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Consumer Buying Behaviour: User Friendliness as a Success Factor in Technological Products
A study of consumer behaviours to determine the importance of user-friendliness in the success of technological products. Will the consumer choose a user-friendly product in favour of a sophisticated one? What do the consumers value more? Usability or latest functionality?
Submitted By: Tom Jacob
Course Name: Module Name: Module Code: Submission Date: Submitted to:
Master of Business Administration Research Skills Analysis FTKMIM001 April 2009 Marilyn May
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Research Questions and Objectives
Literature Review Methodology
Research Philosophy Research Approach Research Strategy Data Collection and Analysis
Primary Data Collection Secondary Data Collection Sampling Method and Size Data Analysis
Ethical Issues Data Access Resource Implications
Gantt Chart Research Budget
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Living in a world dominated by technology, we use a range of electronic devices and gadgetry everyday that is supposed to make our life easier, enjoyable, simple and more satisfying. Our generation have mobile phones to stay in touch with loved ones; portable media players keep them stress-free while game consoles entertain them. Still, our lives are more complicated than ever. Every new device or new versions of existing gadgets guarantee to be the easiest ever, but complicate things even more. Developers strive to add new features in to products every day. Mobile phones incorporate satellite navigation systems, making it more convenient, but the primary purposes like cellular reception and battery life has suffered. New versions of operating systems are so resource demanding and buggy that users go back to older versions. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have not been kept. Where does this leave the industry? Is the industry bringing out highly complex products that consumers do not buy? Can new and better features alone attract consumers? Will a possibly inferior product that is more easy to use persuade the end user? Is it usability over latest functionality?
One of the fastest growing sectors of our time, technology industry –companies that design, manufacture and distributes electronic devices and services–, is unique do to its high investment in research, development and marketing. Due to this, it is also a highly evolving industry. Global leaders in the sector are Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, IBM, Google, Dell, Toshiba and Nintendo. In yesteryears, customer had little choice in the market as there were only a handful of players. Traditionally, new features are the primary selling point in this sector. This has changed drastically in the last five years. As the industry matured, industry leaders started losing customers to new and upcoming companies, which then prompted the marketers to focus on new selling points like user-friendliness to attract or retain customers. This paradigm shift is the basis of my research.
The purpose of this research is to understand the consumer philosophies when choosing technological products. What does the consumer look for when he buys a technological product? Latest features or the usability? Can user-friendliness of a product influence buying decisions? If so, how significant is this factor to a consumer? I am taking three set of sample products, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 from gaming sector, Apple iPhone and Nokia N95 from mobile phone sector and Google Gmail and Microsoft Hotmail from online email providers to research on this subject. In every set, one is an industry leading company or product and the other one a new pretender who focus on being more user-friendly. How are these products fairing in the market? What makes a
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consumer go for a product? Is it the User Interface? Alternatively, is it the new features? Perhaps a shorter learning curve? As my research is industry centred rather than product specific, use of three separate set of products won’t broaden the scope of my research. Instead, I will benefit from the bigger pool of data that can be obtained. This will in turn bring out clearer patterns and trends which can be used to form an inductive hypothesis. This research will help the developers to understand the needs of the consumer. The study will bring out different segments (with different priorities) of the market, which will help in marketing communications. How can the industry align their strategic capabilities and core competences to better suit the needs of the consumer? They can then direct their energies towards developing systems that have an optimal blend of features and user-friendliness. As a tech savvy person, I am always frustrated by the unfriendly nature of today’s gadgets that make simple things overly complicated. It would definitely make my life more stress free if my gadgets are less complicated to use. This will also be a unique opportunity to study consumer behaviours, which will aid me in my career as a marketing professional.
Research Questions and Objectives
Will a possibly inferior (feature wise) product that is more user-friendly win an end user? If so, how important is usability factor to a potential buyer? E.g.: Will he pay more for it? Should developers sacrifice technologically advanced new features to retain usability? Is User-friendliness a strong brand building/busting point? E.g.: Google, Microsoft
User friendliness is defined by freedectionary.com (2009) as ‘Easy to use or learn to use’, where as International Standards Organization describe it as the ‘‘effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in particular environment’’ (Karwowski 2001). Hooks & Ferry (2001) state that ‘user-friendly’ is a particularly troublesome word, arguing that a product developer who is comfortable with technology is guaranteed to have a different threshold for ‘user-friendly’ than the end customer. Effectiveness and efficiency can be measured. Karwowski says that satisfaction might be seen as the most important aspect of usability for products whose use is voluntary i.e. products like web email accounts. Jakob Nielsen (1993), a usability consultant theorise that usability is grand total of five attributes 1)learnability, 2)efficiency, 3)memorability,5) errors and 6)satisfaction. He further argues that by defining user-friendliness in terms of these quantifiable and specific units, it can actually be ‘‘systematically approached improved and evaluated’’. Computer science professor Ben Shneiderman (2000) introduced the concept of universal usability which takes in to account the diversity of user population and user needs; rather than the ‘average user’. An earlier work (Shneiderman 1987) argues that developers should strive for consistency as it will greatly reduce the learning curve. Sarah Horton (2005) proposed a set of universal usability guidelines in her work ‘Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers’ which includes simplicity of design, build quality (user controls, flexibility, fallbacks etc) and use of open standards.
