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Journal of Marketing Communications Vol. 17, No.

5, December 2011, 355–374

Branded product information search on the Web: The role of brand trust and credibility of online information sources
Chunsik Leea*, Junga Kimb and Sylvia M. Chan-Olmstedc
a Department of Advertising, University of Florida, PO Box 118400, Gainesville, USA; bSchool of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota, 206 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, USA; cDepartment of Telecommunication, University of Florida, PO Box 118400, Gainesville, USA

Drawing upon the cost – benefit framework and trust mechanism as a risk reducer, this study examines the influence of brand factors and source credibility on branded product information Web searches. The online survey was conducted within the pre-purchase context of digital camera brands. The results revealed that brand factors did not influence overall branded information search efforts. However, brand trust and source credibility appeared to influence the different types of online information sources sought. Keywords: brand trust; brand information search; product information search; online source credibility; online information search

Introduction Unquestionably, the Internet has become one of the most common information sources for consumers to find product or brand information. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project Tracking surveys (Pew Internet & American Life Project Database 2007), around 80% of Americans use the Internet to look for information about products or services they are thinking of buying. This prevalent use of the Internet as a branded product information search tool has significant implications for brand managers in designing more effective communication strategies. In the early boom years of e-commerce, some authors predicted that the availability of branded product information and search capability of the Internet (e.g. comparison shopping) will gradually decrease the functional role of brands as an assurance of quality and a way to reduce searching (Sealy 1999; Sinha 2000; Ward and Lee 2000). Some mixed results have been reported with regard to the conflicting roles of brand power and Internet searches. According to Ernst & Young’s (1998) industry report, 69% of those surveyed stated that brand names play a significant role in their online buying decisions. Chen (2001) proposed situations in which the role of brand still remains important in the Internet age. However, the relationship between brand-related factors such as existing knowledge and attitudes toward brands and branded product information searching has rarely been investigated systematically in the context of Internet search behavior. While existing product knowledge and information seeking from external sources have been extensively examined in marketing literature (Beatty and Smith 1987; Kulviwat, Guo, and Engchanil 2004; Moorthy, Ratchford, and Talukdar 1997; Srinivasan 1990 for a comprehensive review), the relationship between brand-related factors (such as brand familiarity and

*Corresponding author. Email: cslee2@ufl.edu
ISSN 1352-7266 print/ISSN 1466-4445 online q 2011 Taylor & Francis http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13527266.2010.484128 http://www.tandfonline.com

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brand trust) and external information-seeking behavior has not been investigated carefully in the context of branded product information searching. The Internet provides consumers with far more variety in information sources and content when compared to traditional sources that marketers were able to control with reasonable effort (Ward and Ostrom 2003). Due to the decentralized nature of the Internet and its low barrier to entry, the breadth and diversity of branded product information sources have become a challenging task for marketers to incorporate into their programs. In a content analysis of search engine result pages with 32 brand names, Ward and Ostrom (2003) found that Internet searching returns more information from unofficial sources (e.g. individuals’ blog, competitors, public interest groups) that marketers cannot control rather than official sources such as corporate websites, authorized dealers, approved affiliates, and press releases. Thus, understanding the patterns in which consumers seek specific types of information on the Internet can provide important insight into shaping online brand communication strategy. Nevertheless, existing literature on consumer information searches tends to focus on the amount of searches and overall patterns of source usages. The descriptive nature of these studies does not answer the question: Why do consumers engage in certain patterns of search behavior? To fill this gap in the consumer search literature, this study attempts to relate brand factors, such as brand familiarity and brand trust, to the types of information sources that consumers prefer to search. In addition, the study proposes the credibility of online information sources as a predictor of branded product information search behaviors. The goal of this study is twofold: (1) to investigate the role of brand trust on search efforts, and (2) to examine the differential patterns of searches in relation to the source credibility of various online information sources. The following literature review will examine the theory of trust in general, pre-purchase information search studies, and brand trust concepts to investigate the relationships between brand trust and external search efforts. Furthermore, the characteristics of online information sources are discussed in terms of credibility dimensions. Literature review Branded product information search: Internal search vs external search A cumulative body of literature on consumer searching has pointed out that perceived risk, inherent in the purchase decision context, is the main driver of consumer searches (Conchar et al. 2004; Jacoby and Kaplan 1972). Consumers feel uncertain that a product or a brand will function as expected (performance risk). For example, the actual picture quality of a branded digital camera may not be the same as claimed. Shutter speed may not be as fast as expected. To reduce a variety of risks involved in buying decisions, consumers constantly search for available information internally or externally (Beatty and Smith 1987; Murray 1991). The relationship between internal and external searching has been well documented in the consumer information processing literature (Bettman 1979). According to Bettman (1979), internal information search, by definition, involves memory; whereas external information search involves non-memory sources. In a comprehensive review of consumer search behavior, Srinivasan (1990) gives a nice explanation of the interactive process between the internal and external search. Consumers first rely on their own memories, previously learned from direct experience or indirect observations, to figure out a branded product’s expected performance. They either trust what they already know about a brand or infer expected quality of a branded product. Then, if internal information

