People should trust online providers

Online Platforms and Personal Services: An Exploratory Study on Confidence Building Measures

Summary

The sharing economy and online platforms are increasing and changing our daily lives. More and more products and services can be booked online via peer-to-peer platforms (P2P). It is therefore imperative to understand how technology-based trust building measures (VBM) are used to build trust in those environments where direct face-to-face contact is not possible. In this study, we exploratively collected data from 150 German and American online platforms and derived a list of 53 confidence-building measures in order to obtain a detailed overview of the current situation of German platforms in the area of ​​personal services. In addition to analyzing which measures are frequently used in this area and therefore seem important, we report that measures are not used as much on German platforms as, for example, in the USA. We supplement the literature on online trust and create a research base on trust-building measures, such as reputation systems or personal photos, by providing an overview of numerous measures. The results should also be examined in future research with regard to their effectiveness, but indicate that providers from Germany need to improve the use of VBM in order to create an online environment in which users and the platform itself as perceive as trustworthy.

Abstract

The sharing economy and online platforms are rising, and they are transforming our daily life. An increasing number of products and services are bookable online via Peer-to-Peer (P2P) online platforms. It is therefore mandatory to understand how technology supported trust building measures are used to build trust in such environments, where no direct personal contact is possible. In this exploratory study, we collected data from 150 German and international online platforms and derive a list of 53 trust building measures to achieve a detailed overview over the current situation of German platforms in the field of personal services. Besides analyzing which measures are frequently used and hence important in this field, we report that on German platforms measures are not as extensively used as they are for example in the USA. We add to existing trust literature and provide a research basis for trust building measures, like reputation systems or personal photos, by giving an overview over numerous measures. The findings should be tested for effectiveness in future research, but suggest that providers from Germany need to improve the usage of VBM in order to establish an online environment where the users perceive each other as well as the platform itself as trustworthy.

Motivation and goal setting

Many of the originally analogue actions in our daily life have been digitized and can now be easily booked on online platforms using our smart devices. Whether a trip (Uber), accommodation (Airbnb) or money for a new project (Auxmoney) is needed, almost every product or service can be requested on P2P online platforms (Etzioni 2017; Nerinckx 2016; van der Cruijsen et al. 2019).

If one looks at the sharing economy from a sociological point of view, the willingness to get involved with completely unknown people and to have services carried out should go hand in hand with a lack of trust, as this could be associated with considerable risks. However, the increase in online platforms for services of all kinds seems to show the opposite (Etzioni 2017). Not only is trust building in general discussed, but also how online platforms can enable trust building. This is about trust between users, namely the demanders and suppliers of goods and services, who are in a P2P relationship with one another. Confidence Building Measures, in English trust building measures, can be understood as all mechanisms that promote the trust-building process. Trust is important because it is a prerequisite for transactions to take place. Online platforms would not work without trust (Etzioni 2017; Leimeister et al. 2005; van der Cruijsen et al. 2019).

The P2P sharing system has also found its way into the area of ​​personal services. Personal services include everyday support activities that are carried out on or with a person and are carried out by or with someone trustworthy (Lattermann et al. 2019). These activities are increasingly being supported and changed by digital solutions (Guerrero et al. 2020). This includes, for example, driving and transport services, child and animal care, as well as support with moving, car cleaning, billing or planning a private event. Personal services also include household services. These are described in the literature as activities that are even more focused on the household and are usually carried out by household members or acquaintances, for example support in looking after the children, with cleaning or with small repairs. They make everyday life easier and are sometimes carried out by strangers with remuneration (Reinecke et al. 2011). In the following, only the more comprehensive term personal services is used. Today in families there is often no longer just one parent who is responsible for making money and a part who takes care of the upbringing of the children and runs the household. More and more families are living in what is known as a double-earner model (Berghammer and Verwiebe 2015). As a result, both parents work and earn an income, which is why the same time does not remain for personal or household-related tasks as is the case in traditionally run families (Berghammer and Verwiebe 2015). Nevertheless, the normal household tasks still need to be fulfilled, even without traditional roles. As a result, the increase in the demand for personal services, as listed above, cannot be neglected to explain the situation in Germany (Eichhorst and Tobsch 2008). P2P online platforms for personal services offer the possibility to outsource such services to an external person and at the same time overcome some time and cost-related burdens of the traditional analog process of searching, paying and monitoring a service provider (van der Cruijsen et al. 2019) . We contribute to the literature on trust in online P2P platforms and the development of the German HR service landscape by answering the following questions:

