I n this study, we consider the online consumer as both a shopper and a computer user. We test constructs from information systems (Technology Acceptance Model), marketing (Consumer Behavior), and psychology (Flow and Environmental Psychology) in an integrated theoretical framework of online consumer behavior. Specifically, we examine how emotional and cognitive responses to visiting a Web-based store for the first time can influence online consumers’ intention to return and their likelihood to make unplanned purchases. The instrumentation shows reasonably good measurement properties and the constructs are validated as a nomological network.
A questionnaire-based empirical study is used to test this nomological network. Results confirm the double identity of the online consumer as a shopper and a computer user because both shopping enjoyment and perceived usefulness of the site strongly predict intention to return. Our results on unplanned purchases are not conclusive. We also test some individual and Web site factors that can affect the consumer’s emotional and cognitive responses. Product involvement, Web skills, challenges, and use of value-added search mechanisms all have a significant impact on the Web consumer. The study provides a more rounded, albeit partial, view of the online consumer and is a significant steptowards a better understanding of consumer behavior on the Web. The validated metrics should be of use to researchers and practitioners alike.
Consumer behavior on the Web has been the subject of considerable research in the last few years, but understanding it is made difficult by the fact that the main entities involved, consumers and businesses, have been transformed. First, every consumer is now also a computer user. The online consumer performs all the functions of a traditional consumer on a computer while interacting with a system, i.e., a commercial Web site. S/he, therefore, also exhibits all the characteristics of a computer user. Second, the physical store has been transformed into a virtual store through information technology (IT). In the physical commercial world, the IT used for operations remains mostly in the background, invisible to the consumer. In e-commerce, however, the technology has been moved to the foreground and has become the store itself as a Web site.
Such Web-based stores that use “networks and Internet technology for communications and transactions between various groups of stakeholders like businesses and consumers” have recently also been called Net-enabled organizations (NEOs) (Straub and Watson 2001). There is a need to understand and measure such online consumer behavior and much of that burden falls on the IS field (Straub and Watson 2001). To meet this goal, a multidisciplinary approach is ideal, and for this reason we take that approach in this study. In this study, we concentrate on new customer retention and unplanned purchases in business to consumer (B2C) electronic commerce. We also examine how certain emotional and cognitive responses to an initial Web store visit influence these two variables. In addition, we study the effects of some individual consumer differences as well as the impact of using different types of search mechanisms on the Web site. While models and constructs from marketing and psychology are prominent in this work, the research is relevant to the information systems field due to its inclusion of traditional IS variables (Straub and Watson 2001), primarily the variables of the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis 1989).
2. Theoretical Framework and Study Measures
Discussion of metrics will accompany the building of theory-based hypotheses so that we can later examine a nomological network to test construct validity. Although this approach does not follow the conventional article format, we felt that it was justifiable given the stress on metrics in the special issue.
There have been various attempts at building models of consumer behavior online. Examples include looking at “conversion” of Web surfers to Web customers (Berthon et al. 1996), studying consumer information acquisition and purchase decision online (Alba et al. 1997), and determining reasons for not shopping online (Peterson et al. 1997). Transaction cost theory has been used to explain the impact of IT on market structure (Malone et al. 1987) but also to understand individual consumer behavior. For example, buyer search costs are substantial transaction costs and they can determine buyer behavior and eventually market structures (Bakos 1997).
An important question is whether online consumers think and act differently than their offline counterparts. If so, which metrics can we use to capture these differences? For example, online consumers cannot depend on all five senses to make purchases; instead, they must rely on limited product representations such as photographs and text descriptions. Yet, studies have shown that the representation of the product online, indeed the overall quality of the shopping experience, matters for both attitude towards shopping online as well as intention to buy (Burke et al. 1992, Jarvenpaa and Todd 1997a and b, Nowlis and McCabe 2000, Novak et al. 2000). NEOs, however, cannot rely on enticing product displays, exciting music, and “hip” clientele to convince their customers to buy. Instead, they may depend on well designed Web pages and powerful Web features, such as recommender systems and one-click checkouts. The online consumer may also have a different social and work environment than the offline consumer. For example, intention to buy online is influenced by the level of the consumer’s lack of leisure time, as in offline shopping, but also by the level of their wired lifestyle (Bellman et al. 1999).
A key difference between online and offline consumer behavior is that the online consumer is generally more powerful, demanding, and utilitarian in her shopping expeditions. As a result, customer loyalty on the Web is low overall (Morrisette et al. 1999); although, as in the physical world, it is influenced by the availability of good, relevant content in an enjoyable context (Rice 1997, Eighmey 1997, Eighmey and McCord 1998). The locus of power seems to be shifting from the vendor to the consumer (Raman 1997) who does not favor traditional advertising and promotions online (Maignan and Lukas 1997). Research has also shown that certain site features, such as the availability of a FAQ section or promotions at the Web store entrance, can influence both traffic on the Web site and overall sales (Lohse and Spiller 1998a and b).
Unlike offline consumers, online consumers are concerned with those risks inherent in buying on the Web, risks such as credit card fraud and not receiving the right products (Bhatnagar et al. 2000). Perceived risk of online shopping and perceived ease of use of the Web site have been shown to influence attitude towards online purchasing (Heijden et al. 2001). The impact of perceived ease of use, however, seems to vary depending on the type of task the consumer is undertaking. Its effect is more significant when consumers are using a Web site to inquire about products rather than to purchase them (Gefen and Straub 2000).