a consumer may need less information to make a decision. there will be more need for information to reduce uncertainty. this notion of trust can explain consumers’ varying search efforts. 1997. despite the potential benefit of low search cost. as a rational utility maximizer. Hoffman and Novak 1996. under such a ‘trust’ mechanism. existing brand knowledge is postulated to influence subsequent online information search behavior. though not necessarily predicting the exact behavioral outcome. might not dramatically increase the amount of Internet searches in the pre-purchase search context. trust has been defined as the willingness to be vulnerable to the other party based on the expectation that it will perform as promised. 24). trust can be seen as an effective mechanism to reduce ‘the complexity of human conduct in situations where people have to cope with uncertainty’. with regard to a branded product information search. Keller 2002). Trust as a risk reduction mechanism Similar to the internal vs external search account. Jepsen 2007. people would have to consider every possible outcome of an action before deciding what to do. According to Luhmann (1979.Journal of Marketing Communications 357 is insufficient to reach a certain trust level. trust can effectively reduce the complexity of a situation by reducing uncertainty. In line with the cost – benefit framework from the economics of information (Nelson 1974. Peterson and Merino 2003). consumers search for information to the extent that the cost of the search does not outweigh the benefit of the search. Low search cost in an online environment Ever since the proposition of reduced search costs in an online environment was raised (Bakos 1997). the amount of search effort and types of information sources sought. consumers turn to external information searches to decrease uncertainty about a branded product (Srinivasan 1990). Peterson and Merino (2003) pointed out that several psychological factors. Contrary to the reduced search cost proposition. Consequently. and despite a certain level of risk . Consumers make an effort to search for information from external sources to the extent that uncertainty or risk of concern is reduced enough to trust a party or object. Thus. that is. serves as an internal source of brand information (see Hoeffler and Keller 2003 for a review. Thus. a good deal of research has focused on the impact of low search costs brought about by the Internet (Alba et al. such as cognitive overload and the need to learn new skill sets. Brand factors: Brand trust and brand familiarity In general. this line of research generally holds that low search cost alone may be insufficient to increase the amount of searches online. In a sense. trust theorists have suggested that trust and external searches for information are alternative mechanisms to decrease uncertainty (Luhmann 1979). such as brand familiarity or brand association. if there is little trust. and proposes that trust-related components in existing brand knowledge – such as brand familiarity and brand trust – may affect the subsequent information search behavior. Stigler 1961). such as the amount of external searching and the type of information sources sought. a great deal of research on consumer-based brand equity has demonstrated that consumer brand knowledge. Without trust. Indeed. On the other hand. This study applies this notion to branded product information searching. there is room for variations in search efforts on the Internet due to contextual factors. The cost –benefit framework holds that.

rather than tolerate uncertainty about the branded product. 2006). and benevolence are among the most frequently recurring sub-dimensions of trust (see for a review Mayer et al. whereas none of the trust dimensions affected purchase intentions in the hedonic. 2002) alluded to it. Specifically. they found that brand trust contributes to brand loyalty in the long term. Consumers with low brand trust will likely search for more information to reassure themselves about the branded product. consumers with low trust will reduce uncertainty or risk. Delgado-Ballester. White. and Schoorman 1995). Trust has been considered a multi-dimensional concept. There has been relatively little research examining the role of brand trust in connection with branded product information search. and Lloyd (2006) examined the differential effects of the two aspects of brand trust in the e-commerce context. and Choudhury 2004). Logically. 3). ability beliefs only led to enhanced purchase intention in the goal oriented searching type of consumers. such as eliminating the branded product in a consideration set. This two-factor model holds that a trustworthy brand requires that consumers believe the brand has the expertise and ability to perform relevant tasks in a product domain. Mayer. Kacmar. Davis. On the other hand. Their study showed that among trusting beliefs. 36) defined brand trust as ‘expectations of the brand’s reliability and intentions in situations entailing risk to the customer’. the first hypothesis is posed regarding the relationship between brand trust and the amount of online search effort. Schlosser. McKnight and Chervany 2002). By acquiring more information about the branded product online. In an attempt to combine two aspects of brand trust. Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001. (2007) proposed a two-factor model of brand trust consisting of two sub-dimensions: performance competence and benevolence intention. consumers with high brand trust will conduct information searches to the extent that they confirm or reinforce their own brand evaluation. Emphasizing a brand’s motivational aspects. McKnight. 82) defined brand trust as ‘customers’ willingness to rely on the ability of the brand to perform its stated function’. Various scholars have conceptualized brand trust in a brand –customer relationship context. consumers will search for assurance information rather than taking a risk in a pre-purchase situation. Lee and Turban 2001. the authors used brand credibility. Some empirical studies demonstrated that trust in Web retailers leads to enhanced purchase intentions online (Chen and Dhillon 2003. Munuera-Aleman. consumers should also believe that the brand will benefit them beyond an egocentric motive. though Erdem and Swait (1998. Li et al. Competence. a slightly different concept from brand trust. integrity. The fundamental premise of the cost – benefit framework is that consumers will search for information until the marginal cost equals the marginal benefit (Srinivasan 1990). Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001. or benevolence. Drawing upon the cost –benefit framework and the trust mechanism as risk reducer. as well as purchase loyalty. and defined it as ‘the believability of the product position information contained in a brand’ (Erdem and Swait 2002. Focusing on the competence beliefs of a brand or perceived brand quality. experiential browsing type of consumers (Schlosser et al. and various sub-dimensions have been identified in the relevant literature.358 C. Some research proposed that brand trust is an antecedent of brand loyalty and is critical in maintaining a long-term customer relationship (Barry 1995. In addition to competence beliefs. Trust in an offline brand also was found to positively affect purchase intention and consumers’ word of mouth behavior (Sichtmann 2007). Some previous studies on brand trust have examined its possible consequences. (Doney and Canon 1997. . 1995. and Yague-Guileen (2003. Reichheld and Schefter 2000). Lee et al. They proposed brand credibility as an antecedent of reducing information acquisition costs.