How do German providers of online platforms for personal services enable the development of (initial) trust? - Which technology-based, confidence-building measures are used?

The authors of the existing studies and articles on the subject of trust in online environments have mainly used experimental approaches or surveys or carried out literature research as a method for collecting data and forming hypotheses. This allowed them to concentrate on the in-depth study of a few less confidence-building measures; For example: use of social media, personal photos, available information or reputation (Ert et al. 2016; Etzioni 2017; Leimeister et al. 2005; Resnick et al. 2006; van der Cruijsen et al. 2019). For this research, however, a quantitative-exploratory approach was used to provide an overview of which technology-based, confidence-building measures are used by available platforms. Measures are taken here that can offer the build-up of initial trust in online platforms and can strengthen trust in the users of the platform, or the platform itself. 53 different measures were developed. This created basis can be used for future research to examine its actual effects on trust.

The article is divided into four sections. First, the theoretical background on trust in platforms and services is discussed. The method for data collection is then described before the trust-building measures that have been developed are presented. Finally, the results are discussed.

American platform providers have also been integrated to make it easier to understand where there is potential for improvement for German providers of online platforms for personal services.

Theoretical background

First of all, we would like to create a common understanding of personal services in Germany and the theoretical basis in the trust literature. We will briefly discuss online platforms and personal services.

Personal services in Germany

If one looks at the German market, the range of personal services is not as extensive as one might think, although there seems to be great potential (Becker 2007). This is compounded by the considerable discrepancy between the need for such services and the actual demand that prevails on the German market for personal services (Reinecke et al. 2011). Even if the majority of people in Germany feel an increased need for relief in everyday life, only around 5 million or 12% of German households actually resort to the help of a non-household member. Overall, the exhausted potential only covers about a third of the total market potential (IFOK GmbH et al. 2014).

The reasons for this are diverse. In addition to the monetary costs, the perceived lack of qualified candidates, the legal burdens, the perceived lack of flexibility in the service provider's working hours, the perceived inadequate quality of the work performed and the perceived lack of reliability of the service provider are mentioned most frequently (Becker 2007; IFOK GmbH et al . 2014). The potential of P2P online platforms in this area, if they are properly established, lies in overcoming obstacles such as the tedious search for qualified candidates, the lack of flexibility in terms of time and duration and legal issues.

Background to trust in transaction partners

When there is a potential risk to a valuable asset or a person's well-being, the ability to trust the situation becomes essential to cope with it (Rousseau et al. 1998). In order to understand trust in P2P online platforms, it is therefore essential to define the term trust in general. Research has shown that trust is one of the most important criteria when it comes to human interaction. In doing so, we usually try to anticipate and monitor the behavior of our counterpart (Gefen and Straub 2004). In this article, the following commonly used definition of trust by Mayer et al. (1995) uses: “The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other party will perform a certain act important to the settlor, regardless of the ability to monitor that other party or to control ”(p. 712). What needs to be emphasized is that if the action is carried out by the other party, the settlor will no longer be able to monitor or control those actions. Therefore, confidence building measures must have the ability to build trust before the actual action is taken or even before the settlor considers the other party (the trustee) for a potential deal or interaction.

The various parties involved are willing to expose something of great value to vulnerability by surrendering that good to the actions of another party before they are able to control that party's actions and their own.

