Does supplier opportunism lead to buyer opportunism? A social capital perspective

Claus Steinle, Holger Schiele, Tobias Bohnenkamp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
139 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: In light of increasingly tight buyer–supplier relationships, opportunism is a problem of increasing relevance. So far, opportunism has mainly been researched as a detrimental action by suppliers and interpreted with an institutional economics lens. Recent conceptual work, however, has argued more for a behavioral approach to operations management, suggesting benefits of taking a social capital perspective on opportunism. Based on a large empirical sample of buyer–supplier relations, this paper aims to provide an empirical study using social capital as theoretical lens. Further, it analyzes both supplier and buyer opportunism at the same time.

Design/methodology/approach: The paper, through following a quantitative approach, considers the interacting dyad of buyer and supplier opportunism, its antecedents as well as its performance implications.

Findings: Findings did not support the expectation that supplier opportunism will be countered by buyer opportunism in a single relationship. However, social capital in the form of cognitive and relational capital has been found as a good predictor of opportunism. This study proposes new measures for structural capital. Further the study confirms the detrimental effect of opportunism on performance of the buyer–supplier relationship, highlighting the mediating role of innovation as building block of relational competitive advantage.

Research limitations/implications: Previous studies on opportunism in buyer–supplier relations were mostly transaction cost-oriented, thus neglecting the behavioral aspects of exchange processes. Introducing social capital theory revealed to be a rewarding amplification of the perspective. Next, most research up till now was focused on explaining supplier opportunism only. This study contributes by analyzing both sides of the interacting dyad. Finally, this research closes a research gap by not only explaining the occurrence of opportunism but by also testing its performance outcomes. Accordingly, this study contributes to the opportunism literature, social capital theory development and to the management of buyer–supplier relations.

Practical implications: Building up cognitive and relational capital is likely to be a tool to reduce the danger of opportunism – both with the partner firm, as well as inside the own organization. As such, firms need to make sure that both forms of social capital are present to a higher extent. If this is not the case, opportunistic actions on both buying and supplying side might occur which have damaging impacts on the generation of innovation as well as the achievement of strategic advantages.

Originality/value: While previous studies have focused on explaining supplier opportunism, an analysis of both sides of the interacting dyad between buyer and supplier opportunism is missing. Not only does this research provides further insights with regard to the latter, but further considers the role of social capital as underlying factor explaining both buyer and supplier opportunism. Also, this research answers the call on more research about the relation between opportunism and performance, specifically focusing on innovation and strategic advantage generation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-384
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Business and Industrial Marketing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2019


  • Buyer–seller relationships
  • Opportunism
  • Performance
  • Purchasing
  • Social capital theory
  • Supply management
  • 22/4 OA procedure


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