2C interaction. Table VI highlights conceptual and topical developments in contemporary markets that should be better connected to C2C interaction. Inspired by the priorities of the Marketing Science Institute (2018), we urge further research on the role of C2C interaction in service innovation, customer journeys and experience formation as well as the use of service design methods to leverage interaction for positive value outcomes. Conceptually, this research domain can be broadened by shifting the perspective from the provider to the customer’s lifeworld (Heinonen et al., 2010; Grönroos and Voima, 2013). Future research also needs to uncover the conceptual underpinnings of C2C value creation, as customers’ goals and processes are bound to have implications for how we define C2C interaction. Moreover, researchers must examine customers’ embeddedness in their own ecosystems and the different customer interactions that occur in various groups and collectives (Heinonen and Strandvik, 2015). Although there is extensive research on customer communities, the potential differences in the drivers of C2C interactions for individual customers and customer collectives have not been examined. Finally, examination of the C2C interaction of business customers is an important area of C2C interaction that has been under-researched since research on business relationships and on networks have different theoretical underpinnings.

Our review demonstrated the dominance of quantitative research methods. We note the paucity of longitudinal studies and call for research examining how C2C interaction emerges, develops and builds toward value outcomes over time. Methodological development is also needed to make the best use of netnography and big data to understand the types of C2C interaction. Future research should identify how C2C value creation can be conceptually and empirically examined.

Finally, we highlight topical but seldom addressed research contexts for C2C interaction. There is a need to address fresh and emerging empirical contexts in addition to extensively researched contexts. In particular, we call for studies addressing the specific features, manifestations and implications of B2B customer interaction. Furthermore, emergent empirical settings, such as the sharing economy and peer-to-peer services, and increasing interactions between individuals in technology-mediated environments present several opportunities to deepen and extend research. Our review shows that most studies focus on C2C interactions in the service context – for example, in restaurants, health clubs, or banks – that are mainly controlled by firms. However, customers also interact with each other at private events or on independent online platforms, such as communities, forums and blogs, where the presence and visibility of the focal firm are limited. Contemporary markets have also witnessed the rise of peer-to-peer services and sharing platforms, such as Airbnb and Uber, in which the boundary between customers and providers is blurred. Research on C2C interaction can inform, but also be informed by, research on such phenomena. We therefore call for research to examine customer-dominated domains outside the firm’s boundaries (Heinonen et al., 2010) and urge scholars to challenge and extend existing conceptualizations of C2C interaction. This, in turn, may have implications for how C2C interactions are defined and what roles consumers adopt in C2C interactions.

4.3 Managerial implications

Several managerial implications can be drawn from the study. The results related to the proposed framework (Figure 4) indicate that, although firms can stimulate inter-customer interactions, such as the servicescape, C2C interaction and value outcomes can be induced by actors other than a focal firm or provider. Although some factors that induce C2C interaction are within the company’s control, most are not. Customer-induced drivers include customer-specific factors such as capabilities and resources and factors related to the environment of the customer rather than the direct service environment. Thus, it is important for managers to recognize and understand which elements are under the customer’s control. Situation-induced drivers are also beyond the control of the firm, and thus managers must understand the customer’s reality, time availability and related activities as well as the link between C2C interaction and specific products. Both types of drivers are linked closely to the customer’s everyday life and behavior, and therefore the logic that drives customers’ decision making to achieve key goals must be understood (see Heinonen and Strandvik, 2015). The drivers are only partly visible to the firm since some are based on individual reasoning. Managers must not only recognize and support factors that they can influence but also identify and analyze factors beyond the direct service environment. These partly invisible drivers, found through observation of customers in different settings, can help managers understand the key issues associated with customer value creation.

Our findings show that C2C interactions are multifaceted, complex and related to both offerings and processes. Firms can manage and distinguish different types of interactions only to a certain extent. Offering-related C2C interactions, such as helping others to use a product, partly occur in the service environment and, therefore, within the boundaries of the firm. To add value for the customers, it is essential that the platforms on which customers share knowledge must be accessible and easy to use. Process-related interactions are even more relevant to the value of social interactions but are more difficult for managers to control. Managers can support connections between customers by, for example, creating processes to manage inconsiderate customers in a service setting. A primary challenge is finding opportunities for the firm to be involved in C2C interactions. We recommend that managers monitor the forms and outcomes of C2C interactions in both the short and long term to identify patterns and trends in customer interaction. This process may involve understanding different customer segments and increasing awareness of prospective customers’ thoughts and behaviors.