This relationship is reciprocal, which means that depending on the perspective, one party can be either the settlor or the trustee (Mayer et al. 1995).

According to Mayer et al. (1995) the trustee must be trustworthy in order to be able to expect a deal with the trustor. There are three interdependent factors to consider: Ability, i. H. a range of qualifications a trustee possesses in one area but may not in another. Benevolence, the level of goodwill that a trustee imparts to a settlor, other than a personal motive for profit, and integrity, which defines the trustee's perception and acceptance of a set of principles that the trustee adheres to (Mayer et al . 1995).

In the context of this article, the trustee is defined as either the service provider, the service seeker, or the platform provider - depending on the perspective from which the relationship of the parties is viewed. Consequently, achieving trustworthiness should be a primary concern of all parties involved. The aim of this study is to apply the described constructs of achieving trustworthiness to online platforms in the field of personal services.

Trust in platforms

Online platforms in the sharing economy that act as intermediaries between two parties bring a new aspect of anonymity to the act of offering and buying goods and services. While in the analog world trust was only required between interacting human parties, people now also have to trust the online system with the platform as an intermediary (Hawlitschek et al. 2018).

As a rule, when it comes to online trust, particular attention must be paid to the initial trust, i. H. the trust in an unknown online platform with which the user has no previous experience and the trust between users who are completely strangers to each other (McKnight et al. 1998, 2002).

Following this assumption, the goal of the platform provider is to achieve the trustworthiness of the platform immediately when it is visited by a potential user for the first time. But also the trustworthiness of the users should be supported every time an interaction between them is intended, regardless of whether they are familiar with the platform itself or not. No transaction will take place without trust.

Based on the general trust model mentioned above, Hawlitschek et al. (2016) added three different forms of trust to their research model: “Trust in the peer”, “Trust in the platform” and “Trust in the product”. These three forms of trust could also be influenced by the use of innovative technology (Mehrwald et al. 2019). Fig. 1 explains the trust construct to be used in this study and transfers the general concept of trust to an online environment.

Trust in personal services

Since personal services are always linked to concerns about people's valuable belongings or their well-being, ensuring the quality of every single aspect of the service must be a key element. In contrast to industrial environments, in which quality assurance is viewed as part of process management, in the area of ​​personal services it is assumed that it is an intrinsic property of the parties (Angermann and Eichhorst 2013). If one supports these assumptions, this means that enabling a qualitatively optimal process is a main goal of the mediating company or the mediating platform for both parties. For services that are closely related to the household of the consumer, trustworthiness is counted among the most important quality criteria (IFOK GmbH et al. 2014). Understanding and correctly applying trust-building measures is therefore essential for the area of ​​personal services in an online environment.

methodology

The survey and analysis of the trust-building measures on peer-to-peer online platforms comprised four steps. First, service platforms from Germany and the United States of America were researched in three different databases. In the second step, the platforms were filtered according to certain criteria so that the most relevant platforms could be analyzed in detail. As a third step, confidence-building measures were included in a list. Fourth, a detailed analysis of the researched online platforms was carried out with regard to the use of the confidence-building measures. In order to ensure the most reliable and valid data collection possible, the data was collected by two people and with regular exchange. This enabled the survey process to be designed as objectively as possible. The steps will now be explained again in detail:

Recording and filtering of the service platforms to be analyzed

In order to find suitable companies, we used the following three databases: Start-up scene, crunchbase and a self-created database using internet research. We chose these three sources for several reasons: Gründerszene gave us access to a large number of predominantly German platforms, Crunchbase is a well-known and frequently consulted source when it comes to established international platforms, and the self-created database reflects the search behavior of Internet users who look for platforms for personal services. The research group “Uberize your life”, in which 12 students and employees from the Technical University of Munich worked, was founded to create the last-mentioned database. On Crunchbase we applied the following filters and looked at the 250 highest listed companies: Headquarter Location: Germany, United States; Categories: Parenthood, Housekeeping, Child Care, Sharing Economy, Peer-to-Peer. The filters Headquarter Location and Category were linked with an AND function, while the individual attributes were linked with an OR function. In order to avoid duplication, the three different databases were compared with one another. In this initial selection, a total of 364 platforms were found.

