When giving money does not work: The differential effects of monetary versus in-kind rewards in referral reward programs

Liyin Jin*, Yunhui Huang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Customer referral reward programs have recently gained popularity as beneficial customer acquisition tools. This research aims to explore the impact of reward type, specifically with regard to the differential effects of monetary versus in-kind rewards, on referral success. We find that although consumers prefer monetary rewards to in-kind rewards because of the greater economic value of monetary rewards, the higher social costs associated with money offset this benefit and even render money an inferior incentive when the recommendation is not well justified. Through four experiments, we demonstrate that monetary rewards (vs. in-kind rewards) lead to less referral generation and acceptance, especially when the recommended brands are weak (Studies 1 and 4), and that perceived social costs mediate the interactive effect of reward type and brand strength (Studies 1 and 3). Moreover, by increasing the economic benefit or decreasing the social costs associated with monetary rewards, we restore the effectiveness of monetary rewards as incentives. Compared with in-kind rewards, monetary rewards perform equally well when the reward is sufficiently large (Study 2), and they perform even better when both the recommender and the receiver are rewarded (Study 3). This research extends the literature on the psychological consequences of money and provides novel insights into the customer referral process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Marketing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

User-Defined Keywords

  • Referral reward program
  • Customer acquisition
  • Monetary reward
  • In-kind reward
  • Psychological cost


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