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Consumer external information search cannot be discussed without acknowledging the 'cost' of an information search activity. External information search inevitably consumes the searcher's resources, at the very least personal time and energy and often financial resources as well. Information search costs may be classified as either tangible or intangible in nature. In the case of consumer search of a physical shopping environment, tangible costs are accrued due to the need for physical transport (e.g., bus fares, vehicle costs), communication (e.g., telephone calls, faxes) and information gathering (e.g., purchase of consumer magazines, newspapers). Such tangible costs are easy to record and measure but consumers only tend to be aware of those that are paid directly from their pocket. Incidental search costs apart from these are often not considered, as they may be perceived as a part of the consumer's lifestyle (e.g., the running costs of an automobile).
By contrast, intangible costs include time  costs, physical costs (e.g., energy expended, tiredness), cognitive costs (e.g., the cognitive burden of managing the information search and the consideration of alternatives), and psychological costs (frustration, tension, and annoyance—Engel, Blackwell and Miniard, 1986). Although the consumer may be aware of such intangible costs, his or her perceptions of them are subjective (Loudon and Della Bitta, 1993). On such a basis the total cost of a physical information search to a consumer is incalculable, as the subjective cost may be apparent only to the individual. Thus, from the researcher's perspective the measurement of the intangible costs of a physical information search is problematic.
In contrast to a conventional shopping environment, in which many of the search costs are tangible, in the Web environment, the majority of the costs are intangible as the only easily assessable cost is that of Web access. Even then, depending on the individual consumer, such access may be considered an incidental expense of their chosen lifestyle. Despite the fact that most Web search costs are subjective, the individual consumer's assessment of them in part depends upon the consumer's resources. If consumers have free time on their hands, then the perceived time costs will be reduced. However, if consumers have poor Web search skills, then it is likely that the perceived psychological cost of a Web search will increase. Furthermore an individual consumer's perceptions of search costs may vary depending on mood and situation. In summary, in the Web environment the costs of information search are largely intangible, subjective, and resource and situation dependent. For these reasons the proposed model of Web search behavior will not include tangible or intangible search cost variables.
"Time" can also be considered a direct expense, due to its ease of measurement, but the effect of time expenditure on consumer behavior is more dependent upon the consumer's perception of their time resources than on its empirical measurement.
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