In the next step, the number of platforms was filtered. This was done by manually checking the platforms found based on three criteria: (a) Is the platform active or usable? (b) Is it a platform for shared services (or products)? (c) Does the user have the option of registering both as a service provider and as a customer of services (is it a P2P platform)? It was important to only select active platforms because we wanted to create a situation overview with realistically usable offers. In addition, the selection of peer-to-peer platforms for jointly used products or services was necessary because it allowed us to concentrate on the existence of trust-building measures when both the service provider and the customer are not restricted by company principles. The analysis also included platforms that are freelancersFootnote 1 mediate, as they work alone and are not acting on behalf of another company. After these selection steps, a total of 150 of the 364 platforms were tested for technology-based, trust-building measures.

Development of the confidence-building measures and detailed analysis

The list of technology-based, confidence-building measures was developed in an iterative and inductive process. First, a pre-screening was carried out in which the team of authors independently examined a number of 20 platforms and entered existing measures in a joint document. The results were then discussed in the research group and consolidated into a list of 53 measures. A trust-building measure helps to feel more comfortable interacting with the platform and its users and strengthens the feeling of wanting to use the platform. For the analysis, the measures were arranged according to the expected time of their occurrence. For example, quality seals were listed first because, if available, they are usually presented immediately the first time a website or app is accessed. This organization of the measures made the process of manual review of 53 trust-building measures for 150 platforms more intuitive and thus easier to understand. Specifically, the platforms on their websites or mobile apps were examined intensively and interacted with them. For this purpose, registrations as providers and inquirers were carried out on the respective platform. This enabled access to relevant information and functions. If a confidence building measure was available on the platform, this was noted accordingly.

Sample outside of Germany and market leader

Since the focus of this research project is on presenting the current use of technology-based, trust-building measures for personal service platforms in Germany and on developing measures that support (initial) confidence-building, relevant companies in the USA were also considered. The USA represents a pioneering market for platform models, which companies such as Facebook, Airbnb, Craigslist and Uber illustrate. Even if cultural differences between countries could justify different confidence-building measures, we assume that such heterogeneity is beneficial as a data basis. In order to identify the measures reliably and as comprehensively as possible, it was therefore necessary to carry out the analysis with peer-to-peer platforms that are successful in the USA. This additional analysis was useful to assess how the German platforms compare.

Trust building measures on platforms

The results are presented below. First, the identified and most frequently used confidence-building measures are presented. Then it is shown which confidence-building measures are used by market leaders in the field of personal services. Finally, the use of trust-building measures in Germany and the United States in trust-intensive activities is compared.

Most used confidence building measures

A total of 150 platforms were analyzed with regard to 53 confidence-building measures. Of these 150 platforms, 82 platforms network their users for personal services and 68 platforms for other services. A cross-industry analysis shows that the trust-building measure used most frequently Presence on social media is (the representation or linking of the various social media channels on which the platform is active). This measure can be found on 88% of the platforms. There are a total of six measures that can be found on more than 100 (> 66.67%) platforms. In addition to the Social media presence are these measures Profile picture of the provider, the Address of the service provider stored on the platform, the Online payment / in-app payment, the Self-description of the service provider and the Verification via email / SMS / Google or social media account. Tab. 1 provides an overview of the confidence-building measures identified and their absolute and relative frequencies among the platforms examined.

In the area of ​​personal services, the most commonly used confidence-building measure is Profile picture of the provider. This is available on 73 (89.0%) of the 82 platforms for personal services. Followed by Social media presence (71; 86,6 %), Self-description of the service provider (70; 85,4 %), Address of the service provider stored on the platform (69; 84,1 %), Online payment / in-app payment (60; 73.2%) and Address of the customer of the service stored on the platform (55; 67,1 %).

