Buyer-Side Institution-Based Trust-Building Mechanisms: A 3S Framework with Evidence from Online Labor Markets

Zhijuan Hong, Hui Zhu, and Kunxiang Dong
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 24, Number 1, 2020, pp. 14-52.


Buyer-side, institution-based trust-building mechanisms, which usually appear in the form of guarantee-required schemes, are prevalently provided by the online labor marketplace for buyers to voluntarily adopt. We integrate signaling theory and organization theories of organizational slack and contractual incompleteness to propose a 3S (screening, signaling, and slack) effect framework to explain how the adoption of buyer-side trust-building mechanisms (i.e., guarantee-required schemes) affects freelancers’ participation and bidding behavior. Based on a data set from one of the leading online labor markets in China, this study finds that guarantee-required tasks attract fewer but higher-quality freelancers. Furthermore, freelancers bid shorter durations but less-detailed proposals in guarantee-required tasks. This research also examines and finds support for the moderating role of task complexity in weakening screening and slack effects. Our research complements literature on trust-building mechanisms and online labor markets by providing a new framework (i.e., 3S effect framework) and empirical evidence with large-scale observational real-life data. Our study suggests that buyers should take both the advantages (e.g., bidders with higher-quality features, bids with shorter bidding durations) and disadvantages (e.g., fewer bids, bids with less-detailed proposals) into consideration and make appropriate trade-offs when making decisions on the adoption of buyer-side trust-building mechanisms.