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‘Consumer buying behaviour’ is defined by businessdictionary.com (2009) as a ‘‘Process by which individuals search for, select, purchase, use, and dispose of goods and services, in satisfaction of their needs and wants’’. The complexity of consumer buying behaviour is perhaps best reflected in the wealth of disciplines that offer theories on it. Fields like microeconomics, marketing studies, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and ethics each explain motives of consumption (OECD 2002, p. 61) According to Cooper & Channon (1998), economists were the first professional group to offer a theory of buying behaviour. Marshallian theory holds that buying decisions are a result of rational and conscious economic calculations. The main criticism of this theory is that cardinal measurement of utility is unrealistic. It doesn’t take in to account other stimuli (e.g.: marketing, social factors) the affect consumer buying behaviours (Aréna & Quéré 2003). It also assumes that the consumer is fully aware of the market and has complete mobility, which is unrealistic. As my research looks to understand if usability factor can influence buying behaviour, I am actually trying to disprove this theory. Another influential theory is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow 1943) which envisions a pyramid- shaped arrangement of needs. This theory is used by marketers to understand consumer needs and wants. It gets interesting when one think about the needs of a customer who buys a technological product like a music player or a game console. Can User friendliness of a product affect the need? My research will be looking at these issues and will try to answer them. Maslow’s theory has its share of critics who argue that it is not practical to categorize ever-changing needs of a changing society. Another useful frame work is Needs, Opportunities and Abilities model (OECD 2002, pp. 6668) that hypothesises that consumer buy products for what they can do for them. This theory is unique in the scene that that it takes in to account both the macro level (society) and micro level (individual) needs. As seen from the diagram, comfort, one of the factors influencing ‘needs’ will directly relate to the user-friendly issue. As the motivation and behavioural control are opposing factors, it will be worthwhile to compare both and study the tradeoffs between the two. I do intent to study this in my research
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In addition to these, we have theories like Hareide’s (1994) variables that make ‘life worth living’, conditions for human development and existence by Allardt (1994), and ‘18 terminal values’ and ’18 instrumental values’ by Rokeach (1979) which tries to explain what a consumer needs. Apart from these theories, there are a many books written on the subject, looking at buying behaviour from different viewpoints and different depths. Prominent authors who have written on this subject include Roy Wells Hill, P.J. Du Plessis, Richard J. Varey, Malcolm McDonald, Patricia Parrott and Mika Hannula. ‘Explaining buyer behaviour: central concepts and philosophy of science issues’ by John O’Shaughnessy offers a simplistic view of buying behaviour where as ‘The marketing book by Michael John Baker explains the same from a ’ marketing point of view. ‘Understanding the consumer’ by Isabelle Szmigin chooses to challenge existing functionally driven marketing thinking towards the customer. One of the key debates, making big noise in this area is the issue of how better to meet customer needs. There is a new wave of thinking that products can be replaced by services. It is argued that a customer don’t actually have to own a song (even in an electronic format), but just need to hear it. This ‘service as a product’ indicative might have far reaching consequences when it comes to buying behaviours and user-friendliness as a factor which affect buying behaviours.
Research Philosophy - Phenomenology
Described by Husserl (1983) as the ‘‘genuine positivism’’, Phenomenology is a study of how things appear, especially if sustained and penetrating (Lacey 1996). David Woodruff Smith (2005) further explains phenomenology ‘‘as a method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness’’. Phenomenology theorises that reality is with-in a person’s private perception – within his feelings and intentions. (Sprenkle & Piercy 2005). Consumers’ buying decisions are based on ‘‘what they see in the product’’. User-friendliness is a personal perception and will differ from person to person. As my research tries to understand the how products appear to the consumer, and what appeals them, this philosophy will be appropriate to my study.
Research Approach - Inductive
Typically used in interpretive qualitative research, Inductive approach begins with a specific observation that is then developed in to a tentative hypothesis, which is then tested (HesseBiber & Leavy 2005). In this approach, the theoretical position is developed after the collection and analysis of data (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2007). Jary & Jary (1991) argues that ‘‘qualitative techniques relay on the skills of the researcher as an interviewer or observer in gathering data’’. Also known as ‘bottom up’ approach, it involves four stages (Robson 2002); 1) beginning with specific observations and measures 2) from which some
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patterns and regularities emerge 3) which are formulated in to rough hypotheses that are tested 4) and in the end, come up with conclusions or theories. The research is less formal and less structured. Inductive approach is used in my research, as the first step is to collect information from consumers who have brought or are planning to buy products that I have shortlisted. The data collected will then be used to check for pattern and trends. Once such trends are identified, it will be used at a later stage to form the hypothesis.
