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Emerging technologies promise new types of relationships between businesses and consumers. In particular, interactive multimedia and virtual technologies promise greater degrees of consumer engagement with online products and services, potentially leading to increased product exploration, and more hedonic purchases (Jeandrain, 2001). Even though the technologies involved are now largely affordable, widespread and stable, to date e-tailing has had a mixed acceptance, with significant shopping cart abandonment statistics reported of up to 75% (Gordon, 2000). Other figures cited in Hurst and Gellady (2000) indicate that 42% of shopping carts are abandoned, losing a potential US $3 bn in lost sales. While figures vary, and may include customers who later return to complete a purchase, the phenomenon remains significant. A study by Vividence (2001) showed that major reasons commonly given for shopping cart abandonment included the requirement for users to personally register and various aspects of the checkout process. Ghose (2002) reports McKinsey research on the dot.com crash noting that many sites successfully lured visitors, but failed to convert those into buyers. Clearly end user factors associated with the online purchase process contribute to the discrepancy between browsers and buyers.
The diffusion of innovation literature (Rogers, 1995) suggests that e-commerce will only be adopted if it offers a relative advantage, trialability, and minimal complexity. For B2C e-commerce to achieve its potential, there is a need to better understand how individual consumers actively perceive and engage with the technologies mediating online purchasing and product choice behavior. In recent years, some studies have started to appear, identifying factors relevant to a deeper understanding of online purchasing, such as trust (Gefen, 2002; Jarvenpaa and Tractinsky, 1999), usability (Nielsen et al., 2001), and the quality of interactivity, including allure (Rafaeli and Sudweeks, 1997). These are themselves multidimensional constructs, and are the subject detailed studies in their own right.
Gefen (2002) for example suggests trust is relevant to e-tailing uptake (2002), and can be related to technology acceptance models more generally (e.g., Davis, 1989). This well-established model naturally brings in usability issues, such as the perceived ease of use, and usefulness constructs familiar in mainstream IS literature. Usability and trustworthiness in web design is considered by Nielsen, (1999) who quotes relevant key findings from a user study. In particular, trust builds slowly as customers get good results from sites they use, and don't feel let down, in other words, they have a good experience with the site. Nielsen (1999) describes other ways in which site design can convey trustworthiness, including professional appearance, comprehensive and correct product content, details of fulfillment procedures and up-front disclosure of relevant charges and information. Other theoretical models for understanding trust in e-commerce are provided by Tan and Thone (1999) and by Egger (2000) which incorporate several of the factors identified within the psychological and marketing literatures, such as reputation and information communication effectiveness, and these provide a principled basis for validating the more heuristic observations of practitioners. Although trust (e.g., Yoon, 2002) and usability continue to be extensively researched, detailed research on the interactivity in which trust, involvement and relationship support is built online with end users and on the related psychological issues that underlie specific online behavior is still at an early stage. Extending Nielsen's comment above about having "a good experience with the site" Bellman et al. (1999) contend that demographic factors and amount spent online are secondary factors and that "whether (customers) buy has more to do with whether they like being online" (p. 37). This suggests the relevance of investigating hedonic dimensions to interactive customer experience.
Some conceptualizations and models of interactivity stem from the field of computer mediated communication (CMC) (e.g., Rafaeli and Sudweeks, 1997; Burgoon et al., 2000). This line of research tends to be primarily concerned with human interaction via the medium, as distinct from the medium itself. Other work from marketing (Liu, 2002) is concerned with an instrument for measuring the interactivity of Web sites themselves. Liu notes that the inconsistent conceptualization of interactivity has resulted in inconclusiveness about how interactivity influences online communication. Liu and Shrum (2002) review the various definitions of interactivity, including emphases on the user-user, user-machine and user-message interaction aspects and propose the following definition "the degree to which two or more communication parties can act on each other, on the communication medium, and on the messages and the degree to which such influences are synchronized." McMillan and Hwang (2002) in a web advertising context, emphasize the role of consumer perception in their operationalization of interactivity, and isolate constructs of user control, direction of communication and time (speed of message processing) which are all aspects commonly found in the literature. These, and other aspects come together in online shopping, where both browsing and directed searches, initiated by end users or suggested by e-tailers, relationships and bilateral communication acts develop and message processing is synchronized.
Browsing and search is an interactivity aspect especially relevant to e-tailing, and academics such as Floridi (1995), Hoffman and Novak (1995, 1996a, b), and Tan (1999) have long recognized the need for such research. Despite the widespread consumer use of the WWW however, little is known regarding consumer WWW search behavior. Other factors relevant to end user interaction with e-tailing sites include enticement, attention capture and maintenance, involvement and presence: concepts largely developed and researched within traditional psychology and marketing disciplines, and bearing directly on interaction with e-tailers.
In this paper we suggest that, whilst trust and usability are important antecedents to online shopping behavior, increasingly the quality of the interactivity is likely to determine end user behavior on Web sites, implying that commercial success of the WWW will only occur if it meets the information and transaction needs of consumers. This translates into the future interface designs that facilitate the desired levels of engagement associated with consumer decisions, which we see as being increasingly enhanced by emerging technology, in particular, virtual reality. Walsh and Pawlawski (2002) see virtual reality as a logical extension of much information systems research, noting that a lot of the current research on virtual reality is technologically focused, with limited understanding of its behavioral and organizational impacts. Similarly, although several factors have been heuristically identified as being important in e-tailing, such as Web site stickiness (Garbi, 2002), navigation (e.g., Hodkinson, Kiel, McColl-Kennedy, 2000), trust, and fulfilment (Integrated Marketing Communications, online), much of this emphasizes site design rather than end user factors. We believe the two aspects are related: as Lohse and Spiller (1998) observe, "the promise of electronic commerce and online shopping will depend to a great extent upon the interface and how people interact with the computer" (p. 81). McMillan and Hwang (2002) however cite Lee (2000) who suggests that "interactivity should not be measured by analyzing processes or counting features (but rather) how users perceive and/or experience interactivity" (p. 30). This places the focus more on the end user than on the interface itself.
In the psychology of perception, Gibson's (1979) concept of affordance, connotes the potential of an environment to allow some specific end-user behavior, and is particularly relevant to cyberspace business (Essler and Whittaker, 2001) as well as to virtual reality, (Bowers, Pycock and O'Brien, 1996). Essler and Whittaker's review highlights interactivity as the key and novel factor in e-commerce business modeling and identifies customer focus and customer affordances during interactivity as major orientations for e-business analysis. This implicates both interface design factors, and end user characteristics. As broadband becomes commonplace, the potential for elaborate 3-D virtual worlds affording considerable interactivity follows. Equally, as interactive site exploration introduces hedonic purchasing in entertainment milieus, sites that fail to engage and hold consumers' attention will potentially lose business.
We contend that, as technology becomes more trusted, usable and accepted, future e-commerce will depend on the quality of the interaction a site affords. A satisfactory interaction may be expected to subsume these antecedents. The perception of sites, as they vary from basic to highly interactive interfaces, will determine specific end user behaviors, including purchase willingness and satisfaction with the experience. To examine this we look at relevant factors through a series of studies, oriented increasingly towards greater interactivity, and focussing mainly on hedonic purchases, notionally related to the economy of a coastal resort.
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