A Critical Review of Theories Underlying Relationship Marketing in the Context of Explaining Consumer Relationships

K. de Wulf*, G.J. Odekerken-Schröder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Knowledge on relationship marketing, particularly as it applies to consumer relationships, is still in its early stages of development. Relationship marketing approaches draw on different underlying theories, depart from different units of analysis, and often focus on issues at different levels of aggregation. A clearer understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of relationship marketing would benefit its further theoretical development and guide empirical research. This article provides a description of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of seven theories lying at the core of relationship marketing. Based upon this description, we illustrate how the theories can be used to determine the relative "relationship friendliness" of a consumer exchange situation. This should enable researchers to assess the added value of each theory to the particular consumer exchange situation that they are investigating.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-101
JournalJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001

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