C2C interaction outcomes have multiple implications for customers. Because C2C interactions differ in intensity, reciprocity and frequency, their outcomes also vary. Positive interactions do not necessarily result in positive outcomes, and vice versa. Although we were not able to infer differences in the relative importance of value outcomes, we note that outcomes are related to the individual and his or her social environment instead of the service, product or firm. Managers must understand that functional value related to the customer’s ability to make informed decisions and use a product is only one aspect of value outcomes. Other aspects include social status and emotions, which are idiosyncratic and personal. Managers also require an understanding of the constellation and influence of different actors in the customer’s environment, including customers, prospective customers, firms and organizations (cf. Heinonen and Strandvik, 2015). Another challenge is understanding the relative position of the firm in the customer environment and its role in influencing value outcomes. To overcome this challenge, managers must recognize customers’ interactions, activities and processes independent of a specific offering, firm or brand.

Finally, C2C interactions have managerial implications related to understanding and nurturing of value creation. One key implication of this study is the need for a change in managers’ mindset regarding value creation. Whereas managers appreciate the role of customers in business activities, such as service innovation, this study suggests that they need to place increasing emphasis on understanding how companies can be involved in customer value creation processes. C2C interaction that occurs outside the firm’s visibility may be an important part of customers’ value creation processes (Heinonen et al., 2013). Involvement in C2C value creation requires a deep understanding of customers’ interactions, dynamics and relationships. Facilitating these interactions in different customer-dominated forums, such as online or sharing communities, provides novel opportunities for value creation that would otherwise remain unavailable to the firm and strengthen customers’ experience of the firm’s offering.


Process of selecting articles for analysis

Figure 1

Process of selecting articles for analysis

Number of publications concerning C2C interaction

Figure 2

Number of publications concerning C2C interaction

Analysis framework for structuring C2C interaction research

Figure 3

Analysis framework for structuring C2C interaction research

An integrative framework of the drivers, types, and value outcomes of C2C interaction

Figure 4

An integrative framework of the drivers, types, and value outcomes of C2C interaction

Research approach to the reviewed articles

Research approach Article count
Theoretical/conceptual paper 23
Empirical paper 119
 Qualitative methodology 38
 Quantitative methodology 66
 Mixed methodology 15

Drivers of C2C interaction

Examples Example references
Customer-induced drivers
Desire for information exchange Needing information concerning certain products/providers/brands
Wanting to share experiences
Bailey (2004), Davies et al. (1999), McGrath and Otnes (1995), Munzel and Kunz (2014), Zaglia (2013)
Affection and desire for social interactions Wanting to bond and form relationships
Affective commitment to fellow customers
Wanting to talk to other people
Gainer (1995), Curth et al. (2014), Munzel and Kunz (2014), Parker and Ward (2000), Wasko and Faraj (2005)
Identification and shared interests Wanting to interact with others similar to them
Wanting to interact with others who share the same interests
Johnson and Grier (2013), Brack and Benkenstein (2012, 2014), Wang et al. (2012), Yi et al. (2013), Zaglia (2013), Pongsakornrungsilp and Schroeder (2011)
Desire for self-enhancement and approval Wanting to enhance one’s reputation
Looking for social approval
Wanting to display their knowledge on a special topic
Nambisan and Baron (2009), Wasko and Faraj (2005), Jarvenpää and Tuunainen (2013), Parker and Ward (2000)
Customer abilities and resources Having product knowledge, self-assurance
Having a broad of network ties to other customers
Being able to navigate and communicate on internet platforms
Having coping strategies
Davies et al. (1999), Black et al. (2014), Gruen et al. (2006, 2007), Xu et al. (2016)
Provider-induced drivers
Providing platforms and triggers for C2C interaction Characteristics of websites (e.g. providing a discussion forum or a commenting/reviewing function)
Procedures facilitating interaction (e.g. name tags)
Invitations for customers to evaluate products, create content
Cui et al. (2010), Levy (2010, 2011), Kulmala et al. (2013), Ertimur and Gilly (2012)
Characteristics of the servicescape Providing space to interact
Service setting atmospherics
Service culture
Minkiewicz et al. (2014), Moore et al. (2005), Parker and Ward (2000), Jung et al. (2017)
Situation-induced drivers
Product/service failure Dissatisfied customers want to vent their feelings and warn others Harris and Baron (2004), Munzel and Kunz (2014)
Nature of the product category High-involvement or high-risk product/service Davies et al. (1999), Parker and Ward (2000)
Time availability and situation Queuing situation
Membership duration
Davies et al. (1999), Thompson et al. (2016)
Unusual, unexpected event Flash mob performance in the service setting Grant et al. (2012)

