Journal of Services Marketing

Services quality dimensions of Internet retailing: an exploratory analysis
Zhilin Yang Robin T. Peterson Shaohan Cai

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Zhilin Yang Robin T. Peterson Shaohan Cai, (2003),"Services quality dimensions of Internet retailing: an exploratory analysis",
Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 17 Iss 7 pp. 685 - 700
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Jessica Santos, (2003),"E-service quality: a model of virtual service quality dimensions", Managing Service Quality: An
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Gwo-Guang Lee, Hsiu-Fen Lin, (2005),"Customer perceptions of e-service quality in online shopping", International Journal of
Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 33 Iss 2 pp. 161-176 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09590550510581485
Zhilin Yang, Xiang Fang, (2004),"Online service quality dimensions and their relationships with satisfaction: A content analysis
of customer reviews of securities brokerage services", International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 15 Iss 3 pp.
302-326 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09564230410540953

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An executive summary for
managers and executive
readers can be found at the
end of this article

Services quality dimensions
of Internet retailing:
an exploratory analysis
Zhilin Yang

Assistant of Professor, Department of Marketing,
City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Robin T. Peterson

Norwest Bank Distinguished Professor, Department of Marketing,
College of Business Administration and Economics,
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA

Shaohan Cai

Faculty of Business Administration, Lakehead University,
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

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Keywords Services, Quality, Electronic commerce, Customer satisfaction, Internet,
Retailing
Abstract The purpose of this article is to extend what is know about service quality in
realm of the context of Internet retailing. As a result of content analyzing 1,078 consumer
anecdotes of online shopping experiences, 14 service quality dimensions representing 42
items were identified. The unique contents of each service quality dimension relate to
Internet commerce are examined and discussed. Further, the analysis uncovered a
number of contributors to consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The most
frequently-mentioned service attributes resulting in consumer satisfaction were
responsiveness, credibility, ease of use, reliability, and convenience. On the other hand,
different dimensions including responsiveness, reliability, ease of use, credibility, and
competence, were likely to dissatisfy online consumers. Finally, this paper provides
various managerial implications and recommendations which may suggest avenues for
improving service quality in Internet retailing and, as a corollary, expanding experiences
by consumers.

Explosive growth

Most observers would agree that Internet commerce has witnessed explosive
growth in the consumer goods market. In most industries, Internet-only
companies have surfaced, while many conventionally-operated ones have
employed the Internet to furnish online services. As a consequence,
competition among online retailers has become fierce. Powerful search
engines and possibilities for instant price comparisons on the Web force
online suppliers to assess competitive prices and provide high product
quality as absolute necessities (Hof et al., 1998). Hence, non-price
competitive advantages other than price, such as those derived from
excellent customer services and advanced quality of online information
systems, have become critical for the online retailer.
When properly utilized, the Internet can be an effective device for
maintaining superior service offerings and creating a higher standard in the
retail sector. Stores on the Web can attract customers who seek rapid and
convenient completion of a whole procurement transaction cycle from
sourcing, ordering, payment, receiving, to handling requests for after sales
service. Further, managers can employ their Web sites as of information
sources and channels for customer service, including help and order status
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685

features, even when physical stores serve as the primary channel employed
to generate good customer relationships (Peterson et al., 1997).
Most online companies have encountered substantial problems and
challenges in furnishing quality services. Essentially, this is because:
.

.

Service quality

the Internet is a relatively new and unpredictable channel (Oliva, 1997);
and
online consumer behaviors are not fully understood (Peterson et al.,
1997).

However, if online retailers can discover what attributes consumers assess in
their evaluation of service quality, and overall satisfaction, management is in
a position to monitor and improve company performance. However, only
modest empirical effort has been directed to identifying service quality
attributes in the context of Internet retailing.
The purpose of the present study was to extend the body of knowledge
relating to the service quality construct in the context of Internet purchasing.
Three specific research questions were investigated:

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(1) What dimensions do consumers perceive to be essential in providing
service quality for online purchasing?
(2) Which service quality attributes operate mainly as satisfiers and which
essentially create consumer dissatisfaction?
(3) What recommendation can be advanced to improve the service quality of
online purchasing and, in turn, buyer satisfaction?