Journal of Marketing Communications H1-1: Low brand trust will lead to more branded product searching on the Web. Buyers with high perceived risk tended to ask other people for advice. Kiel and Layton 1981. Thus. Claxton. It seems plausible that marketercontrolled sources can be perceived as less credible and more biased because of the purposes of the messages. Also. we speculate that in the context of branded product information searching. Luhmann 1979). although a low-order variable. a research question was posited to observe the hypothesized effects of brand factors on search effort for different online information sources. Grønhaug (1972) showed that the degree of risk perception may affect consumers’ preference for information sources. promotions). In contrast. H1-2: Low brand familiarity will lead to more branded product searching on the Web. In a car buying situation.). The typology allows for interpretations of consumer preferences for certain type of sources in that each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Beatty and Smith (1987) proposed four information sources: interpersonal search (relatives. personal channels are inferior to mass media in terms of coverage (Hoyer and MacInnis 2004). neutral search (consumer reports. However. consumers may perceive less risk when they are more familiar with a brand. while those low in perceived risk were more likely to read advertising information and pay visits to the dealer shops. existing trust literature has identified familiarity as a key factor in reducing uncertainty or risk (Jarvenpaa and Tractinsky 1999. friends. One search effort index was created by applying different weight to each information source. Fry. the difference in perceived risk may affect the amount of searches for branded product information. Hoyer and MacInnis 2004). In addition. Other consumer information search literature categorized the types of information sources in terms of information delivery channels and information controlling agents (Andreasen 1968. and Portis 1974. such as brochures and a salesperson’s statement. Woodruff (1972) found that consumer-driven sources. RQ1: How do brand factors such as brand trust and brand familiarity influence search efforts for different online information sources? Online branded product information sources and source credibility Researchers have long categorized consumer information sources in various ways. and media search (advertising. . neighbors). 359 Also. such as local consumers’ opinions. consulting salesperson). A few empirical studies have addressed the possible impacts of different information sources. Early studies on consumer search categorized information sources in a more descriptive fashion (Beatty and Smith 1987. Personal channels are believed to provide more vivid information in more interactive ways than do information sources delivered via mass media. buying guides. This 2 by 2 typology includes marketercontrolled sources vs non-marketer-driven sources via mass media vs personal contacts. neutral sources such as independent product test results were found to significantly decrease uncertainty regarding product quality more than did marketer-controlled and consumerdriven sources. Punj and Staelin 1983). On the other hand. non-marketer-driven sources can be perceived as more credible because consumers generally believe that these sources do not have a personal stake in influencing their buying decisions. retailer search (visits. such a categorization system fails to address why consumers prefer using certain information sources over others. etc. decreased uncertainty about quality perceptions of a color television more than did marketer-controlled sources. Therefore. news articles.

On the other hand.org or CNET. Nevertheless. a brand website is a means of direct marketing communications bypassing third-party media. The consumer-driven source on the Internet involves different types of e-WOM (electronic word of mouth) websites: organic eWOM sites. branded product information sources on the Internet differ in terms of levels of credibility. For example. neutral sources such as Consumer Report or expert review on news media have been included in a set of consumer information sources. Lee et al. E-retailer sites may be different from brand websites in that marketers cannot fully control information on e-retailers. efficient ways to reduce uncertainty. and Kelley 1953. Each online product information source may have different sub-dimensional characteristics. These four categories are commonly used online information sources by consumers and have obtained much research attention in prior literature. etc. such as online consumer reports or expert review websites. The first group of sources is marketercontrolled sources such as brand websites and e-retailer websites. Janis. third-party sponsored e-WOM sites such as angieslist. To assess the variation in source credibility of different online information sources and their associated dimensions. the following research question is proposed. Third-party websites. and personal blogs (containing his or her review of product).com are the common place for consumers to obtain branded product information. Finally. far more brand information sources are available. e-retailer websites (containing consumer reviews). Because of varying purposes and natures. For example. One advantage of brand website is marketers can control the messages on the site. an individual would pursue more effective. it focuses on four main information sources of different characteristics: official brand websites.360 C.com are also popular non-marketer-driven sources that consumers often turn to for more unbiased information. RQ2: How different are branded product information sources on the Web in terms of source credibility and its sub-dimensions? According to the search cost – benefit framework. these speculations are yet to be empirically tested. However. third-party websites (containing expert reviews). In the online context. 2007).com. such as corporate websites. they appear to provide essential branded product information from various aspects. it has been well documented that source credibility has two key sub-dimensions: perceived trustworthiness and perceived expertise (see Hovland. third-party websites such as consumerreports. thereby minimizing cost and maximizing . Brand sites are considered the place to communicate with various target markets or stakeholders (Coyle and Gould 2007. credibility dimensions of each information source have rarely been investigated in the context of a product information search. e-retailers allow for consumers to post their reviews about the product. E-retailer sites such as amazon. personal blogs are an important consumer-driven information source. may have low levels of perceived trustworthiness and high levels of perceived expertise among online consumers. Though these four information sources are neither comprehensive nor mutually exclusive in terms of various source characteristics. In mass communication-related literature. 2003 for a review). The current study focuses on four information sources based on the type of controlling agent to examine consumers’ branded product information searches. Organic e-WOM typically occurs in personal blogs and e-bulletin boards without following any externally imposed rules or any specific rating system. Often times. online marketer-driven sources. Metzger et al. The second group of sources is non-marketer-driven sources like third-party websites and personal blogs. may have high scores in both the expertise and trustworthiness dimensions. Plummer et al. marketer initiated eWOM sites. (Cho 2008). In the consumer information search literature (Beatty and Smith 1987).

different online information sources are likely to have different levels of source credibility because of certain inherent characteristics. A total of 125 undergraduate students in various mass communication introductory courses from a large southeastern university participated in the survey. Thus. and Talukdar 2003). and Kyriazis (2007) proposed that in such situations. consumers as information seekers are likely to gain maximum information utility via more credible sources. Accordingly. Because the purpose of the study was to examine the influence of brand-related factors and credibility of different sources in the online information search context. comparable online consumer search behavior data needed to be collected using the same purchasing scenario. that is. source credibility can serve as an information utility for information seekers. Secondly. Kerstetter and Cho (2004) found that source credibility strongly accounted for the types of information sources tourists sought regarding vacation destination decisions. Grant. During the uncertain pre-purchase period. this study examined consumers’ branded product information-seeking behavior. the respondents were given a branded digital camera as a candidate product. we used an information-seeking scenario using a specific product category and brands because consumer information seeking is considered a goal-oriented. The Web-based questionnaire is appropriate because of the nature of the investigation of online information search behavior.99 –199. As indicated earlier. Lee. with minimized cost (Ratchford. consumers are also likely to prefer visiting only the needed amount of credible sources to reach their information goals.Journal of Marketing Communications 361 benefit. Rainie. How do different credibility dimensions of an information source influence a consumer’s information-seeking effort? Methods The survey research method was adopted for this study. the desire for higher source credibility would influence information seekers’ preference for certain information sources. it has been stated that such a sampling of college students has some advantages for online-related research because these subjects are the first generation to grow up with the Internet (Howard. In other words. That is. Previous literature has identified source credibility as a multidimensional concept. Clarke. a pre-purchase task condition was assigned to the participants before they began the survey. Though a convenient sampling. it is essential to assess the relative power of each sub-dimension of source credibility in such search context. Thus. To fully understand the influence of course credibility. To collect data about online information seeking. The budget range was also specified ($169. usual information-seeking style. There are several reasons for choosing a digital camera and its available brands in the US market in this study. In the pre-purchase situation. an individual tends to search for sources with high information utility. context-dependent behavior as well as reflecting an individual’s chronic. In light of the limited search theorem and cognitive overload. an online survey of college students was used for data collection. the . accuracy and objectivity.99) to avoid the potential effects of price sensitivity. consumers will attempt to maximize information utility by using more credible online sources. and Jones 2001). A Web-based questionnaire was designed to capture online consumers’ product information search behavior and other relevant variables. Specifically. the following hypothesis and research question are posited: H2: RQ3: Perceived credibility of an online information source will positively influence a consumer’s search effort of that information source. First.

As specified in Table 1. During the hypothesis testing process. we did not include rare brands such as Cobra and Concord because trust measures. CNET.32 in seven-point scales). Two digital camera brands with the highest and lowest brand trust levels were ultimately chosen from the pretest sample: Canon (M ¼ 5. require direct and indirect experience with the brand. Results Sample characteristics and descriptive statistics for key measures Of the 125 respondents. which were adapted from Li et al. background information of the participants. Johnson and Russo 1984). the online survey questionnaire included overall online information search effort measures and search efforts via different product information sources as key dependent variables. Then. product of interest should be one of the attribute rich product categories to obtain variance in consumer information seeking. Pentax and Casio for the pretest. knowledge. . we referred to a well known consumer electronics magazine. This study also included product-related factors that have been repeatedly examined in prior literature on consumer information searching (Srinivasan 1990): product category involvement. 65% were female. junior: 28%. and Lee 2010. were averaged to create the search effort measures. and pretested.7. Finally. Liao. About 60 brands are available in the US market. It may not be a valid measure for brand trust to evaluate trust about the unknown brand. Internet search skill has also been suggested as one of the key factors influencing online information searches (Jepsen 2007. we selected Cannon. Most of their ages ranged from 18 to 23. SD ¼ . rather than asking about actual past search behavior. Peterson and Merino 2003). on time spent and search effort.com. As control variables.5. was gathered. SD ¼ 1. Brand familiarity was measured by using a single semantic differential scale.96 in seven-point scales) and Casio (M ¼ 3. Kodak. In addition. purchase involvement. Afterwards. Six seven-point semantic differential scales were averaged to create source credibility measures. A pretest of 17 subjects was conducted to choose the digital camera brands that allow for some variances in brand trust. and product category knowledge (Brucks 1986. Their current school year was evenly distributed (freshmen: 22%. involvement. Lee et al. such as age and gender. Two versions of survey questionnaires were randomly sent out to the participant list. Ma. such as brand familiarity and brand trust. Two items. brand trust was measured by averaging six seven-point Likert scales. All the items were measured on a sevenpoint scale. Based on researchers’ discussion. that is. the productrelated factors and search skills were controlled to isolate the effects of the predictors proposed. To select digital camera brands available in the US market. purchase involvement (Beatty and Smith 1987). and Internet search skills were measured. source credibility of each product information source and brand-related factors. Su 2007).’s (2007) two-factor model. A good deal of prior research used a digital camera in the context of consumer information-seeking behavior (Ferguson and Ellen 2006. Key measures After describing a pre-purchase information search scenario. Six digital camera brands available in the US market were selected from CNET. Nikon. to some degree. Olympus. search effort was measured by asking about the intention to search given a scenario.362 C. the data were collapsed and analyzed as one dataset. sophomore: 28%. were measured as predictor variables. Among them. product-related factors.

No – 0) .Digital cameras are very important to me .Benevolent/Honest/Has a good will . Key variable measures.Digital cameras matter a lot to me .Brand A will respond constructively if I have any product-related problems Brand A would do its best to help me if I had a problem Familiar – unfamiliar Past experience with using the brand’s digital camera (Yes – 1.How familiar do you think you are with digital camera as a product category? (Unfamiliar – familiar) .Benevolence intention (three items) Li et al. Measures .Expertise (three items) Overall search effort (two seven-point scales) Authors Search effort per source (two seven-point scales) Authors Brand Trust (six seven-point Likert scales) .Benevolence (three items) .How much time would you spend on finding out more information about Brand A digital camera? (Not at all – a great deal) .How much would you search more information about Brand A digital camera on the Web? (Not at all – a great deal) .I am confident in Brand A’s ability to perform well .Table 1.In general I have a strong interest in digital cameras .Brand A has good intentions toward its customers .How much time would you spend on finding more information about Brand A digital camera on the Web? (Not at all – a great deal) .Performance competence (three items) .Expertise/Competent/Knowledgeable Measures Flanagin and Metzger (2007) Constructs Source credibility (semantic differential items) .I expect Brand A to deliver on its promise . (2007) Brand familiarity (seven-point semantic differential scale) Product category knowledge (two items) Brucks (1986) Journal of Marketing Communications Product category involvement (four items) .The quality of Brand A is very consistent .How knowledgeable are you about digital cameras compared to the average consumer? (One of the least knowledgeable – one of the most knowledgeable) .Brand A does a good job .Digital cameras are very relevant to me Beatty and Talpade (1994) 363 .How likely you are to use the following sources to find out more information about Brand A digital camera? (Definitely would not – definitely would) .

How important would it be for you to make a right choice of digital camera? . Lee et al. would you say that I would care a great deal as to which one I buy? . By authors . how concerned would you be about the outcome of your choice? .How confident are you that you can find product information you are looking for online? .364 C.In making your selection of digital camera.Rate your own search skill compared to the average people.In selecting from many types and brands of digital camera available in the market. Table 1 – continued Measures Measures Mittal (1995) Constructs Purchase involvement (3 items) Online search skill (2 items) .