Types of positive C2C interaction

Interaction Examples Example references
Knowledge exchange Sharing accumulated practical skills or expertise
Sharing product-related experiences
Submitting ideas, comments and suggestions
Interactive learning
Giving sense to content
Exchanging know-how
Gruen et al. (2007), Kozinets et al. (2008), Jeppesen (2005)
Problem solving Providing answers to a problem
Asking for advice
Helping others find products
Mediating between others
Physical assistance
Providing technical advice
Explaining and teaching how to use a service
Johnson et al. (2013), Villi et al. (2012), Zhang et al. (2010), Davies et al. (1999), Jarvenpää and Tuunainen (2013), Chan and Li (2010), Tomazelli et al. (2017), Blazevic and Lievens (2008)
Collective meaning making Participatory ritual: acting symbolically together to achieve communal goals
Constructing and disseminating history
Reflecting on and sharing the experience
Shared consumption
Sharing with individuals with whom they identify
Gainer (1995), Pongsakornrungsilp and Schroeder (2011), Minkiewicz et al. (2014), Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012), Chatterjee et al. (2017)
Community building Developing friendships
Building a professional network
Companionship with friends
Mere presence of other people
Moore et al. (2005), Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012), Gruen et al. (2007), Kim and Choi (2016)
Endorsement Admiring others’ purchases
Reassuring about product suitability
Sympathizing, expressing empathy
Expressing a sense of personal responsibility to others (assisting, repaying for help, helping)
Inter-customer support relying on others
McGrath and Otnes (1995), Ertimur and Gilly (2012), Rosenbaum and Massiah (2007), Martin (1996), Davies et al. (1999), Black et al. (2014)
Recreation and spending time Spare time conversation
Conversations during on-site shopping
Enjoying the company of others
Not being overly rushed or time-conscious
Georgi and Mink (2013), Harris et al. (2000), Moore et al. (2005), Martin (1996), Tomazelli et al. (2017)
Disciplinary and protocol behavior Developing and enforcing rules
Teaching about generosity, responsibility to each other, and thankfulness/respect
Shaking hands
Holding the door
Settling conflicts
Disciplining members’ poor behavior
Kozinets et al. (2008), Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012), Martin (1996)

Types of negative C2C interaction

Interaction Examples Example references
Verbal misbehavior Telling dirty jokes/making inappropriate comments
Loudness, shouting, crying baby
Cursing, acting obnoxiously or being rude to service employees and others
Complaining about products
Offering unsolicited advice, poor suggestions
Martin (1996), Zhang et al. (2010), Wu (2008), Kim and Yi (2017)
Physical misbehavior Hitting the table
Deliberately kicking
Martin (1996), McGrath and Otnes (1995), Zhang et al. (2010), Wu (2008)
Contextual misbehavior Following, observing, judging, accusing, spoiling others’ purchase without addressing them verbally
Invading personal space and observing/overhearing, tailing strangers
Being drunk, shabby, smelly or dirty
Not following norms (e.g. not ready to order when others are, more interested in socializing than the activity in question)
Sharing with individuals outside the focal group
Martin (1996), Zhang et al. (2010), Wu (2008), Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012), McGrath and Otnes (1995)

Positive and negative outcomes of C2C interaction for customers

Type of outcome Example references
1. Emotions and feelings
 Personal enjoyment and amusement
 Emotional arousal, excitement
 Pleasant feelings
 Thankfulness, gratitude
Zhang et al. (2010), Grant et al. (2012), Bruhn et al. (2014), Kim and Yi (2017)
 Anxiety, irritation, embarrassment
Johnson et al. (2013), Parker and Ward (2000), Zhang et al. (2010), Kim and Yi (2017), Grove and Fisk (1997)
2. Social status and affinity
 Self-image, enhanced reputation
 Social approval, peer group membership, sense of connectedness, solidarity, bonding
 Achieving a shared consumption experience, modes of representation and intimacy
Nambisan and Baron (2009), Abdul-Ghani et al. (2011), Brodie et al. (2013), Schau et al. (2009), Bruhn et al. (2014), Gainer (1995)
 Criticism from others Hildebrand et al. (2013)
3. Decision making
 Receiving reliable information about the firm/offering
 Stabilized expectations and reduced dissatisfaction
 Lowered sense of risk due to self-regulation, protecting consumer rights in online transactions
 Increased confidence and reduced level of uncertainty in purchase decisions
 Stimulated preference, sales and acquisition
Cheung et al. (2014), Gruen et al. (2006), Harris and Baron (2004), Pongsakornrungsilp and Schroeder (2011), Kulmala et al. (2013), Adjei et al. (2010), De Vries et al. (2017)
 Receiving poor information and bad advice from other customers Zhang et al. (2010)
4. Customer resources
 Enhanced knowledge, information and skills
 Feedback, ideas and solutions to problems
Zaglia (2013), Bruhn et al. (2014), Nambisan and Baron (2009), Blazevic and Lievens (2008), Brodie et al. (2013)
 Takes time away from other activities
 Legal and ethical concerns
Evans et al. (2001), Plouffe (2008)