Attributes

Review of the literature
As is the case of conventional retailers, online suppliers must provide
customers with high quality services. In addition, the integral nature of
Internet commerce requires attributes such as ease of use, effective
navigation, timeliness, and security. Overall, the service quality of Internet
retailing spans two primary categories:
(1) customer services; and
(2) information systems.
Key services quality dimensions in traditional retailing
Perceived service quality has been defined as a global judgment or attitude
relating to the superiority of a given service (Parasuraman et al., 1988). In
recent decades, a number of researchers have attempted to identify the global
attributes that have contributed significantly to consumers' service quality
assessment. An exploratory study by Parasuraman et al. (1985) elicited ten
dimensions. These were: tangibles; reliability; responsiveness;
communication; credibility; security; competence; courtesy; understanding
the customer; and access. Parasuraman et al. (1988) further reduced these ten
dimensions to five: tangibles; reliability; responsiveness; assurance; and
empathy. Based on the five service quality attributes, Parasuraman et al.
(1988) developed a global measurement for service quality (SERVQUAL).
Since that time, SERVQUAL has been applied to numerous service
industries, and has received some criticism (for a comprehensive review, see
Dabholkar et al. (1996)). The primary concern raised by most of the critics is
that the service quality dimensions tend to be context-bound and

686

JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

service-type-dependent (Bienstock, 1997; Mehta et al., 2000; Van Dyke
et al., 1997).

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Innovative dimensions

Unique nature

In the retailing environment, Hedvall and Paltschik (1989) have identified
two innovative dimensions: ``willingness and ability to serve''; and
``physical and psychological access''. Based on both focus group interviews
and questionnaire survey study, Dabholkar et al. (1996) have developed and
validated a five-dimension scale measuring service quality within the setting
of retailing. Those are: physical aspects; reliability; personal interaction;
problem solving; and policy. While examining service quality factors in
determining department store chain performance, Siu and Cheung (2001)
have uncovered six dimensions: personal interaction; policy; physical
appearance; promise; problem solving; and convenience. Essentially, their
scales contain similar content as those of Dabholkar et al. (1996), except for
one new factor, i.e. convenience. Interestingly, Mehta et al. (2000) applied
both SERVQUAL and the five-dimension model proposed by Dabholkar
et al. (1996) to two different settings: service-intensive retailing; and
goods-intensive retailing. They have concluded that SERVQUAL worked
better in the first setting, while Dabholkar et al.'s model was superior in the
latter situation. In other words, service quality dimensions tend to be
contingent on different industries and various service types even within one
industry.
Service quality dimensions and Internet commerce
While e-tailing shares much common ground with traditional retailing, some
unique natures of the Internet such as means of impersonal communication
and the Web site as an information system make it necessary to reexamine
whether traditional service quality dimensions and their contents are still
applicable to Internet-based services (Cox and Dale, 2001). Some conceptual
and empirical studies have attempted to address key attributes of service
quality specially related to Internet commerce. Hoffman and Novak (1997)
have pointed out that personalization is required for Internet firms to
conceptualize the Internet as a unique consumer marketplace. In the process
of investigating the Web sites of the top 100 US retailers, Griffith and
Krampf (1998) have discovered that the lack of prompt responsiveness,
especially to e-mail inquires, was the most common negatively perceived
phenomenon in cyberspace. In their conceptual examination of service
quality in e-commerce, Cox and Dale (2001) proposed that certain traditional
dimensions such as competence, courtesy, cleanliness, comfort and
friendliness, helpfulness, care, commitment and flexibility might not be
applicable to the Internet commerce setting. However, service quality
attributes such as accessibility, communication, credibility, understanding,
appearance and availability should still be relevant to e-commerce. Based
upon six focus group interviews, Zeithaml et al. (2001) have identified 13
e-service quality dimensions. These are reliability, responsibility, access,
flexibility, access, flexibility, ease of navigation, efficiency, assurance/trust,
security, price knowledge, site aesthetics and customization/personalization.
A content analysis of customer evaluations of Internet pharmacy services
conducted by Yang et al. (2001) have revealed 19 quality dimensions which
were sorted into three categories: product cost and availability; customer
service; and online information systems.
The aforementioned attributes provide a broad base for generating insights
into the service quality aspects of Internet retailing. Few empirical studies,
however, have been conducted to date to uncover the underlying key
dimensions of service quality in Internet retailing.

JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

687

Furthermore, the infrastructure of online stores is composed of
Internet-based technology, encompassing browsers, search engines,
encryption and other kinds of e-commerce software technology. In turn, the
Web site can be viewed as an information system with the online customer as
the end user. The term ``end-user'' refers to one who ``interacts directly with
the application software to enter information or prepare output reports'' (Doll
and Torkzadeh, 1988, p. 260). As an end user, consumers often seek desired
product and service information through Web sites. To measure end-user
computing satisfaction, Doll and Torkzadeh (1988) have developed 12 scale
items that gauge five quality dimensions influencing end-user satisfaction.
These are: content, accuracy, format, ease of use and timeliness. The
reliability and validity of this scale have been confirmed in other studies
(Doll et al., 1994). Some of the five attributes employed in the measurement
scale are closely related to service attributes which are applicable to
traditional commerce. For instance, ``accuracy'' of online transaction can be
considered as one aspect of ``reliability''. ``Content'' and ``timeliness'' of
information are viewed as parts of ``communication''. In other words, these
attributes add more content to traditional service quality dimensions.

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Information system

Studies conducted in the marketing field also have revealed some important
factors that are relevant to the Web site as an information system, in
determining the success of an online firm. Rice (1997) examined the
question of what induced users to revisit a Web site and discovered that the
most important variables were design features, such as content, layout, ease
of locating information, ease of navigation, and emotional experience (such
as enjoyment and excitement). Balfour et al. (1998) uncovered desires for
transaction security and personal information privacy when examining
consumer needs in global electronic commerce. Further, Dellaert and Kahn
(1999) conducted laboratory experiments which indicated that undue
information download waiting time negatively affected consumers'
perception of a Web site's performance. Finally, Liu and Arnett (2000)
identified information quality, system use, and system design quality as
major inputs for the success of Web sites.
Overall, Doll and Torkzadeh's (1988) five attributes employed in the
measurement scale, as well as other attributes unique to the Internet (i.e.
privacy and security) can constitute a workable preliminary framework for
assessing online information systems quality.
Negative and positive attributes
The causes of dissatisfaction and satisfaction are not necessarily the same
(Johnston, 1995). Some attributes may not be critical for customer
satisfaction but can create dissatisfaction when they are performed poorly.
To investigate this area, Johnston (1997) has classified all dimensions into
satisfied, dissatisfied, and dual factors (those factors capable of creating both
satisfaction and dissatisfaction). This classification has been utilized in a
number of subsequent studies.

Service quality attribute

688

Mittal et al. (1998) have discovered that the positive performance of a
service quality attribute has less impact on overall consumer satisfaction than
negative performance of that same attribute. This ``asymmetric effect''
suggests that it is useful to carefully investigate service quality attributes
having both negative and positive contributions, and to grant more attention
to those salient negatively-performed attributes. This process can permit a
service provider to determine strategies for improving those service quality
attributes to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

Consumer complaints and compliments have long been employed as sources
of feedback on company performance. As Ford et al. (1997, p. 79) have
stated:
. . . patients know, and are usually eager to tell employees, about the organizational
impediments that prevent them from receiving the quality of service they expect.

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Customer feedback

Essentially, customer feedback is an exception-reporting mechanism for
identifying weaknesses to be corrected or strengths to be reinforced. An
analysis of consumer compliments and complaints can assist in identifying
some of the more important factors. Unfortunately, a review of the consumer
behavior literature reveals that consumers' electronic word-mouth relating to
online services has not been carefully examined, and deserves more
academic attention.
Research methods
In this study, content analysis of consumer reviews related to their online
purchasing experience was employed for extracting their underlying service
quality dimensions. The fact that online customers contribute time and effort
for voicing their shopping experiences suggests that the attributes are salient
in the post-use evaluation process (Cadotte and Turgeon, 1988). Although
the consumer comments (i.e. complaints and compliments) are not likely to
completely reflect the customer's total experience with a product or service,
they do highlight those dimensions of service quality about which customers
are highly concerned.

