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Abstract With the explosion of the e-commerce in the past few years, distinct buying patterns and preferences have emerged for specific groups and other demographics. These patterns have been measured and collected by numerous independent marketing, business and even academic studies to understand how consumers connect with new technology. With the advent of the Internet and its related technologies as a new vehicle for commerce, new models have developed. This paper lays the groundwork with brief introduction of recent trends in e-commerce on people; particularly its impact on women. This is followed by their general perceptions and preferences of the online shopping including product and website selection. Each of these e-commerce “generalities” will be compared to information amassed from survey questions and open ended discussions with a small sample group of women. It will also delve into favorable as well as negative website characteristics and sum up the favorable elements into a description of an e-commerce website that would suitable to the group being studied.
James Christopher Kingston University Email: K0326965@kingston.ac.uk ID: K0326965 MSC Business Information Technology Programme Course: E-Commerce, John Eldred
The Internet’s impact on people has been profound; particularly with respect to consumers, who are starting to use the Internet as a new medium to trade and purchase goods and services. In the early years of e-commerce, buying online was an erudite activity strictly dominated by “techies” and semi-technology literate individuals. These individuals were mostly made up of 20 to 35 year old males. This demographic were more comfortable and in tune with Internet’s capabilities. But in recent years, the numbers of females making the technology leap to shop online is surging. Females are starting to harness Internet to make their lives easier and efficient. The recent surge has generated all of sorts of new data on women’s online buying trends, patterns and preferences.
These new trends are analyzed against a survey of ten women in marketing field. The volunteers of this survey will be collectively referred as the ‘sample’. Using the answers harvested in the survey of questions, comparisons with other formal research performed on similar demographics and some direct observation of sample members browsing and making purchases online, this paper will correlate the sample’s view online shopping against the formal research on current online buying patterns of females. All of this data will culminate and modeled into theoretical, “best-of-breed” e-tailer.
Since the sample group is too small and the pool of participants are not selected at random, the paper makes only very generalized and tenuous conclusions about buying patterns and perceptions of this particular demographic. The survey results are not considered scientific or statistically dependable. Although some quantitative methods may be introduced, it also does not make any use of quantitative analysis to help support the conclusions of this document.
1.3. About the Sample Group
The sample in the study was not selected at random; instead, the members met a specific requirement. The sample used in this study involves a specific demographic. First, all of the members of the sample group are female with the age ranging from 20 to 25 years old. Second, all members of the sample are full-time university students. Lastly, all are enrolled in a marketing postgraduate or equivalent programme. There were no restrictions in residency, ethnicity, nationality or financial status; therefore all the members varied in demographic nuances. Because of the education level and sophistication of the sample, there are several assumptions made about the sample group in this study. It is assumed that all the
members of the group have a general or conceptually understanding of the Internet. It is also assumed that all of the members have prior experience with the Internet. That is, a member has experience accessing and navigating the web. Additionally, all of the members have knowledge of the ability of shopping online, not necessarily having actually purchased something online.
1.4. How the survey was conducted:
A set fifteen questions were prepared before interviews commenced. All the questions pertained exclusively to the subject of online shopping. Prepared questions in the survey mixed between closed-ended questions expecting succinct answers (see Appendix Table 1) to open-ended questions, which required more elaboration of sample member’s online experience and perceptions of electronic purchasing. As a contingency to any complications in describing web concepts or confusion in terminology, the prepared questions, reinforced by an open discussion with each individual sample member on topics relating to the shopping, improved the understanding, depth and clarity of the sample member’s online experience. Since the surveys where performed face-to-face, the number of questions in the survey were not fixed. This flexible approach meant that if a member volunteered information that were within the scope of the subject matter contained in the question, more questions could be raised to harvest more data. There was no limitation on the where the survey was conducted. The surveys were conducted primarily in participant’s lodging, but locations included public places as well. Participant’s who preferred to have surveys conducted at their residence or surveyors residence, had the opportunity to demonstrate how they navigate various shopping sites and their thoughts about the site.