Brand familiarity.06. Hypotheses testing The influence of brand factors on overall search efforts online H1-1 and H1-2 predicted the negative correlation between brand-related factors such as brand trust (H1-1) and brand familiarity (H1-2) and overall search efforts on the Web. brand factors appeared to influence information searches via brand websites rather than other information sources such as e-retailer sites and third-party sites. Table 5 showed the descriptive statistics of credibility and its sub-dimensions for each source. brand factors did not appear to influence branded product information search efforts. .05). p . Product-related factors and credibility factors of each source were controlled in this process. 2005) except for search self-efficacy. p . such as expertise and benevolence. Ninety-four percent of the participants had purchased a product online.org.05) appeared to positively influence overall search efforts online as opposed to our prediction whereas brand familiarity (b ¼ 2 .70. Forty-three percent of the respondents were mass communication majors and the rest were from other colleges. of different product information sources. F(2. For third-party websites such as epinions. it appeared that the sample is appropriate for investigating online pre-purchase information search. Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted separately for the four different information sources. p . and for e-retailers dealing with digital cameras. p .24.05). the opposite direction of H1-1was found and H1-2 was not supported. . . it is more likely for him/her to use personal blogs for information searches. Thus. Product-related factors were controlled to observe the pure effects of brand factors. Source credibility and its sub-dimensions RQ2 examined the source credibility and its sub-dimensions. if one is familiar with a brand. Descriptive statistics and a correlation matrix among key measures are presented in Table 2. p . Thus. . Brand trust (b ¼ . To test these hypotheses. To a lesser degree. . Table 4 shows that brand factors were found to significantly influence search efforts for official brand sites only (DR2 ¼ . p .01). Hair et al. . The results of all the composite measures were higher than the conventional cut-off level (.29.05) did not influence overall search efforts online. adding brand trust and brand familiarity to the model did improve the variance of overall search efforts for branded product information online (DR2 ¼ . 117) ¼ 3. The influence of brand factors on search efforts via each information source RQ1 addressed the extent to which brand-related factors influence consumers’ information search effort through different sources. Inter-item reliability tests were performed by using Cronbach a.044.01). The significance tests .09. does play a role in a consumer’s use of personal blogs for branded information searches. whereas brand familiarity appeared to negatively influence official brand sites searches (b ¼ 2 .22. on the other hand. As presented in Table 3. Regarding RQ1. hierarchical regression analysis was performed for overall intention to search for branded product information on the Web.35. Brand trust was found to positively influence branded product information search efforts via official brand sites (b ¼ .com or consumerreports.Journal of Marketing Communications 365 senior: 22%).

89 .141 .67 5.101 .492** .195* .87 .522** .077 . Descriptive statistics for key measures.97 .245** .224* .190* .326** .331** – effort 4.244** .334** .098 .88 . Brand site 2 .309** . Search effort for .106 – knowledge 13.055 .18 1.112 .232** .104 .072 .377** .408** . Brand familiarity – 2. . Brand trust .49 1.160 .069 – third-party sites 6.163 .463** .103 .10 1.52 4.215* .343** – credibility 12.234** . Personal blog .443** .86 .131 .46 1.260** .158 2 .287** .03 5.428** .320** .92 4.013 .123 .257** .150 .01.198* .155 .063 .333** .61 0.183* . Purchase .88 .371** . Product category .00 1.488** .145 .116 .363** .03 5.627** 2 .42 1.86 .087 .193* .315** .348** .310** 2 .45 5.82 .12 1.09 5.101 .60 1. Search effort for 2 .297** . Product category .469** – credibility 11. E-retailer .93 . **p .428** .06 Cronbach a N/A .86 5.441** .404** – 3. Third-party .05.038 .86 .08 5. .12 1. Search effort for .209* .144 . Search effort for .312** – brand websites 5. .38 Standard deviation 2. Overall search .199* . 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 366 1 2 C.635** – e-retailer sites 7. 1.339** – efficacy Mean 5.310** .179* .009 .556** – involvement 15.081 .075 .222* .184* .194* .69 *p .254** . Lee et al.98 1.183* .037 .73 5.14 5.29 1.204* .Table 2.338** .001 – credibility 9.18 3.40 1.451** .223* . Search self.392** .213* .255** .154 – credibility 10.85 .233** .277** – personal blogs 8.459** .145 .601** – involvement 14.221* .88 .140 .036 .91 .089 .18 4.70 3.04 1.226* .284** .297** .131 .

f. E-retailer sites were found to be (X the third most credible product information source.1 ¼ 2. followed by third-party websites. F change ¼ 3. .05. In this dimension. significantly higher than the others. third-party websites earned the highest score. and personal blogs. personal blogs scored the lowest among the four sources in terms of overall credibility (below the mid-point with 4 on a seven-point scale).018 . d.35.01.027 Model summary: R square ¼ .018 2 . The credibility sub-dimensions of each information source were also examined. t ¼ 2 1.005 Purchase involvement .005 . p .358 .497 .778 (Constant) 1.065 2 .008 .1 ¼ 6.011 Brand familiarity 2 .301 .f.192.061 .05).000 Model 2 (Constant) 1. official brand sites and personal blogs were lowest but above mid-point (4 out of seven-point scale).014 . B Model 1 b p . Among other information sources.092 . E-retailer websites were rated the second highest in benevolence. H2 was tested by using hierarchical regression analysis for each information source.235. Benevolence is one dimension of credibility measuring the motivational aspects of each information source.611 Product involvement 2 .963 . As shown in Table 5.000 Model comparison: R square change ¼ . Model 2 of Table 4 indicated that when credibility factors such as benevolence and expertise perception were considered.000 . Note that the ‘expertise’ sub-dimension reflects online consumers’ perceived expertise evaluation of product information contained in each source.1 ¼ 4. e-retailer websites.2.876 .417 Search self-efficacy . F ¼ 7.2 ¼ 117.044.001 Search self-efficacy . d.038 . Hierarchical regression for overall search efforts for brands on the Web.f.020 .427 . All the expertise scores among the four information sources were significantly different.019 . The relationship between source credibility of individual information sources and search efforts via each source H2 was set up to test the positive influence of the source credibility factor on branded product information searches via certain types of websites. d.12).169 . d. Official brand websites scored the highest in this dimension. p ¼ .15 (SE ¼ .f.036 .240 . A paired t-test’s results revealed that the difference in credibility scores between official brand sites and third-party sites were not significant  official2third ¼ 2 .2 ¼ 119. Official brand websites and third-party websites were perceived as most credible among the four online information sources. p ¼ .884 Brand trust .940 Product category knowledge .348 Model summary: R square ¼ . d.018 Product category involvement . respectively.f. d.f. with insignificant difference.857 Purchase involvement . p ¼ .137 Product knowledge .2 ¼ 117.Journal of Marketing Communications 367 of mean differences were performed using a multiple of the paired t-test.067 . the explanatory power of the model significantly improved for all the information sources. F ¼ 6. credibility perception of official brand websites most explained the variances of consumers’ information seeking via brand Table 3.

**p .368 Table 4.026 .12** 2 . .149 .057 .00 2 .107 .02 2 . Standardized regression coefficients b Official brand sites .256* DR2 ¼ .163 DR2 ¼ .332** R2 ¼ .081 .37** .023 .117 2 .042 .321** R2 ¼ . .222** .137 . .264** .224** 2 .17** 2 .104 .05 .123 .133 2 .363** .010 DR2 ¼ . N ¼ 125 Model 1 (Constant) Product knowledge Product involvement Purchase involvement Search self-efficacy Model 2 (Constant) Product knowledge Product involvement Purchase involvement Search self-efficacy Benevolence of each site Expertise of each site Model 3 (Constant) Product knowledge Product involvement Purchase involvement Search self-efficacy Benevolence of each site Expertise of each site Brand trust Brand familiarity *p .013 .020 .179 .164 2 .14** 2 .156 DR2 ¼ .088 .030 .231** .078 R2 ¼ .239* 2 .069 .148* .135 R2 ¼ .098 .058 .231* . Lee et al.01.091 .035 .282** .016 2 .274** .249** .124 .144 .05.006 2 .222* .269** 2 .06** 2 .240** .222* .156 .011 .269** DR2 ¼ .00 C.256** 2 .222* DR2 ¼ .116 2 .03 2 . Hierarchical regression for search efforts for each source on the Web.349** .160 .063 .054 .260* .290** DR2 ¼ .128 2 .059 .129 .039 .132 .286** .128 2 .106 .16** Third-party sites E-retailer sites Personal blogs 2 .229* .12** 2 .352** DR2 ¼ .

92 (1.48 (1. Thus. it appeared that both expertise and benevolence perception significantly influence information searches via e-retailer sites and personal blogs.12)a 3.63 (1. This finding was consistent with the finding from RQ1 that third-party sites were superior to others in terms of benevolence.18 (1. second to third-party websites. benevolence perception was found to be a significant factor explaining information searches via third-party websites.29) 3. we conclude that product information searches of official brand sites occur when online searchers perceive the brand sites not only as expertise but also as benevolent.10) a Expertise 5.76 (1.70 (1. RQ3 was posed to observe the relative importance of credibility sub-dimensions in influencing usage intention of each information source. or high brand trust leads to less search effort. . Overall credibility Official brand sites E-retailer sites Third-party sites Personal blogs 5.03 (.25) 5. First. Contrary to the expectation.Journal of Marketing Communications 369 sites (DR2 ¼ .36. the results of the regression analyses found the positive effect of brand trust on overall search effort and no significant relationships between brand familiarity and the overall search efforts. . .23 (1. Mean comparisons of credibility and its sub-dimensions for each source. and dependent on the desired utility provided by each type of search source. p . this study attempted to examine the roles that brands and source credibility play for different online information sources in the context of branded product information searching.01). but also perceived as moderately benevolent. However.15) 4. In Model 3 of Table 4.05 except for superscripted pairs of a and b. two credibility sub-dimensions were considered with product-related factors and brand factors in explaining the variances of search efforts via each information source.37. H2 was supported. Conclusions and discussion Applying the concept of trust as a risk-reducing mechanism and the framework of cost – benefit analysis.17) Benevolence 4.28)b Note: All the pairs of mean differences are significant at p . both benevolence (b ¼ . unbranded product information search in that it is more specific. Relatedly. It first predicted a negative relationship between brand trust/familiarity and the overall branded information search efforts. p . Table 4 provided some implications for RQ3. . Second. It is possible that the search behavior for branded products is different from that of general.01) and expertise (b ¼ .63 (. . purchase involvement was found to be a significant predictor regarding the overall search efforts. The findings from RQ1 suggested that official brand sites were superior to others in terms of expertise dimension. p .04) 5.25)b 4.13 (1.13) 5.01) perception of brand sites were found to positively influence search efforts via official brand sites. associated with pre-purchase conditions. Our data did not support the hypothesis that less risk perception of a brand. they may want to look for information that confirms their beliefs about the branded product.43 (1.92) 4. source credibility does predict the usage of specific information sources in the pre-purchase context. As consumers perceive a branded product in consideration sets trustworthy.23. Given the two findings from RQ1 and RQ3.36 (1. Our results suggest that branded product information seeking occurs following confirmation bias (Nicholson 1998) rather than as a risk reducing mechanism. We speculated two alternative explanations for this unexpected result. Lastly. the possibility that confirmation Table 5.98) 4.

