From power to punishment: consumer empowerment and online complaining behaviors

Publication Date

August 2019

Document Type


Publication Title

Internet Research








PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to examine how psychological empowerment affects individuals’ likelihood of publicly punishing a company with whom they had unsatisfactory experiences through online complaining behaviors.Design/methodology/approachA 3 (intrapersonal empowerment: high/low/control) by 3 (interactional empowerment: high/low/control) online experiment was designed using the priming technique. Following the priming tasks, participants were given a scenario in which a restaurant failed their expectations followed by dependent and control measures.FindingsResults revealed a significant main effect of interactional empowerment: participants in the low interactional empowerment condition reported being less likely to engage in the revenge-motivated online public complaining behaviors than participants in the control condition. The study also found a significant interaction effect between interactional and intrapersonal empowerment.Practical implicationsThe study findings yield practical application for crisis management and relationship management. Understanding the linkage between power and online complaining behaviors should help corporate communication professionals to better perform risk assessment, environmental scanning and crisis communication and management.Originality/valueLimited empirical studies have investigated the linkage between empowerment and online complaining behaviors in the consumer context. The present study fills this gap by conceptualizing online public complaining as a revenge-motivated behavior. The study yields both theoretical and practical implications.


Empowerment, Service failure, Punishment, Revenge, Online complaining