Web content has been identified as one of the main factors contributing to repeat visits. As content on the web includes text, pictures, graphics, layout, sound, motion and, someday, even smell, making the right web content decisions are critical to effective web design. While an understanding of marketing strategies that attract visitors to websites is beginning to emerge, how to convert web surfers to repeat visitors is a less well-understood phenomenon. Through an empirical study, the authors develop the Website Preference Scale (WSPS) based upon the work in environmental psychology of Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan. The results identify underlying dimensions of effective website design and provide insight into site design characteristics, which may lead to a higher likelihood of revisit. D 2002 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
By whatever measure used, the web is big. The majority of American homes now have computers, 64% of Americans age 12 or older have used the Internet in the past year (CyberAtlas, 2000), and retail sales are projected to reach US$74 billion by 2002 (Forrester Research, 2001). It is, then, no small wonder that most companies feel that they need at least some level of web presence today. The question facing all companies contemplating web initiatives is how to build a successful website.
Amazon has raised and spent millions of dollars on building and maintaining their site, and creating the Amazon brand. During its heyday, Amazon’s valuation was attributed, at least in part, to its ability to capture and hold their customers’ attention. As a result, many e-retailers adopted the Amazon web design format when developing their own sites.
By contrast, traditional retailers going online provide an alternative to the Amazon model. Their tendency is to transfer what works in the brick-and-mortar world to the Internet. However, even the seasoned retailers (e.g., Disney) are finding it difficult to create the right formula to succeed online (Couzin, 2000).
With the increasing number of companies taking advantage of the Internet, it is important to understand what drives utilization of one site over another. A recent study by Forrester Research indicates that high-quality content, ease of use, speed and frequency of updating are the top four factors contributing to repeat visits (Numbers, 1999). Yet, another study of 50 shopping sites run by US and UK retailers indicated a failure to satisfy the customer’s shopping experience on at least some of these dimensions (Kane, 1999).
While an understanding of marketing strategies that attract visitors to websites is beginning to emerge (e.g., Schwartz, 1996), how to convert web surfers to repeat visitors through effective web design is a less well-understood phenomenon. Practitioners’ advice on site design and content abound and is often conflicting. The research presented in this paper suggests that one way to assist in the development of effective web designs is to examine the web from the perspective of cognitive psychology.
The work of environmental psychologists, Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan, provides a means of understanding how to facilitate the interactive experience through the concept of a cognitive environment. Kaplan and Kaplan view environments as providing information in many ways—through signs, icons, with or without words. Their studies apply cognitive psychology to the design of physical landscapes. Through their research, they have found that informational needs influence preferences for certain landscapes. People both want to make sense of and get involved in their landscapes. By utilizing principles from cognitive psychology, Kaplan and Kaplan have demonstrated that it is possible to develop landscapes, which facilitate sense making and involvement.
In many ways, designing effective web content is very similar to designing a physical landscape. Computer interaction is intensely cognitive involving perceptions and preferences. Interactivity implies not only perceiving the web landscape, but also entering into it and ‘‘experiencing’’ the space.
In an attempt to develop a better understanding of what constitutes high-quality web content (i.e., design which facilitates revisit and purchase), the authors propose the Website Preference Scale (WSPS) as a way to assess effective web design based on the perspective that a website is a cognitive landscape. After a brief discussion of web content, Kaplan and Kaplan’s application of cognitive psychology to physical landscapes (the Preference Framework) is presented. The Preference Framework is then extended to the web environment. An exploratory study designed to develop the WSPS is then presented. Finally, conclusions and a future program of research are discussed.