Web sites

To find useful data sources for the study, the authors intensively reviewed
the ten most prominent online consumer review Web sites:
consumerreview.com, deja.com, consumerama.org, webbbox.com,
epinions.com, complaints.com, consumeraffairs.com, computingreview.com,
ratingwonders.com and gomez.com. Three selection criteria were established
by the authors to permit collection of the most representative samples:
(1) Consumers should be allowed to rate and review online companies based
on their own online shopping experience.
(2) Consumers should not be financially motivated to express their opinions
favoring the reviewed companies (e.g. some consumer review Web sites
award a certain amount of money to a consumer if his/her review led a
reader to make a purchase from the evaluated online company).
(3) Consumers should be encouraged to post both dissatisfied and satisfied
reviews.
Two sites, ratingwonders.com and gomez.com, both leading online
consumer review sites, fully met the requirements. Further, ten of the most
influential online health product companies were selected for study: Costco;
CVS; DrugEmporium.com; DrugStore.com; FamilyMeds;
HealthCentralRX.com; More.com; Phar-mor.com; PlanetRX.com; and
Walgreens. These companies market both prescription products and
non-prescription offerings such as beauty aids, baby care, health care and
personal care.
The authors accessed the above two sites (Gomez and Ratingwonders), from
1-10 November 2000, to secure anecdotes. A total of 2,105 individual
consumer comments related to the nine companies were obtained. After
deleting the reviews that were not relevant to the current study, a total of
1,078 useful consumer anecdotes were selected for further analysis. While
some consumers described their purchasing experience in considerable

JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

689

detail, others were very brief. The average anecdote length was
approximately 65 words. All anecdotes were numbered, formatted and
imported to Ethonograph 5.0, a leading software package designed for
coding qualitative data. In turn, anecdotes were classified into two
categories: satisfied attributes (positive performance) and dissatisfied
attributes (negative performance) (see Figure 1).
Coding words

Based on the collected 1,078 anecdotes, the authors generate 42 categories or
coding words. The initial 42 coding words listed in Table I make up the
primary themes or facets of the overall service quality of online retailing.
The authors then independently classified each of the anecdotes. All
disagreements were identified and resolved through discussion.
The inter-judge reliability between the judges was calculated using the
percentage agreement statistic. In turn, the inter-judge reliability was 85.4
per cent for the satisfying anecdotes and 87.5 per cent for the dissatisfying
anecdotes. These figures are relatively high, given that the resulting
classification scheme, in this study, contained 14 categories, according to
standards normally employed for statistically assessing qualitative data
(Perreault and Leigh, 1989).

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Research results and discussion
This study identified a total of 14 dimensions of service quality and 42
salient sub-dimensions in Internet retailing (see Table I). We present and
discuss key identified service quality dimensions and those unique to the
Internet setting. Additionally, drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are
also examined.
Key service quality dimensions
Of 14 service quality dimensions, the eight most frequently mentioned quality
dimensions constitute 89.9 per cent of all mentions while the remaining six
factors only embrace 10.1 per cent. These eight dimensions are: responsiveness
(30.3 per cent of all mentions); credibility (16.0 per cent), ease of use; (12.4 per
cent); reliability (11.4 per cent); convenience (6.1 per cent); communication (5.2
per cent),; access (4.6 per cent); and competence (3.9 per cent).
Seven dimensions

Although all of the first seven dimensions embody essentially the same
meanings as those of Parasuraman et al. (1985), some unique aspects are
associated with the Internet retailing environment. For instance, numerous
online customers utilize e-mail as an important channel to communicate with
the online company. Because most consumers use dial-up Internet
connections and do not want to hang up to make a phone call, they tend to

Figure 1. Anecdote coding process
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JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