Future research agenda for C2C interaction

1. Creating a deeper understanding of the integrative framework of C2C interaction
Drivers for C2C interaction What are the contingencies for the relative influence of different drivers, for example, in online vs offline contexts or for different customer segments?
What is the relative importance of different drivers for C2C interactions?
Which factors prevent or discourage C2C interaction?
How does the broader systemic and institutional context beyond a specific product or business area affect C2C interaction?
Types of C2C interaction What is the relative importance of different C2C interaction types?
How does the prevalence and nature of different types of C2C interactions vary according to the context, for example, in online vs offline settings?
When and where do different C2C interactions occur? Who are involved in the C2C interactions? What type of C2C interaction occurs in settings with only a limited involvement of the firm?
What is the relative weight of different types of C2C interactions for value perceptions of the customer? What factors moderate the influence of C2C interactions on value outcomes?
What is the role of different customers in C2C interactions? How do involuntary interactions influence other customers?
Outcomes of C2C interaction What are the specific paths through which C2C interactions affect different types of value outcomes for the customer?
Which value outcomes do different types of C2C interaction accrue for firms and what are the contingencies for such?
What is the interplay of types of value outcomes for different parties, i.e., an individual customer, customer collectives, or the firm?
How do the value outcomes of C2C interaction unfold over time?
2. Extending the C2C interaction research domain
Theoretical and conceptual perspectives What is the relative importance of C2C interactions in comparison to customer-to-provider interactions?
How do different types of C2C interaction contribute to the customer journey and experience?
How can service design methods be used to trigger and leverage C2C interaction for positive value outcomes?
How does applying a customer-dominant view change extant understanding on C2C interaction?
What are the conceptual underpinnings of C2C value creation?
Methods What kinds of methods are suited for examining different types of C2C interaction?
How can longitudinal methods be employed to study the dynamics of C2C interaction drivers, manifestations and outcomes?
How can big data be used to advance understanding of C2C interaction and its drivers and outcomes?
How can C2C value creation be empirically examined?
Research contexts How does C2C interaction in peer-to-peer services differ from C2C interaction in classic service settings?
What are specific features of C2C interactions in technology-mediated environments?
To what extent can research on C2C interaction be applied to business-to-business contexts?
What are the specific features, manifestations and implications of B2B customer interaction?
How does C2C interaction affect value creation in the service system?

Disciplines and publication outlets of the reviewed articles

Disciplines and publication outlets Article counts
Marketing, general
 Journal of Marketing 5
 Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 3
 European Journal of Marketing 2
 Journal of Marketing Management 2
 Marketing Theory 2
 Journal of Marketing Research 2
Services marketing, specialized area
 Journal of Services Marketing 14
 Journal of Service Research 3
 Journal of Service Management 4
 Service Industries Journal 1
 Journal of Service Theory and Practice 1
 Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 1
 Service Business 1
Marketing, specialized area
 Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 5
 Journal of Interactive Marketing 3
 Advances in Consumer Research 2
 Journal of Consumer Behavior 3
 Journal of Consumer Research 2
 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness 2
 Journal of Retailing 2
 Journal of Strategic Marketing 3
 Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing 4
 Other (1 each) 20
Management, general
 IIMB Management Review 1
Management, specialized area
 Journal of Business Research 14
 International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 4
 International Journal of Information Management 2
 Journal of Product Innovation Management 3
 Journal of Travel and Tourism Management 2
 International Journal of Tourism Research 2
 Other (1 each) 12
Miscellaneous disciplines (1 each) 15
Total 142


Table AI


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Further reading

Epp, A.M. and Price, L.L. (2008), “Family identity: a framework of identity interplay in consumption practices”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 50-70.

Epp, A.M. and Price, L.L. (2010), “Designing solutions around customer network identity goals”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 75 No. 2, pp. 36-54.

Jaakkola, E., Helkkula, A. and Aarikka-Stenroos, L. (2015), “Service experience co-creation: conceptualization, implications, and future research directions”, Journal of Service Management, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 182-205.

King, R.A., Racherla, P. and Bush, V.D. (2014), “What we know and don’t know about online word-of-mouth: a review and synthesis of the literature”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 167-183.

Supplementary materials

JSTP_28_6.pdf (3.5 MB)

Corresponding author

Kristina Heinonen can be contacted at: