Soft Power Effect on Long-Term Buyer-Seller Relationship: A Fuzzy Multi-Criteria Decision-Making Approach and Evidence from the Turkish Smartphone Sector


JOURNAL OF BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS MARKETING, vol.30, pp.237-255, 2023 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 30
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/1051712x.2023.2211580
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, IBZ Online, ABI/INFORM, Business Source Elite, Business Source Premier
  • Page Numbers: pp.237-255
  • Anadolu University Affiliated: Yes


PurposePower is crucial in influencing the parties' mutual relations during supply chain transactions. In this context, power can be defined as the ability of a firm, which is in the position of buyer or seller, to influence the behaviors and decisions of the other party or to move them in line with their wishes. In some cases, the power may lie with the commercial buyer and, in some cases, with the seller. The characteristics of the sector usually shape this position. In addition, power itself is classified as coercive and non-coercive power according to how it is exercised. Coercive power directs the other party to the target behaviors with imposition and punishments. Non-coercive power, on the other hand, directs the target behaviors by using rewards and creating attraction points. According to the resource dependency theory, companies with coercive power are usually the leading companies due to having vital resources for other stakeholders in the supply chain. Studies have shown that non-coercive power should also be considered an essential factor in terms of maintaining the relationship in the long term. However, no study has been found on the effect of non-coercive power and the coercive power of the companies that are in a strong position in making the supplier selection decision of the buyers at the beginning. As a reason for this, it can be shown that the coverage of non-coercive power elements in the literature is insufficient, and some of them are used as coercive power elements. In this sense, it is suggested for the first time that the concept of soft power, generally used in the literature to explain power relations among countries or organizations, should be included in the analysis to explain power relations within the supply chain. Therefore, this study aims to analyze the effect of soft power, including non-coercive power factors, in buyer-seller relations and to determine whether the soft power elements differentiate the supplier selection decisions of the buyers.MethodologyThe decision problem discussed in the study is considered a multi-criteria decision-making problem since many factors are influential in evaluating alternatives, and the solution is conducted with multi-criteria decision-making techniques. Accordingly, soft power factors constitute the effective criteria in the decision problem. Suppliers are the alternatives in the decision problem. As a result of the literature review and subsequent expert comments, eight soft power factors were identified as the criteria for evaluating alternatives in the decision problem: culture (CU), values (VA), policies (PL), image (IMG), knowledge sharing (KS), expert power (EXP), reference power (RFP), and agenda setting (AS). The smartphone and accessories sector, where suppliers hold power, is the sector to be implemented. The data were obtained from Eskisehir, Turkey. The choice of the province was influenced by the city having three universities, and the market being relatively large by national standards. With the sector research, 15 big buyer companies were determined. These buyer companies constitute the decision makers in the decision problem. The data required to solve the problem were obtained from the decision-makers to be evaluated by DEMATEL and Fermatean Fuzzy (FFS) WASPAS techniques. For this purpose, original questionnaires specific to DEMATEL and Fermatean Fuzzy (FFS) WASPAS techniques were applied to senior purchasing managers of buyer companies, and data to be analyzed were collected. It was determined that 13 questionnaires were valid for analysis. In the first stage of the problem's solution, 13 questionnaires were analyzed by applying the steps of the DEMATEL technique, and the weights of the criteria (soft power elements) were determined as a result. To determine the best alternative (supplier) by applying the Fermatean Fuzzy (FF) WASPAS technique to the decision problem, the suppliers that all buyers work with were taken into account, and non-partner suppliers were excluded from the analysis. As a result, three important supplier companies were determined out of the five big buyer companies worked with. Accordingly, in the second stage of the solution of the problem, five experts (decision makers in the role of the buyer) evaluated three big suppliers (alternatives) according to 8 soft power factors (criteria) using a questionnaire developed for the application of the Fermatean Fuzzy (FF) WASPAS method.FindingsAccording to the findings obtained from the DEMATEL analysis, the PL criterion is the most critical soft power factor with the 14% weight value, CU with 13%, VL with 13%, and RFP has stood out as other important criteria with its 13% weight value. On the other hand, IMG, which has the smallest value (6.13) according to the D values found by DEMATEL analysis, is the criterion most affected by other criteria. However, the EXP with the highest D-R value is generally considered the criterion whose interaction with other criteria significantly impacts the system. In the second stage, using the FF-WASPAS method, the suppliers were ranked as A3>A1>A2. Accordingly, when the three largest suppliers are evaluated according to their soft power characteristics, it is clear that they differ in the eyes of the buyers. In other words, soft power factors influence buyers' supplier selection. In addition, the results of the validation and sensitivity analysis at the last stage showed no change in the ranking of the alternatives.Research ImplicationsThe techniques applied in the study are effective in solving the decision problem discussed. In this sense, the most influential factors of soft power can be determined with the DEMATEL technique and the interactions between these criteria. In addition, the FFS-WASPAS technique has proven helpful for the analysis and consistency of the decisions made. It is consistent because the obtained supplier ranking did not change as shown by validity and sensitivity analyses. The overall results and consistency of the analyses show that the integrated application of DEMATEL and FF-WASPAS is a suitable method to explain soft power criteria and determine whether suppliers have changed among buyers. On the other hand, the interrelationships between the criteria strengthen our understanding of the formation of total soft power. Finally, resource dependency theory helps interpret and clarify the results, significantly improving our understanding of the phenomenon.Practical ImplicationsThe research findings highlight many vital points that will benefit practitioners in real life. Accordingly, the fact that the most critical power factor is policies shows that the policies created by powerful suppliers will also be followed by the buyers they interact with. Thus, managers should determine their policies by considering the benefits of their relevant stakeholders. According to the resource dependency theory, it is accepted that policies are one of the most fundamental elements of soft power. Furthermore, EXP's effect on other factors indicates that the historical relations and contacts of the suppliers with the buyer companies enhance creating an attractive atmosphere in bilateral partnerships. Another important inference can be drawn from the IMG. The fact that IMG is the most affected criterion shows how complex it is to shape IMG. Therefore, it is vital to understand how IMG distinguishes a supplier from its competitors in the eyes of buyers in terms of its relationship with other soft power aspects.OriginalityThis study offers original and distinctive contributions from various angles. For the first time in the literature, the concept of soft power contributes to the concept of non-coercive power in a broader context. Second, the integrated DEMATEL and FFS-WASPAS technique was used for the first time in research evaluating power relations in the supply chain. In addition, research findings will shed light on improvements in research and practice regarding the novel contributions.