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EMAC 2021 Annual Conference

Emotions in the time of COVID: Who do customers blame for service failures during the pandemic?

Published: May 25, 2021


Reema Singh, Stockholm School of Economics; Sara Rosengren, Stockholm School of Economics; Jonas Colliander, Stockholm School of Economics


With the surge in online grocery during the pandemic of 2020, retailers struggled with fulfilling their grocery service commitment, which increased customer complaints. But do customers blame the retailer or the situation? To address this research question, we performed text analysis of 7,810 customer reviews from four retailers in the US and UK: Walmart US, Tesco, Ocado, and Sainsbury. Using automated text analysis and LIWC (linguistic inquiry and word count) methodologies, we analyzed customer sentiments and attribution-dependent emotions (anger, anxiety/fear, and sadness) in customer reviews before and during the pandemic. Our results show that overall customer sentiment was negative, and that anxiety was significantly higher in customer reviews during the pandemic. Based on our findings, we can conclude that customers attributed the blame for the service failure not to the retailers but rather to uncertain circumstances caused by the pandemic. Our findings add to the service failure literature, which predominantly examined anger, an emotion associated with blaming the service provider. They also have implications for retailers who can make strategic changes to address customer anxiety in their communications. Keywords: Service Failure, Appraisal- Attribution, Grocery Track: Retailing and Omni-Channel Management .