Trends of Women and the Internet
Women are becoming a significant force in cyberspace as consumers of goods and services offered online. In 1999, a significant finding was made by a joint study undertaken by CommerceNet and Nielsen Media research. The study reported that for the first time in two years, online purchases from women have surged dramatically. More significantly, “the growth rate for the number of women making purchases online has surpassed the growth rate for men”. Yet overall, men have continued to lead in the number of purchases on the Internet, than women. (Dillon, 1999) Advancing two years later, yet another comprehensive study carried by the ActivMedia showed sustained growth of women shopping online. The report showed that only a third of new Internet shoppers who got online more than four years were female and the previous year, twice that number. (Mintel, 2000) This report confirms the increasing role of women in the online retail landscape. Women are increasingly making purchases online where previously their presence was absent from retail cyberspace. The Mintel report goes on to forecast that the new online presence of women will eventually dominate the online shopping universe previously dominated by males. (2000) Unifying these two reports done in 1999 and 2002 translates to a dramatic transformation taking place in e-commerce. Women are increasingly becoming an important source of revenue for many of the giant online purveyors. Although this translation is insightful, these prominent studies concern only patterns of American and Canadian consumers. What about Europe and the rest of the world? Research from GartnerG2 also presented European online buying has been soaring as well. (2002) In fact, Visa Europe reported that UK consumers spend more online than any other country in the EU. However, all EU countries enjoyed doubled Internet spending. (Jaques, 2004) Although the EU data did not discriminate between genders, it can be extrapolated that increased global buying will yield a proportional increase of women buying online as well. The E-commerce and Development Report prepared by UNCTAD has suggested that advanced markets like the US and Europe are “converging” when it comes to consumer’s participating in shopping online. (2003) The report limits its accuracy of online shopping data to only developed countries since information is scarce or unavailable. For instance, data about ecommerce in Africa does not exist, so there is no way to measure Africa’s contribution to global ecommerce. It has been established from numerous marketing research studies that women are playing a larger role in e-commerce and will close the gap against males. How did the sample compare to these statistics?
Surveying the Sample about Online Shopping
The members of the of the sample group have unanimously claimed to have shopped online. Some have bought something as within the past month. The time in which the respondent’s first experience shopping online ranges across the time spectrum with one of the respondent’s making a purchase online only two weeks after this report was drafted. That respondent, who is a native of Tunisia, started buying online recently and only after she established residency in the U.K. for postgraduate work. Similar to the Tunisian respondent, the Brazilian, Mexican and Malay member of the sample group mentioned that it was only after they moved or maintained a long term residency in the United States or in the United Kingdom did they make use of the Internet as a means to make purchases. The reasons for refraining to shop online in the respondent’s home country was the high risk of merchandise delivery failure, transaction and payment conflicts, or purveyor simply did not give option to ship internationally. From the interviews, it was discerned that the respondent’s who had the most experience in online shopping were also early adopters and users of the Internet. Those respondents shopped electronically for more than four years. Some have had some technical exposure during the undergraduate years, had experience or relationships with technically proficient persons. An expansive survey done by UCLA’s Center for Policy Communication identified Internet purchasers waited months to several years before buying online. About half of the respondent’s in the Internet report waited more than two years before making an online purchase. (Lebo, 2002) This is in alignment with the remaining 3 respondents of the sample. Those respondents are fairly new to shopping online with only 1 year or less of experience in online shopping. Although, they’ve shopped online only in the past year; all of them were aware of the ease and popularity of online shopping among friends and family. It’s been two years since the studies mentioned above were published and Internet technology has continued to spread globally. Knowing this, there are correlations in this survey with forecasts of the past studies which conclude the ecommerce’s continued growth among the population especially among young women.
How often do they shop online?