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No. Dimensions
1 Responsiveness
Prompt delivery
Timely response from rep
Quickly solve problems
Prompt service (other than prompt delivery)
Sub-total
2 Credibility
Confidence
Good reputation
Sub-total
3 Ease of use
Effective navigation
Functions that customers need
User friendly
Response speed
Easy check out
Accessibility
Sub-total
4 Reliability
Accurate order fulfill
Accurate records
(i.e. billing amount, mailing address)
Correct service (in general)
Keep service promise
Keep promotion promise
Accurate online transactions
Refund correctly
Sub-total
5 Convenience
Convenient shopping (time, place, etc.)
Delivery or pick-up at store
Others (i.e. online order renew)
Sub-total
6 Communication
Information at order placement
Information on products and service
Up-to-date information
Clear answers/instructions
Sub-total
7 Access
E-mail access
Access to representatives via phone
Sub-total
8 Competence
Reps' knowledge to answer questions
Ability to solve problems
Sub-total
9 Courtesy
Address complaints friendly
Delivery friendly
Consistently courteous
Sub-total
10 Personalization
Individual attention

Positive Negative
No. Pct. No. Pct.

Total
No. Pct.

491
31
42
25
589

25.6 101
1.6 53
2.2 25
1.3 41
30.7 220

13.5 592
7.1 84
3.3 67
5.5 66
29.4 809

22.2
3.1
2.5
2.5
30.3

347
6
353

18.1 68
0.3 6
18.4 74

9.1 415
0.8 12
9.9 427

15.5
0.4
16.0

117
37
43
18
22
4
241

6.1
1.9
2.2
0.9
1.1
0.2
12.6

17
22
5
28
13
5
90

2.3 134
2.9 59
0.7 48
3.7 46
1.7 35
0.7
9
12.0 331

5.0
2.2
1.8
1.7
1.3
0.3
12.4

59
60

3.1 45
3.1 20

6.0 104
2.7 80

3.9
3.0

17
16
6
2
4
164

0.9 28
0.8 26
0.3 8
0.1 8
0.2 4
8.5 139

3.7 45
3.5 42
1.1 14
1.1 10
0.5
8
18.6 303

1.7
1.6
0.5
0.4
0.3
11.4

143
7
3
153

7.4 9
0.4 0
0.2 1
8.0 10

1.2 152
0.0
7
0.1
4
1.3 163

5.7
0.3
0.1
6.1

82
13
0
3
98

4.3 30
0.7 4
0.0 5
0.2 1
5.1 40

4.0 112
0.5 17
0.7
5
0.1
4
5.3 138

4.2
0.6
0.2
0.1
5.2

52
35
87

2.7 15
1.8 22
4.5 37

2.0 67
2.9 57
4.9 124

2.5
2.1
4.6

42
12
54

2.2 21
0.6 30
2.8 51

2.8 63
4.0 42
6.8 105

2.4
1.6
3.9

71
0
0
71

3.7 14
0.0 1
0.0 1
3.7 16

1.9
0.1
0.1
2.1

3.2
0.0
0.0
3.3

48

2.5 32

4.3

85
1
1
87

80
3.0
(continued)

Table I. Dimensions of online purchasing and frequency of mention by
positive and negative performance
JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

691

Positive Negative
No. Pct. No. Pct.

No. Dimensions
11 Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement on online systems
Continuous improvement on product quality
Continuous improvement on customer service
Sub-total
12 Collaboration
Internal collaboration (function departments)
External collaboration (i.e. prescription
transfer)
Sub-total
13 Security/privacy
Privacy
Information transaction safety
Sub-total
14 Aesthetics
Attractiveness of the Web site
Total

Total
No. Pct.

