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Titus and Everett (1995) identified an Environmental Search Knowledge dimension of individual consumer characteristics. Since high levels of Web usage and lengthy Web experience equate to the Environmental Search Knowledge variable posited by Titus and Everett (1995), a number of consumer Web search experience variables should also be included in the model. Information environments require user skills and the more complex the information environment, the greater will be the effect of any possessed skills. For example, it requires a higher level of information search skills to use a reference library than it does to use a single reference book. The Web is a unique consumer information search environment, the skills for which can be learned by experience. Consequently it is proposed that the following Web use and experience variables be included in the model: Web usage level (i.e., hours per month), Web use experience (i.e., months of use experience).
An additional issue is consumer Web browser skill, because on-line decision making requires the finding and re-finding of information as the emergent search strategy interacts with the decision-making process (for a detailed discussion see Hodkinson, Kiel and McColl-Kennedy, 2000). Since advanced Web browser navigational skills are required to properly facilitate this search and decision process an index of Web browser skill is ideal to operationalize this variable (for an example refer Hodkinson, 2001). In addition to general Web search skills, some individuals may possess professional level Web search skills, for example, Web reference librarians. In such a case the skills of such highly trained and proficient Web searchers may have a marked effect on their Web search behavior.
In addition to general Web search skills, when considering the consumer information search outcome of purchase, it has been shown that previous purchase affects information search and decision-making heuristics (e.g., Bettman, 1979; Hempel, 1969; Maddox et al., 1978; Punj and Staelin, 1983). Consumers who have already made a real-life Web purchase may be willing to make another. Similarly, subjects who have previously obtained free goods from the Web have in fact made a previous on-line purchase decision but at zero cost. These observations suggest that a Web experience variable relating to Web purchase history should be included in the model. In summary, the Web use and experience variables in the model include: Web usage level, Web usage experience, Web browser skills, special Web search skills, and Web purchase history. The Web search task will now be discussed.
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