All Internet users have their daily tasks. Unlike activities like e-mail and chat, online shopping is not yet a principal task among users. The UCLA report identified the most popular Internet activities: email, instant messaging and web browser sites of personal interest. Whilst, shopping and online buying ranked fifth as the most popular Internet activity hovering around in 44.5% surveyed in 2002. (2002, Lebo)
All the members of this survey reported to use email, chat and personalizing browsing at least once a day. The question of frequency of online shopping needs to be clarified and solidly defined. For instance, the respondents reported not shopping, meaning not purchasing anything online on a weekly basis, but admitted to browsing products online or “window shopping” online at least on a weekly basis. The activity of browsing not only entailed visiting personal sites of general interest and information, but included perusing sites of various online retailers, auctions and merchandise intermediaries. If the definition of online shopping encompassed perusing merchandise online, then the frequency rate of shopping dramatically is increased. Instances where the respondent did not plan to purchase or did not anticipate making an online purchase; the act of browsing and aggregating information about a certain product of interest increased the likelihood of the respondent’s desire to acquire that product and thus make an online transaction. Strict definitions and semantics aside, what about users’ actually purchasing merchandise through the Internet? A joint survey prepared by an Internet customer service provider, PeopleSupport and market research firm, NUA measured that almost two thirds of Internet users who shop more than once a week are women. (Cox, 2000) Contrasting the high numbers cited PeopleSupport and NUA survey; all the members of the sample group for this study did not shop as frequently as once a week. Most of the members who have already bought something online reported buying items online at least 3 weeks to 4 weeks to as long as 6 weeks. One member, who happened to be one of the early online shoppers, shopped more frequently than the others. She acknowledged that she purchased groceries online approximately every two weeks from Tesco’s delivery service. The sample group’s frequency of buying something online is still higher than consumers using print catalogs to buy products. For instance, Direct Marketing Association estimated that catalog users purchase approximately four items throughout the entire year. (2002) The sample group exceeded these estimates.
What are the reasons for buying online?
According to a NetSmart survey, the most cited reason by female Internet shoppers for using the Web for personal shopping of is the Internet’s convenience and simplifies their lives (88%) closely followed by time saving (83%) with money saving rounding out the list at a little more than half at (55%). (Mintel, 2003) How does this play out with the sample group? When presented this question: Why they buy online, rather than using other sales channels to make the purchases, they answers were practically similar. Not surprisingly, the answers provided by respondents for the purchasing online are common. Convenience, time saving and prices are the primary reasons for purchasing online. Importance of the reasons varied with more than half of the respondents answering convenience automatically coming to mind. Although price was another major factor rounding out the remaining reasons, it was mentioned the least. When pressed for the reasons given to why price didn’t hold much relevance was because the respondents
tended to do a lot more comparison shopping and are highly confident in finding comparable, if not lower prices on similar products from direct sellers and store vendors. When posed as to why they don’t go and scout out those lower prices from physical stores, the answer they gave almost unanimously was that they didn’t have time. Here is where the time issue intervenes because a lot of time would be required to find those bargain prices from direct or vendors; therefore time saving trumped price as a key reason among the sample members. They psychology of groups and organizations are beyond the scope of this paper; however, it is worth mentioning the power of peer influence as a reason for buying online. Six of the respondents mentioned that they bought a product online simply because it was suggested by a friend or an acquaintance to buy it online. With the exception of peer influence, the reasons for buying online in this survey are congruent with other independent studies of online buying behavior and patterns. For instance, a joint study conducted by MSN and Millward Brown IntelliQuest found that 60% of women believe the Internet is convenient and saves time. Price is not mentioned. (Microsoft, 2001) Other reason mentioned by the sample members include: no sales pressure from sales people, the privacy associated with Internet shopping and product availability.
What are they buying online?