The analysis of the measures for personal services does not differ that much from the overall analysis. However, there are two measures that do not appear outstanding in the overall analysis, but are common in the area of ​​personal services. This is the Address of the enquirer stored on the platform (36; 81.8%) and the News function before booking (34; 77.3%), which in the cross-industry analysis only appear on 96 (64.0%) and 86 of 150 (57.3%) platforms.

Use of confidence-building measures from market leaders

In order to find tried and tested confidence-building measures, the next step was to analyze which confidence-building measures are used most by market leaders in the area of ​​personal services. Based on user and sales figures, if available, as well as page visits, measured with Alexa Internet, ten market leaders of the sample were determined. These include Airbnb, Betreut.de, Blablacar, Check24 Profis, Ebay classifieds, Fiverr, Lyft, MyHammer, TaskRabbit and Uber.

Of these 10 platforms, all of them are in Present on social media and Service providers have a profile picture (100%). 90% use these platforms Online payment / in-app paymentto present eight out of ten Self-descriptions of the service providers and have one App (80%). Most platforms also had the Enquirer a profile picture (70%) who Address of the provider stored on the platform, experience of the provider shown and a own document control (60% each). Tab. 1 shows the absolute frequency (n*) and the relative frequency (h *) ​​of the confidence-building measures of the market leader platforms in the area of ​​personal services.

A comparison of confidence-building measures

A purely quantitative international comparison of German and US platforms for personal services shows that US platforms use more trust-building measures on average (around 17 per platform) than German platforms (around 13 per platform). A further finding relates to the use of measures that are related to checking the identity or skills of a person before using the platform as a provider or enquirer. Verification by means of other Internet accounts (e.g. Google account) is less possible in the United States than the extended query in the criminal record or the control of supporting documents (e.g. driver's license). Logging in via a third-party provider was more common on German platforms, document checking was seldom and deeper checking was not possible at all.

In the group of personal services, platforms in the care sector (including childcare) and domestic help sectors are particularly trust-critical. These were therefore analyzed with regard to the number of confidence-building measures used. The comparison between German and US platforms initially shows that US platforms use more trust-building measures than German platforms in both areas. In the care sector, German platforms (N = 19) an average of 15 confidence-building measures, US platforms (N = 16) use an average of 18. In the domestic help sector, German platforms (N = 12) an average of 11 measures, while US companies (N = 6) use an average of 17 confidence-building measures. No statement can be made about the quality and effectiveness of the measures.

Derived knowledge and propositions

The following findings could be obtained from the previous results of the data collection and literature research. It should be noted here that a more comprehensive investigation of individual measures (packages) leaves room for future research and only propositions can be made here:

  1. 1.

    In order to be perceived as trustworthy, it is important for providers of platforms for personal services as well as for platform providers in general to show transparency through social media presence.

  2. 2.

    Enabling a trustworthy presentation of the providers (users) must be essential for platforms for personal services, which is done by storing the most detailed information possible.

  3. 3.

    It is crucial to first enable mutual trust; through personal means of communication and the deposit of sufficient information from both the provider and the customer.

  4. 4.

    German providers of platforms for personal services must improve the general availability of technology-based, confidence-building measures. However, quantity should not be equated with quality in terms of the effectiveness of measures.

  5. 5.

    German providers of platforms for personal services can support the perceived trustworthiness of users by promoting the use of measures that enable the identity of their users to be verified; Similar to the function of verification using video telephony when opening bank accounts.

  6. 6.

    The availability of customer service, in addition to a public reputation system, is advantageous for the establishment of German online platforms.