In the case of overall search efforts. the level of trust that might lead to purchases. variables related more to the decision or act of purchasing. third-party websites. as the nature of official brand and third-party sites are supposedly more information-driven. When specific online information sources are considered (RQ1). and relationships. The unexpected result may be due to the idiosyncrasy of this study setting. such as purchase involvement. electronic specialized websites containing experts’ reviews) or consumer-driven e-WOM websites (e. In the case of a brand with a significantly low trust level. third-party and e-retailer sites might be seen as more neutral sources of information than personal blogs or a brand’s official online site. attitudes. the brand factors we examined appeared to significantly influence the search efforts for some types of online sources. They are also easily searchable on the Internet compared to other categories of information sources such as neutral information sources (e. confirmation bias that people look for information confirming their high level of brand trust can explain the positive relationship between brand trust and uses of brand’s websites. Besides the searchability of official brand websites. and personal blogs exhibit decreasing levels of credibility based on the perceived expertise of the sources. Official brand sites. In sum. Lee et al. which might lead to higher expertise evaluation. In general. This study also found that official brand and third-party websites are regarded as having more source credibility in online branded information searching. the searchability of official brand sites seemed to lead to the positive relationship between brand trust and uses of official brand sites. These findings can be explained by the characteristic of official brand websites. In addition. the latter two represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of selfinterest (see Figure 1). consumers tend to search a brand’s official website more when they have a higher trust of the brand. On the other hand. Second. It seems that personal blogs play a more visible role when a consumer is more familiar with a certain brand. third-party and e-retailer sites seem to score higher in the motivational aspect of source credibility. The less searchability of personal blogs and the . consumers may want to check out the identity of the brand that they are unfamiliar with. their function might be suited to a higher level of branding process – such as brand images. consumers may want to search for more information about the brand. Comparatively. Another finding to note is that search self-efficacy predicted the uses of third-party websites and e-retailer websites for branded product information search. First. Proper level of search efficacy leads to uses of third-party websites and e-retailer websites for branded product information search. Medium – high trusted branded products may lead to confirmatory information search online in prepurchase branded product search stage. seem to play a more direct role. bias comes into play in pre-purchase information seeking does not reject the risk reducing hypothesis. official brand websites provide brand identity information as well as accurate product information. focused on the brands of interest. high level of brand trust seems to play a positive role in the online information searches of branded products in the pre-purchase information search stage. Thus.370 C.g. and less personality-driven.g. The results are logical. blogs). On the other hand. The findings point to the important function of official brand sites as both an information source to increase familiarity with its products and to validate. e-retailers. or even enhance. The sources of e-retailers and third-party sites are not significantly linked to the brand factors. Brands used in the study might not reach risk thresholds that trigger respondents to search more. while e-retailer sites and personal blogs are perceived to have less credibility (RQ2) (see Figure 1). consumers tend to search a brand’s official website more when they are less familiar with the brand.

but not the absolute values of Table 5 in each dimension of source credibility. Source credibility. relative ease of searchability of brand sites did not seem to make significant differences in uses of the two information sources. such as brand attitude and brand knowledge structure. It also points to the important role of official brand sites in various pre-purchase conditions related to different brand situations. Also. another future study might delve into the impacts of more complex brand concepts. including most sub-dimensions.Journal of Marketing Communications 371 Brand sites High credibility Thirdparty High expertise Eretailers Personal blogs High benevolence Figure 1. Therefore. it is likely that the consumers would be looking for additional information or for validation of what they already know in accordance with confirmation bias hypothesis.g. not just a general product. The findings may not be generalized to the brands of other product categories because the study was conducted in the specific context of a pre-purchase search of digital camera brands. the study found that credibility of each source accounted for significant amount of variances in search effort using each information source. The impacts of brand factors on brand information searching may vary depending upon the searchability of products (e. in situations when consumers are searching online for information about a specific brand. on branded product information searches. Credibility dimensions as a search source of brand information. Literature on pre-purchase online information search behavior rarely addresses the role of brands and source credibility in the context of different types of online information sources. In this study. The study has a few limitations. As predicted. it would be helpful to use behavioral . To help validate our findings. especially in the case of official brand sites (RQ3 and H2). The results again point to the importance of examining online branded information search behavior in the context of ‘types’ of information sources and the perceived functions that they typically serve. Also. they are likely to have some pre-conceived familiarity or knowledge about the brand already. Note: The position of each source reflects the relative differences in each dimension. familiarity. This study sheds light on the influence of brand trust. which can inform future research. and source credibility in such search efforts. search efforts were measured as intention to search rather than self-reports on past search behavior. significantly impacted the use of the four types of search sources separately. search goods vs experience goods).

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