Men and women generally buy the same type of products online with books and DVDs ranking at the top spots according to a CommerceNet/Nielsen study, but “gender differences are more visible in Web shopping”. The study estimated that women's top shopping items are clothing about 6.9 million shoppers and books about 6.2 million shoppers, while men's top shopping items are cars/car parts about 12.6 million shoppers and computers around 9.4 million shoppers. (Saliba, 2001) The UCLA Internet report is more extensive where it investigated the purchasing habits of experienced and inexperienced users. The study found that seasoned users were more likely to buy books, pharmaceuticals, computer equipment, software, electronics, food, cosmetics, DVDs and children’s goods, whereas new users were more inclined to purchase items like: clothes, CDs, jewelry, hobby items, furniture and cars. (Lebo, 2002) The sample group for this study had mixed results when surveying the things bought online. Figure 1 on the Appendix 2 shows the results of products bought by the sample study. It reveals a cornucopia of products purchased online but not deviating too far from the collection of products identified in the UCLA report. Airline tickets made the top of the list as the most common product bought online by all ten respondents. Books were mentioned by eight of the respondents and DVDs were mentioned by four of the respondents. Women’s accessories, particularly handbags ranked among items purchased four of the respondents compared to women’s clothing which was mentioned by only two of the respondents. Three of the respondents purchased high
margin durable goods (i.e. laptops and fridge) online whilst only one of the respondents referred to earlier purchased perishable goods (groceries) online. Mobile telephones, either used or new were also mentioned as another popular item bought online. Four respondents bought mobiles without contracts. One bought with a contract attached to the purchase of the online. The practice of obtaining a mobile online was more prevalent with members who have origin or long residencies in U.K. or European states.
Describe their experience of buying online?
Among the respondents in the survey, most had a favorable experience with shopping online. Two of the respondents have had merchandise delivered that was not what was originally expected which only temporarily downgraded the experience. New entrants into the realm of shopping online were initially hesitant to commit to a purchase using a new medium for transactions but overcame those anxieties after the new users successfully completed a transaction and satisfaction of item delivered. Many of the respondents displayed more comfort and satisfaction with well known and established e-tailers like Amazon. On the other hand, the experience of shopping at other, lesser known e-tailers was a little more agonizing to a few of the sample members. The distressing experience was partly due to merchandise availability, poor site layout to search for items and questionable delivery times. Respondent’s also had anxiety based on the unknown reputation of the website visited. The unknown reputation of an online e-tailer links to security issues. The risk of submitting sensitive, confidential information about personal information, credit card or bank account information when committing to the transaction to a unidentified party was the single most issue where respondent’s pointed out in the survey. Yet after the transaction and delivery the respondents had a general level of satisfaction on the experience. Beside well known web e-tailers, auction sites are particularly popular and have an excellent standing among the respondents. Most of the sample members find the experiencing of browsing a plethora of assorted merchandise that even the prominent e-tailers, department store, or so called “mega-malls” could not offer. To show the respondents genuine interest and continued pleasurable experience shopping on online auctions, several of the respondents admit spending countless hours perusing various products. Auctions are not completely immune from criticism. Respondents stated only few downsides of auctions in general and are not particular critical of online auction experience. The respondents revealed that the experiencing of losing the bidding war in the auction for an item of high personal value or the amount of time required to track positions of respondent’s bid against multiple challenging bids.
What sites do they visit?
According to Alexa.com a website that measures and harvests online traffic information and regularly reports rankings among popular websites, eBay and
Amazon unsurprisingly, rank first and second respectively in the shopping sector. (See Appendix, Table 2.) Another site, Rank.com further dissects the ranking, reporting that Amazon’s and eBay’s multiple country domains like Amazon.de, eBay.co.uk and Amazon.ca rank as the top visited websites globally. (Rank.com, 2004) Information of popular website ranking reflects high publicity, high volume visitors, new customers as well as repeat customers. This translates to continued growth for these ‘pure play’ businesses. So how does the data match up with the sample survey group? The data provided by various ranking websites harmonize with the respondent’s identification of websites they consistently visit and shop. Almost unanimously, the respondents identified Amazon as the site they have made at least one online purchase on. Eight of the ten respondent’s in the sample survey identified eBay as another primary shopping site. Full service and regional travel booking websites such as Expedia, EasyJet, RyanAir and Travelocity are also frequently visited by all the sample members largely because most the members of the survey are frequent travelers. Even specific airlines such as British Airways, Delta Airlines, and Singapore Airlines to name a few were mentioned as sites visited. Lesser known e-tailers visited by the survey group could not be recorded in this study because most of the respondent either didn’t remember either the name of the website name or the URL. In some of the cases, the respondent’s accessed another web portal to be directed to the site. Other cases, the member used a popular search engine to find the specific product of interest.