Choosing the right research strategy is important as it provides you with a plan of how you go about answering the questions (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2002). Also to be noted is Chris Coryn’s (2009) argument that ‘‘there is no overarching framework for how qualitative research should be conducted; rather each type of qualitative research is guided by particular philosophical stances that are taken in relation by the research to each phenomenon’’. For the purpose of this research, I am planning to use grounded theory method –to develop a hypothesis from a corpus of data (Strauss & Corbin 1990)– and later on, historical research –evaluation of data related to past occurrences in order to test hypotheses (Gay 1996)– to complete my research. One advantage of grounded theory approach is that theory building and data collection go hand-in-hand, which means an almost fail-safe research.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data collection is the one of the most important part of the research. If done properly, data collection can solve lot of problems associated with research. Primary data (accumulated exclusively for the project) is collected using interactive questionnaires and interviewing, focus groups and observation (Zikmund, 2000). Secondary data like official records and scholarly articles on the subject matter is can be accessed through company records, public libraries and internet.
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Primary Data Collection The bulk of the primary data will come from questionnaires and internet forums and interviews. I plan to deploy questionnaires and internet forum discussions from the beginning, due to the relative cost effectiveness and the amount of data collected. As and when the themes and patterns start to emerge in the data collected, I will start using unstructured interviews and focus group meetings. Secondary Data Collection Bryman & Bell (2003) states that secondary data can be obtained quickly, is very costefficient and usually are of extremely high quality. Authors like Chisnall, Foxall, Loudon, Packard, Schwartz and Schiffman have written on consumer behaviours and will be excellent sources of secondary data. Official data published by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia and Sony will be used. Further information will be available on academic websites like athens, emerald and mintel. Sampling Method and Size ‘‘A sample is a finite part of a statistical population whose properties are studied to gain information about the whole’’ (Webster 1985). I intent to use a stratified probability sample. A stratum is a subset of the population that share at least one common characteristic. The variables used for my research will be income, education and technology awareness. The advantage of this method is it reduces sampling error, while improving the accuracy of the study. Deciding on a sample size is always difficult as it can be decided by constraints like funding as well as the nature of analysis. This question is more difficult to answer in qualitative research, as there are no clear-cut rules to follow (Patton 1990). Data Analysis It is important to note that the data obtained from participants is not in numerical form. ‘‘The emphasis is on the stated experiences of the participants and on the stated meanings they attach to themselves, to other people, and to their environment’’ (Coolican 1999) I will be using Constant Comparison/Grounded Theory technique developed by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967) for the data analysis. It involves coding, grouping and hypothesising the field note data repeatedly in parallel with data collection. The advantage of this system is that much better and relevant results are obtained.
In the process of collecting primary data, I will face many ethical issues in relation to voluntary participation and informed consent. In order to negate this I intent to bring out a fact file to fully inform prospective participants about the procedures and risks involved in research. To protect the privacy of participants, principle of anonymity will be strictly adhered to in the earlier parts of data collection. In the focus groups and interviews, confidentiality will be guaranteed and no personally identifiable data will be collected.
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While dealing with the secondary data, I should take care not to misinterpret data which might lead to serious implications. The issue of plagiarism will be effectively negated by proper usage of Harvard referencing system.
Primary data will be collected through questionnaires and internet forums. As these are anonymous and fairly easy to complete, I anticipate little trouble in obtaining it. But I do expect some resistance when forming focus groups and doing interviews. I plan to use a research fact file to get consent from the participants and confidentiality will be assured. This will encourage more participation. Secondary data will be easily obtainable as I plan to use only the officially published data. This can be obtained from the company websites and the academic website mintel. I also plan to use libraries -I am member of the British library- for general literature review. Internet, especially, academic websites like athens and emerald will be used for in-depth studies.
Extensive access to the academic literature is essential to the successful completion of the project. I plan to use the British library and the Middlesex University Library (very near to my home, will be granted access as I am LJMU student). Online recourses like athens, emerald and mintel will also be used to collect secondary data. I should also maintain good work ethic, show good research and communication skills. Time management will also be important.
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As with any dissertation project, the main constraint to my research is the funding. Even though data collection through questionnaires and forums are cost effective, the focus groups and interviews will be costly. I am allocating £200 for questionnaires and forums and £450 for focus groups and interviews. £200 is allocated for travelling. Stationary will cost me about £150. Secondary data will not cost anything as I already have membership in British library and online resources can be accessed through LJMU authentication. Altogether, the research will cost me £1000 with 10% tolerance. This is a rough calculation and is subject to change; with the consent of my research guide.
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