Little widespread measures and market leaders

There are also less common measures for building trust, which we briefly discuss below. Although current technologies could strongly support processes for the use of online platforms, the general integration into these platforms for personal services is very low. For example, innovative technologies can only be identified in a minority of companies: Emergency button during the service, artificial intelligence to avoid fake images or inappropriate content, online verification of identity, video presentations, multifactor authentication or GPS tracking of users. If used correctly, new technologies can improve the trustworthiness of the service platform and users and at the same time reduce bureaucratic effort. Here mostly only the market leaders fulfill a pioneering function that can serve as a guide for smaller platforms.

Discussion and implications for research

The aim of this article was to provide a situational overview of which VBMs are used today on German platforms in general and in particular for personal services in order to build (initial) trust. The applied quantitative-exploratory approach was helpful in collecting a large amount of data so that the results provide a broad insight into the topic. As a result, there was no chance of in-depth insights into the function or malfunction of individual, specific trust-building measures. In addition, the reasons for the intentions of the platform providers and the needs of the platform users are not taken into account. In order to better understand the concept of building trust on online platforms in Germany, however, it is essential to also take these perspectives into account. Future research should build on the principles laid down in this paper and examine the meanings of VBM in the context of personal services in Germany using qualitative approaches such as surveys of actual platform users and providers. At the same time, experimental designs could also be used to test individual functions or function bundles. The results can be of crucial importance not only for the literature, but also for the development of such platforms in Germany. Another limitation that could not be avoided in this study is that although the platforms found have been analyzed in terms of a list of 53 technology-based VBMs, it is difficult to develop a general collection. We make a theoretical contribution by outlining the measures with which initial trust in the platform and in peer-to-peer users (Hawlitschek et al., 2016) on peer-to-peer platforms in general and personal service platforms in particular could be built. Etzioni (2017), Ert et al. (2016) and Resnick et al. (2006) have already implemented the analysis and interpretation of several established P2P online platforms and their trust-building systems. By taking into account not only market leaders but also smaller platforms in the analysis, a more comprehensive and updated picture of confidence-building measures is created.

We were able to show that the measure of presence in social media is widespread. The positive influence of social media activity on trust is confirmed in research (Calefato et al. 2015). On the one hand, this is probably due to the desired advertising effectiveness of these channels. On the other hand, there is an indication that, in addition to interpersonal trust between two users (Leimeister et al. 2005), trust in the platform itself also plays an important role if initial trust is to be established.

A distinction between the buyer and supplier perspective is made by Hawlitschek et al. (2016) and must be applied to P2P online platforms for personal services. The analysis shows that, for services, the storage of information from all users, regardless of whether they are providers or consumers, and the offer of a messaging function are frequent and can therefore be viewed as important. This implies that the mutual trust of users in this sector is crucial, i. H. not only the trustworthiness of the service provider, but also that of the service seeker must be supported. Such measures are responsible for building a perceived social interaction (Beldad et al. 2010; Chica et al. 2019). The amount and type of information are decisive for this.The name of a user and the description of the service are necessary basic information in order to offer a service. Further studies could investigate what kind of information builds trust. It can be stated that in care services such as child care or pet care, in which another living being is the focus, the provision of sufficient confidence-building measures is essential. We show that several measures can be effective for both sides, but the measures for suppliers could be different than for consumers. For example, one-sided reputation systems and personal controls of service provider profiles by the platform provider are common. This may indicate that trust in the service provider is more important or more difficult to establish than trust in the service seeker. It should also be noted that many measures have to correspond to a certain habit of the users and that new measures become possible and necessary due to technological innovations or changing user behavior.

Notes

  1. 1.

    According to §18 1 sentence 1 EstG.

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thanksgiving

This contribution is part of the joint project KUSTOMA funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the funding number: 02K17A030, which aims to improve personal services. The project focuses on the development of an online platform for personal services. Many thanks also go to the employees of the network partners as well as the project sponsor Karlsruhe and the students of the “Uberize your life” research group at the Technical University of Munich.

Funding

Open Access funding provided by the DEAL project.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany

    Pascal Mehrwald, Marlene Sophia Willy & Kim-Kelly Binder