What important factors go into buying from an online purveyor?
What qualities do you look for in an online retailer?
There were four other main areas an online retailer should have emphasized by the sample. These areas are: product variety, product specialty, site reputation, customer support and service, and great web design. Here is a synopsis of what was collected
from the discussion sorted by category about what a great e-commerce site should have: Product Variety: Amazon’s expansion into a variety of products other than books has made the site a one stop shopping website. For the same reason, eBay presents a variety of used and sometimes new products making it easy for the consumer from jumping from site to site looking for the right product to get. Site or Product Reputation & Specialty: There were a variety of sites reported by the sample members that were selected based on the respondent’s personal interest or purchasing an item from a site because of product reputation and can be acquired via online (see Appendix C). For example, three of the ten respondent’s listed Dell as another popular site for purchasing high margin goods, such as the respondent’s working laptop. However, frequency of returning to Dell for other related electronic products and peripherals are slim to none. Customer Service and Support: This area was at the top of the list where the timing of the delivery after making an online purchase and availability of customer support if transaction or other miscellaneous problems occurred were the core needs in customer service. So deliver the product fast and you make the consumer happy. Based on the respondent’s requirements, customer support was an important feature to e-tailers. But experiencing the effort to contact customer support was rare to all the sample members since most of the transactions went problem free. This can be a testament to the e-tailer’s investment in the quality of service.
What website elements do they look for?
Excellent page layout was the frequently stated as an important feature. Excellent layout comprised use of good subject organization, use of space for each section and not too much clutter of information. There is also a need for a logical grouping of products. Some existing retail and popular portals were mentioned to illustrate those ideas. Websites that were recognized for good designs were websites like Yahoo.com, Amazon.com and MSN. The search engine Google.com was applauded among the sample members because of its sheer simplicity and ease of use. Website elements disclosed by the sample members were use of color and graphics on web pages. Problems with background color conflicting with foreground color which could make it difficult to read the text have been experienced on some sites. This goes along with ensuring that the font size is visible without the user changing their browser settings or the color of the background does not conflict with the foreground. Website fonts and other display elements should always consider all types of user’s have varying degrees of vision acuity. Interactive and color graphics is a popular requirement among the sample, perhaps the most important criteria of any online retailer. Graphics was notably more important on sites where second hand merchandise and apparel is being evaluated. Respondents mentioned that sites can also carry too many interactive elements as well. A balance approach to graphics and hypermedia should be employed.
Finding products should be easy. Respondents highlight ease of page navigation and searching features as another important feature a website is required to have. Navigating large, complex sites like eBay and Amazon would be painstakingly slow and frustrating if consumers had to traverse multiple nested pages to locate the item of interest. Another area of improvement with the sample members was use of advertising. Lately it has become a hot issue to all consumers over the past few years. The use of intrusive advertising such as pop-ups and floating banners make visits to an annoying experience. The answers provided by the respondent’s closely matched conventions provided by Webreference.com. As one of the premier web development reference sites for professional web technologists and designers, it has provided guidelines that are practical rules of thumb when creating sites. Two other characteristics that was underscored as a reason for going online but not highlighted by the respondents were good tracking and automation embedded in the site and security. E-tailers must make transactions pain free and easy for both first time visitors and existing clientele. Also, websites should have good security or at least the appearance of safety and privacy. Consumers will hard press to never return if they are victims of the site that compromised their credit information. There currently no conventions on web page design in the industry. Various layout formats, interactive features, and product display pervade multitudes of e-tailing home pages making page navigation and user functionality difficult. Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), a world renowned authority in web usability provides rules to think when designing technology around and for people. Nielsen proposes that a visitor or consumer visiting a site should feel intuitive, familiar and functional. (see Appendix D)
How can e-commerce websites be improved?
