Consumer Web Site Design: Purchase Intentions and Loyalty in a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Internet Commerce Environment
Electronic commerce has experienced the meteoric rise and subsequent crash of any behemoth entity cast aloft without moorings or foundation. From a now short but historical vantage point, this profound economic failure during the dot-com heyday can likely be attributed to a few key factors. Many experts in the field of e-commerce have suggested remedial reconstruction with only a few companies experiencing success in the wake of entity-wide bankruptcies.
Visual design is the logical persuasive power when influencing online consumers to buy from virtual stores. Using the previously unapplied concepts of logos (appeal to the logic), pathos (appeal to the emotions), and ethos (appeal to the credibility) to electronic commerce as found in the research taxonomy of Winn and Beck's studies, this research will reveal an appropriate melding of the consumer's perception of a positive online experience with the biopsychology of a satisfying visual experience.
Study Extension Objectives
Practitioners as Audience
Professionals as Audience
Meaning to Institution
Importance to Personal Development
Corporate giants to small businesses considered investments of large amounts of time, money, resources, man-hours, and venture capital a wise decision when considering the potential return-on-investment (ROI) of the Internet boom of the early to mid-1990's. When millions of dollars were lost, experts emerged from the ashes and attempted to develop new paradigms designed to explain the failure, redirect the quickly amassed skills and resources previously applied, and stem the exit of great numbers of commercial entities from the Internet and a "virtual economy."
Consumers are negatively affected when they are unable to "experience" a purchase prior to making it. The Internet presents a unique challenge to compensate for the lack of sensory data normally demanded by the consumer. Designers have been largely unsuccessful in adapting to this gaping chasm of expectation vs. actuality of experience with disastrous results in commerce, financial, and business ethic arenas.
Problematic is the lack of sensory input when making purchasing decisions; a traditional consumer evaluation involves seeing, touching, sampling, "trying on," smelling, hearing, and even tasting before actually making the purchase. Once these samplings and sensory evaluations have been made (pathos), this customer can then rely on the logical reasons for visiting a particular store (logos) and consider the reliability of the manufacturer (ethos) when deciding to spend the money. The Internet, by its nature, makes the pathos very difficult for online commerce to deliver.
In applied research, independent and dependent variables have been shown to work in conjunction when developing the persuasive power required to purchase intention and customer loyalty. There are eleven independent variables: logos - the logic of price, variety, product information, accessibility, and availability; pathos - the emotive response to playfulness (i.e., intent to entertain site visitors while inducing a pervasive "need to buy"), tangibility, and empathy; and ethos - the recognizability of branding, assurance, and reliability.
When applied properly to the complete human experience of consumerism, therefore, the dependent variables - purchase intention and loyalty (i.e., repeat purchase patterns and "word-of-mouth" referral) are the inevitable human return on investment.
Rationale for this investigative research falls into many realms: huge revenue potential (approximately $3 billion lost on the Internet in 1999 simply due to poor design and problems of access and navigability), socioeconomic advantage in developing improved ways of channeling consumer dollars - and thereby, consumer confidence - into American growth, a level playing field encouraging smaller enterprises to compete with monolithic corporations and thereby promoting free enterprise at its best, and taking full advantage of this, the "age of information," through ethical, open disclosure methodology to build trust, confidence, and security in the American consumer.
Practice Issues to be Addressed
There is a defined need to understand the "psychoeconomics" of virtual consumerism; this research will attempt to answer the following questions: what innovative methods can be introduced to identify goods and services to the "ether" customer, how can visual design be incorporated into a persuasive model created to positively impact modern consumers, and how do Aristotle's three methods of persuasion (i.e., logos, pathos, and ethos) combine to create a viable, living, reproducible paradigm for 21st century consumerism.
Study Design Rationale
Incorporating human subject research into the efficacy of visual design - and resultant purchase intent and residual loyalty -- mandates a viable cross-section of Internet users and a structured follow-on method of determinant brand and site loyalty.
The study will begin where Winn and Beck's study left off; a larger sampling of Internet consumers using questionnaires, interviews, and observation of Internet consumer patterns and habits will be implemented at the outset with scheduled and consistent follow-up at the closing of the study.
The study carries a great deal of importance to the economic strata of the world's industry. The Internet has proven to be an entity, which will not deplete itself or disappear in the foreseeable future; it is conceivable that it will be the last public data network as it will be able to absorb each new form of communication (e.g., ISDN, Frame Relay, ATM, cable modem technologies, ADSL, and so on - all of which have been created since the introduction of the Internet) with new services and protocols being added all the time. Barring innovation unforeseen, therefore, there will likely not be a decision to "start the Internet over" with something new and different; even the highly acclaimed "Internet 2" is little more than a high-speed Internet backbone with tighter access controls. The longevity of the Internet can be seen in Microsoft's "Embrace and Extend" policy regarding Internet protocols - a decided change from their earlier proprietary protocol infrastructure; the company clearly sees the Internet is here to stay.
Proving that visual appeal builds the pathos to consumerism on the Internet will help pave the way for the interrelatedness of logos and ethos in the complete consumer experience. Once this data are collated, the results assessed, and the findings published, further studies could be conducted proving that the pathos occurs first and is a critical building block to the logos and ethos.
Study limitations will be based on the variables always present in human interaction; efficacy of reporting and questionnaire responses, and the inevitable percentage of change in any viable dynamic such as the Internet. For example, Internet sites close overnight, forcing a shift in brand loyalty for the same product or service and people make consumer decisions based on many factors: some arbitrary, others not.
Another limitation inherent in a study of this scope and design will include maintaining contact with the requisite numbers of participants for a period long enough to validate the data; attrition through disinterest, mortality, moves, and other factors will likely affect the study +/- 10%. A control group will be needed, therefore, to commit to follow up studies and additional responses to patterns and questionnaires in order to control the variables in the study.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
The control group will consist of 50 participants with decided brand and site loyalty within the realm of the study. For example, in a study of long-distance carriers, three companies are considered world entities: AT&T, MCI, and Sprint. The control group would then consist of 50 participants who have been loyal to their choice of carrier for greater than one year, has permitted no "slamming" to go unchallenged, and uses the corporate web site for account and service transactions. In this scenario, the variable group would consist of 50 participants with undetermined long-distance carrier brand and site loyalty, and who have either changed carriers in the past year or are seeking new information to elect a different carrier.
Exclusions would include people who will not or who are not able to use the Internet for consumer transactions (e.g., vision impaired, technophobic, or non-credit card users), companies on the Internet who do not have a history of permanent web presence for the past five years, and people unable or unwilling to revisit the study criteria over the span of the study.
This study is expected to prove that visual content and site design with primary visual emphasis do more to facilitate consumer loyalty, a willingness to purchase, and satisfaction through the following equation:
effective visual design =logos + pathos + ethos positive experience purchase intention and consumer loyalty than commerce sites with emphasis on price, product variety, or other consumer measurables.
Study Extension Objectives
The study will take existing knowledge in non-empirical studies and extend the currently available date and, although there is little hope for providing empirical data, there are quantitative measures built into the mechanisms for the study, which will provide substantive contributions to the current body of knowledge pertaining to the loyalty and purchase intention of Internet consumerism.
There is little difference in the methodological significance between this proposed study and others providing non-empirical data; most studies rely heavily upon either questionnaires, surveys, and online shopping sessions to measure site…