Product recommendation agents (RAs) assist online firms to adapt their suggested offers to users’ preferences, thereby lowering users’ decision effort. The concept of effort is central in decision-making, yet it remains unclear whether it should be regarded as a cost or as a benefit improving the odds of a better decision. Building on Social Exchange theory, we suggest that interactions between users and RAs are driven by the concepts of perceived interdependence and reciprocity. We suggest that perceived user effort decreases the perceived RA quality, whereas RA effort increases the perceived RA quality. We conducted two experimental studies across different contexts. We found that users evaluate RAs based on their own expended effort, in relation to how much effort they perceived the RA has put into the process of generating recommendations. Such an effect is attenuated by users’ familiarity with the product context. Our findings offer important insights into how online firms can improve the use of their RAs.
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