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Consumer Attitude in Electronic Commerce - INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, WEB SITE CONTENT, Information, Presentation Attitudes, System Design Features, FUTURE TRENDS, CONCLUSION

research sites message based

Yuan Gao
Ramapo College of New Jersey, USA

INTRODUCTION

As a valuable communications medium, the World Wide Web has undoubtedly become an important playground of commercial activities. Founded on a hypermedia document system, this medium plays a critical role in getting messages across to visitors, who may be current or perspective customers. In business-to-consumer (B2C) Web sites, companies are engaged in a wide range of activities including marketing, advertising, promotion, sales, and customer service and support (Berthon, Pitt, & Watson, 1996; Singh & Dalal, 1999). As a result, practitioners and scholars alike have started to examine various techniques ranging from the overall structure of the online retailing interface to individual features as banners, animation, sound, video, interstitials, and popup ads (Rodgers & Thorson, 2000; Westland & Au, 1998). Consumers are the ultimate judges of the success of any online retailing site, and consumer perceptions mediate content factors in influencing their attitude toward electronic commerce as well as individual e-tailing sites, complementing the roles played by Web site content in shaping consumer attitude.

BACKGROUND

In traditional advertising research, Olney et al. (1991) outlined a chain of links where both content and form variables were examined as predictors of attention, memory, recall, click-through, informativeness, attractiveness, and attitude. An evaluation of these outcome variables in the Web context necessarily involves new dimensions that require a higher degree of comprehensiveness due to the volume and scope of a Web site in comparison to print or TV ads. For example, Rogers and Thorson (2000) argue for the consideration in interactive marketing of such techniques as banners, sponsorships, interstitials, popup windows, and hyperlinks over and beyond ad features found in traditional media, such as color, size, and typeface in the print media, and audio, sound level, animation, and movement in broadcast.

Factors related to consumer behavior, attitude, and perceptions in the online environment have been examined in recent research (Chen & Wells, 1999; Coyle & Thorson, 2001; Ducoffe, 1996; Eighmey, 1997; Gao, Koufaris, & Ducoffe, 2004; Koufaris, 2002; Koufaris, Kambil, & Labarbera, 2001; Vijayasarathy, 2003). Consumer attitude mediates the effect of systems characteristics on behavioral intentions such as intention to revisit and intention to purchase products from the sponsoring companies. Past research has shown that the value of advertising derives from informative claims in an entertaining form (Ducoffe, 1995), while Web site users similarly appreciate information in an enjoyable context (Eighmey, 1997). Koufaris et al. (2001) found shopping enjoyment a significant factor attracting return visits. We consider information, entertainment, and site organization major measurement criteria and perceptual antecedents that affect user attitude toward communications messages presented through the Web (Ducoffe, 1996) and attitude toward the Web site as a whole (Chen & Wells, 1999).

This article provides an overview of current research on factors influencing consumer attitude and related behavioral consequences in electronic commerce. It reviews and synthesizes research from two perspectives: Web site content and consumer perceptions. The next section discusses research uncovering content factors that impact consumer attitude or other attitudinal consequences, while the following section examines consumers’ perceptual dimensions that influence their attitude in Web-based commerce. The following diagram serves as a schema in guiding the presentation of our framework.

WEB SITE CONTENT

Content is king (Nielsen, 1999, 2003). Message content believed to be informative by a marketer needs to be substantiated by consumer feedback. In analyzing the informativeness of a message, content analysis complements attitudinal research by pointing out the types of information and Web site features that make a site informative, entertaining, or irritating. Web site content discussed in this article contains information, presentation attributes, and system design features.

Information

In traditional advertising research, Resnik and Stern (1977) developed a content analysis method through codifying each advertising message via 14 evaluative cues. Numerous studies used this procedure in analyzing ad messages in various media, including magazine, TV, and newspaper advertising (Abernethy & Franke, 1996). Among those studies, a few tried to connect message content with informativeness. For example, Soley and Reid (1983) find that quality, components or content, price or value, and availability information affected perceived informativeness, while the quantity of information did not. Ylikoski (1994) finds moderate support for the connection between the amount of informative claims and perceived informativeness in an experimental study involving automobile advertisements.

