Back to History Current Version

Testing the impact of information and quality ratings on SME use of professional business services

Last registered on March 23, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Testing the impact of information and quality ratings on SME use of professional business services
Initial registration date
April 10, 2020

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
April 13, 2020, 12:16 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
March 23, 2021, 5:24 PM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.


Primary Investigator

World Bank

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Stanford University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
The main question we address is why don’t more SMEs use the market for professional business services like accounting, marketing and HR? Such marketplaces form a crucial institution that can support private sector growth and innovation, yet they are inefficient in developing economies. We hypothesize that two key reasons are firms (i) lack information about the availability of these services, and (ii) cannot distinguish the quality of good versus bad providers. We conduct a randomized experiment to test a) the extent to which firms react to different forms of quality information given to them about business service providers; and b) whether information about the existence and quality of providers in turn is sufficient to get SMEs to purchase services from these providers.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Anderson, Stephen and David McKenzie. 2021. "Testing the impact of information and quality ratings on SME use of professional business services." AEA RCT Registry. March 23.
Sponsors & Partners

There is information in this trial unavailable to the public. Use the button below to request access.

Request Information
Experimental Details


We conduct a baseline survey of SMEs, and randomly assign them into one of five groups:
1. A control group, that receives no intervention
2. Four groups that get shown a dashboard with information about business service providers, in which they are asked to choose their top three providers in marketing, accounting, and HR. They are also given an information pamphlet with the contact details of these providers. The four groups differ in what information is provided about quality;
Treatment group 1: information only, no quality information
Treatment group 2: quality star ratings, no comments
Treatment group 3: quality star ratings, plus negative comments
Treatment group 4: quality star ratings, plus positive and negative comments
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
We have two types of outcomes:
1) Choice of Providers on the platform, made by those in the four treatment groups, and made at the time of using the platform.
2) Steps towards hiring a provider, and use of a provider, measured 6 months later.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
We will consider the following outcomes, motivated by our grant proposal to EDI submitted in February 2018, and finalized in July 2018.

For each of HR, Marketing, and Accounting provider type:
(i) The proportion of providers shortlisted by an SME (i.e., three selections) that have a quality ranking in the top third of all providers
(ii) The average quality rating of the three providers chosen
(iii) The proportion of providers chosen which have a rating in the bottom third.

From the 6-month survey:
(iv) Steps towards hiring a provider:
- knows a business service provider
- is confident in ability to find a high-quality specialist if they want one
- has contacted a business service provider in the past six months
- plans to use a specialist in the next 12 months
(v) Did the SME hire a business service provider in the six months post-intervention?

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Randomization is stratified by survey mode (fixed list vs door-to-door), and firms were first randomized to the control group or an information treatment group, then conditional on being in the information treatment, randomized to whether or not they received quality ratings information.,
Experimental Design Details
The survey company were given separate lists of identification numbers to use for surveying from a fixed list of firms, plus for using with firms found through door-to-door surveying. These numbers were randomly assigned to the pure control group, or one of the four different treatment groups.
Randomization Method
Randomization done ex ante by computer privately.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
1,054 firms
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,054 firms
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Sample sizes are:
Pure control group: 297 firms
Information only group: 187 firms
Quality star ratings only: 187 firms
Quality star ratings plus negative information: 184 firms
Quality star ratings plus positive and negative information: 200 firms
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials


Document Name
EDI Grant Proposal
Document Type
Document Description
This is our grant proposal to EDI, finalized and signed on July 9, 2018 (over a year prior to starting the study). It serves to illustrate the intended design and outcomes at this initial design stage. Step 5 in the proposal describes the experiment being registered here.
EDI Grant Proposal

MD5: 499562e186c5b1ca3c082e6603dd61ce

SHA1: a59aa9c54bee46692361090a58f69b03f928207f

Uploaded At: April 10, 2020


Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

There is information in this trial unavailable to the public. Use the button below to request access.

Request Information


Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
October 14, 2019, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
May 14, 2020, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
1054 firms: randomization at the firm level
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
1054 firms (of which 697 were reinterviewed in the follow-up survey)
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
297 control firms 757 treatment firms
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Why do more small firms in developing countries not use
the market for professional business services like accounting,
marketing, and human resource specialists? Two key reasons
may be that firms lack information about the availability
of these services, and that they struggle to distinguish the
quality of good versus bad providers. A brand recognition
exercise finds that most small firms are unaware of most
providers in this market, and a survey of service providers
reveals that they largely rely on word-of-mouth and informal reputation mechanisms for acquiring customers. This
study set up a business services marketplace that contains
information about the different providers present in the
market and used mystery shopper visits to develop a quality ratings system. A randomized experiment with more
than 1,000 firms provided access to this marketplace to the
treatment group and randomized whether firms received
just information or also quality ratings. The provision of
quality ratings information shifts small firms’ preferences
over which provider they would like to use, increasing the
average quality rating of their preferred providers by 0.2 to
0.4 ratings points out of 5. However, neither the provision
of information nor these quality ratings had any significant
impact on the likelihood that small firms go on to hire a
business service provider over the subsequent six months.
The results suggest that alleviating information frictions
alone is insufficient to increase usage of professional business services.
Anderson, Stephen and David McKenzie (2021) What Prevents More Small Firms from Using Professional Business Services? An Information and Quality-Rating Experiment in Nigeria. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper no. 9614
Many small firms lack the finance and marketing skills needed for growth. A standard approach
is to train the entrepreneur in these skills. However, rather than requiring entrepreneurs to learn
everything, an alternative is to move beyond the boundary of the entrepreneur and link firms to
these skills in a marketplace through insourcing workers, or outsourcing tasks to professionals. We
conducted a randomized experiment in Nigeria to test the relative effectiveness of these different
approaches to improving business practices. Insourcing and outsourcing both dominate business
training; and do at least as well as business consulting at one-half of the cost.
Anderson, Stephen and David McKenzie (2022) "Improving business practices and the boundary of the entrepreneur: A randomized experiment comparing training, consulting, insourcing and outsourcing", Journal of Political Economy, 130(1): 157-209, 2022

Reports & Other Materials