The previous sections outlined elements recommended by experts and the sample members found most important online store should offer. Other consumer problems identified by Andersen Consulting (see Appendix C) should also be targeted and solved. Integrating all the best elements of web design and best practices of marketing does not necessarily mean that consumers will flock to an online retailer. Other unexplored issues like business Internet strategy, brand awareness and economic environment and market conditions also play a factor. Nonetheless, employing common business sense, consumer usability, quality of product and service should not be demoted. Most of all, an online shopping website’s leverage of technology and design should be a prime consideration when opening a shopping site for consumer regardless of gender.
Based on the information collected from this small sample study, all the best elements of e-commerce, does not guarantee consumers will visit or remain loyal. But looking at what they want and their satisfaction levels of other well established e-tailers such as Amazon and eBay who have already invested significant resources to understand what consumer’s needs, wants and desires. Perhaps it would be useful to emulate these established pure players since they have been and continue to be highly successful as retain high marks for customer satisfaction.
Appendix: Survey Questionnaire
1. Describe how you use the Internet. 2. How often do you use the Internet or going online? 3. Has the Internet (web) dramatically changed the way your life? 4. How would you perform a task without the Internet? 5. Have you made any purchases on the Internet? 6. If so, how many purchases have you made on the Internet? 7. If not, why haven’t you made any purchases? 8. Describe your experience with purchasing online (if any) 9. What do you like about purchasing online? 10. What do you dislike about purchasing online? 11. How comfortable are you making secure purchases online? 12. Do you feel security is good? Why or why not? 13. Do you feel you have a good chance of becoming a victim of an online crime like identity theft or credit card fraud? 14. When you make a purchase online are you satisfied about the delivery or service afforded to you by buying online? 15.Assuming the Internet has provided shopping convenience for consumers, has this changed the frequency of physically going to the store and the amount purchased? 16. What websites do you find most helpful, interesting or visit often? 17. What do you look for in websites? What elements do you find most appealing?
Appendix B: Most Popular Shopping Sites ranked by Alexa.com
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. eBay Amazon.com Yahoo Auctions Walmart Target
Brand Strength Company 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Amazon.com (a) eBay.com (a) Yahoo.com (a) priceline.com (a) buy.com (a)(c) Barnesandnoble.com CDNow.com AOL.com Egghead.com (a)(c) IWon.com JCPenney.com Mind Share(1) 24.1% 16.1% 4.9% 2.7% 1.9% 1.8% 1.3% 1.1% 1.0% 0.9% 0.9% Share(2) 18.7% 15.8% 6.0% 3.9% 3.3% 3.1% 3.0% 2.7% 2.6% 2.3% 2.3%
Company Online Purchaser 1. Amazon.com 2. eBay.com 3. Barnesandnoble.com 4. BMG.com 5. CDNow.com 6. ColumbiaHouse.com 7. JCPenney.com (a) 8. priceline.com 9. buy.com 10.Yahoo.com 1800flowers.com
(1) Mind Share = the percent of Internet users for whom the site first came to mind when asked to think of Web sites that sell products or services over the Internet (2) Purchaser Share = the percent of online buyers that bought from the site
Appendix C: Top ten problems experienced by online retailers:
Source: Andersen Consulting Problem Description 1. Gift wanted to purchase was out of stock 2. Product was not delivered on time 3. Paid too much for delivery 4. Connection or download trouble 5. Didn't receive confirmation or status report on purchase 6. Selections were limited 7. Website difficult to navigate 8. Website didn't provide information needed to make purchase 9. Prices not competitive 10.Site didn't offer enough gift ideas % 64 40 38 36 28 27 26 25 22 16
Appendix D: Jakob Nielsen’s website requirements for consumers.
Consumers should: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. know what features to expect, know how these features will look in the interface, know where to find these features on the site and on the page, know how to operate each feature to achieve their goal, don't have to ponder the meaning of unknown design elements, don't miss important features because they overlook a non-standard design element, and 7. don't get nasty surprises when something doesn't work as expected.
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