In a similar approach, Aaker and Norris (1982) developed a list of 20 characteristic descriptors intended to explain a commercial message’s informativeness. They find hard sell versus soft sell, product class orientation, and number of distinct claims, e.g., on product quality or performance, are the most significant predictors of informativeness from a study based on 524 TV commercials.

Adapted versions of the content analysis method have been applied to analyzing Web advertising and Web sites (Ghose & Dou, 1998; Philport & Arbittier, 1997). Other studies have attempted to categorize Web site content based on technology features (Huizingh, 2000; Palmer & Griffith, 1998). The development of these approaches demonstrates the complexity of Web-based communications and reflects a need to have a more sophisticated method to understand what constitute an effective Web site. Thus, we must inevitably turn our attention to design features and techniques that contribute to the delivery of entertainment, in addition to information, in this new medium.

Presentation Attitudes

Philport and Arbittier (1997) studied content from over 2000 commercial communications messages across three established media, that is, TV, magazines, and newspapers, along with that on the Internet. The adoption of variables such as product demonstration or display, special effect techniques like fantasy, and the employment of humor reflects an attempt by researchers to assess message appeal enhanced by entertaining features. Philport and Arbittier (1997) find no distinguishing characteristic of banner ads from other media ads. Their study suggests that the impact of a message delivered through a banner is fairly limited, and the integral collection of hypermedia-based documents, related image files, and system functions as a whole is a better candidate for examining the effectiveness of Web-based communications.

Ghose and Dou (1998) linked the number of content attributes with site appeal measured by being listed in Lycos top 5% of Web sites and found that a greater degree of interactivity and more available online entertainment features increase site appeal. Huizingh (2000) content-analyzed 651 companies from Yahoo and Dutch Yellow Pages using a battery including elements like pictures, jokes, cartoons, games, and video clips. He found that entertainment features appear in about one-third of all sites, and that larger sites tend to be more entertaining.

Existing literature has also touched upon the effect of media formats on consumer attitude, especially in interactive marketing research (Bezjian-Avery, Calder, & Iacobucci, 1998; Coyle & Thorson, 2001; Rodger & Thorson, 2000). Bezjian-Avery et al. (1998) tested the impact of visual and nonlinear information presentation on consumer attitude toward products. Steuer (1992) provides a theoretical discussion on the mediating impact of communications technology on a person’s perception of his/her environment, termed telepresence, determined by the three dimensions of interactivity, including speed, range, and mapping, and the two dimensions of vividness, including breadth and depth. Coyle and Thorson (2001) associated interactivity and vividness with perceived telepresence and consumer attitude toward brand and site, and find that both perceived interactivity and perceived vividness contribute to attitude toward the site and subsequent intention to return to a site.

Alongside entertainment and information, Chen and Wells (1999) also identify a factor “organization” that describes the structure or navigational ease of a site. Eighmey (1997) finds that structure and design of a Web site are important factors contributing to better perceptions of Web sites. System design features may enhance visitor experience and efficiency in information retrieval, and thus contribute to both perceived informativeness and reduced irritation. The following are some recent studies examining the effects of system design feature in e-commerce sites.

System Design Features

Relating to site features, Lohse and Spiller (1998) performed a study measuring 32 user interface features at 28 online retail stores against store traffic and sales. They conclude that online store traffic and sales are influenced by customer interfaces. In particular, they found that an FAQ page, promotional activities, and better organization of the product menu have significant positive influences on traffic and sales. Huizingh (2000) considers the complexity of the navigation structure and search function design features and finds that more complex structures are found in larger Web sites, which are also more likely to have a search mechanism. Recognizing content the most important element of a Web site, Nielsen (1997, 1999, 2000) points out a few critical areas of design that determine the success or failure of a Web site: speed, quality of a search mechanism, and clarity of structure and navigation.

Research addressing the impact of different digital retailing interfaces (Westland & Au, 1999) reveals that virtual reality storefronts increase a consumer’s time spent searching for products but do not significantly increase sales. In the field of human-computer interaction, significant research has been done relating network quality of service with usability and user satisfaction. One such factor affecting quality of service is system speed. The effect of system speed on user reactions was studied in both the traditional and Web-based computing environments (Sears & Jacko, 2000). Nielsen (1997) argued, based on a combination of human factors and computer networking, “speed must be the overriding design criterion.” He asserts that research has shown that users need a response time of less than one second, moving from one page to another, based on traditional research in human factors.

In a study linking the use of interruption implemented via pop-up windows, Xia and Sudharshan (2000) manipulated the frequency of interruptions and found that interruptions had a negative impact on consumer shopping experiences. Intrusive formats of advertising like interstitials are found to have “backlash risks” in this new medium (Johnson, Slack, & Keane, 1999). Gao et al. (2004) find that continuously running animation and unexpected popup ads have a positive association with perceived irritation, and contribute negatively to attitude toward the site.

To summarize, along with information content and presentation attributes, system design features are some of the applications of current information technology that may influence consumer perceptions of Web sites and their attitude toward those Web sites.

FUTURE TRENDS

We summarize our discussion in the previous two sections into the following general diagram. This diagram provides a framework for further thinking in the development of e-commerce systems in general and systems design influencing consumer attitude in particular. In this diagram, we recognize that Web site content may influence both a consumer’s perception and his or her attitude, thus Web site content features could have both a direct and indirect impact on consumer attitude. Nonetheless, the perceptual dimensions capture a much broader realm of variables and explain a larger percentage of variance in attitude than those by individual features and content, especially in behavioral science research (Cohen, 1988).

Internet technology and e-commerce continue to grow. How to achieve a competitive advantage through utilizing the advancement in information technology to support a firm’s product offerings is a question faced by many e-commerce firms. In accordance with our review of literature, we suggest that both marketing executives and system developers of e-commerce Web sites pay attention to the underlying connectivity between system design and consumer behavior, and strive to closely examine the issue of integrating technological characteristics and marketing communications in the Web context. We offer the following guidelines.

First, online shoppers value information that is essential to their purchase decisions. It has been demonstrated that consumers value commercial messages that deliver “the most informative claims an advertiser is capable of delivering” in a most entertaining form (Ducoffe, 1996).

Second, consumers appreciate entertainment. An enjoyable experience increases customer retention and loyalty (Koufaris et al., 2001). An entertaining Web site helps to retain not only repeat visitors, but also chance surfers. It is imperative that Web site developers make customer experience their first priority when incorporating features and attributes into a Web site.

Third, consumers’ attitude is enhanced by product experience that is more direct than simple text and images. Direct experience, virtual reality, and telepresence help deliver a message in a more informative and entertaining way.

Last but not least, Web sites should be cautious when using intrusive means of message delivery such as popup ads and animation. Using pop-up ads to push information to the consumer is sometimes a viable technique. Johnson, Slack, and Keane (1999) found that 69% surveyed consider pop-up ads annoying and 23% would not return to that site. Visitors to a Web site do not like interruptions, even those containing information closely related to products sold at the site (Gao et al., 2004). Such techniques should be reserved for mission-critical messages that otherwise cannot be effectively deployed.


CONCLUSION

The study of consumer attitude in e-commerce has not been widely explored, and the true effectiveness of any presentation attribute awaits further examination. We maintain that presentation attributes communicate much non-product information that can affect company image and visitor attitude toward products and the site. As a relatively new communications medium, the Internet provides message creators added flexibility and functionality in message delivery. Marketers can take advantage of the opportunities of incorporating system designs that further enhance a visitor’s experience while visiting a Web site. Attitude is an affection. Future research should also explore the connection between presentation attributes and consumer perceptions, because the connection between what a system designer puts into a Web site and how an online visitor perceives it is the focal point where the interests of the marketers and the consumers meet.

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