6
22
7
35

0.3 5
1.1 8
0.4 1
1.8 14

0.7
1.1
0.1
1.9

11
30
8
49

0.4
1.1
0.3
1.8

2
5

0.1 15
0.3 4

2.0
0.5

17
9

0.6
0.3

7

0.4 19

2.5

26

1.0

4
7
11

0.2
0.4
0.6

5
0
5

0.7
0.0
0.7

9
7
16

0.3
0.3
0.6

9

0.5

2

0.3

11

0.4

1,920 100 749 100 2,669 100

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Table I.

write e-mail inquiries about pertinent issues. Therefore, a quick and
responsive e-mail service is a distinct and important feature for both the
access and the responsiveness dimensions. One customer described his/her
satisfaction with prompt e-mail reply:
I sent them an e-mail requesting status on the diapers and was told that they were
backordered and would be shipped within two weeks. Well I did receive them and
it only took five days. Great service. They even responded to my e-mail the next
day. Will definitely order from them again.

E-mail inquiries

On the other hand, many consumers whose e-mail inquiries were delayed or
ignored tended to be disappointed. Some typical anecdotes are:
I ordered over three weeks ago and still did not get my order. I have tried to e-mail
them, and still no luck. If I were you I would not take the chance and order from
this site.

Accurate transactions over the Internet are essential to prevent customer
errors. These require flawless and smooth integration of myriad components
of computers and other information systems (i. e. online data-base
interfacing).
Many online companies experienced products shortfalls and delayed
deliveries during the holiday season due to poor inventory management and
inaccurate sales forecasting. As such, prompt delivery, the most significant
facet of the ``responsiveness'' attributes, is the most frequently mentioned
reason leading to both customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction:
Customer service is great and delivery time is pretty quick. I would definitely
recommend this site to anyone looking for health and beauty products.
Lately, I'm a bit disappointed with [Company A]. My most recent order took over
one week for delivery! They sent no e-mail notifying me of this. I discovered the
delay when I logged onto their site. The site apologized for the delay due to an
overwhelming amount of orders. I feel this is inexcusable . . . . They've lost my
future business.

Frequently-mentioned ``ease of use'' facets are effective navigation,
functions that customers need, user friendliness, response speed, and easy
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JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

check out. Certainly, effective navigation facilitates the customer shopping
process as flow difficulties may impede the customer from locating desired
information. When site difficulties persist, the customer may elect to
terminate the transaction. Good navigability can prevent this from occurring:
Navigation around the site was easy, and also easy to checkout.
I find navigation of the site to be worse than the average retailer. I've only made
one purchase there . . .

In the same vein, slow response time resulting from low server capacity is
one of the common reasons customers complained:
The Online Specials section isn't categorized and is about 12 (slow loading) pages
long.
This site was very slow. I had difficulty getting around.

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Quality dimensions

Newly identified service quality dimensions
In this study, we also uncovered five service quality dimensions which were
not included by the ten dimensions proposed by Parasuraman et al. (1985)
and the five dimension model of end-user computing satisfaction proposed
by Doll and Torkzadeh (1988). They are:
(1) convenience;
(2) continuous improvement;
(3) collaboration;
(4) security and privacy; and
(5) aesthetics.
Some of these five dimensions have been found and discussed in previous
studies, as mentioned in the literature review section. Nevertheless, their
unique aspects relevant to Internet retailing are necessary for further
elaboration.

Convenience dimension

The convenience dimension is not unexpected because one major benefit of
Internet shopping is time and location flexibility. The continuous
improvement dimension signifies that a company should continuously
update its level of customer service and online system. Customers often
favor companies that are devoted to improving their weaker activities, and
that meet customer changing needs and preferences:
If you never shopped here, or had a bad experience, give them another try!!! They
have vastly improved their site, shopping is so easy, and they have responded to
my last three e-mails. They have really improved! They have gone from bad
reviews to excellent!
I have ordered several times recently and my orders came within five days, and
that is with free shipping. They have greatly improved their site, the ease of
shopping, and their cost. I have been shopping at [Company X] for almost a year
and the service has only improved with time.

The third new dimension, collaboration, can be interpreted in two ways:
(1) internal; and
(2) external collaboration.
Internal collaboration refers to conditions of close cooperation between
separate functional departments of the company and their respective
employees. In contrast, external collaboration means cooperation between
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employees of individual firms and their business partners. Many
Internet-based companies outsource their logistic services, such as
warehousing and delivery, to third party enterprises. To provide customers
with superior services, these companies must effectively organize and
integrate all of the necessary interactions between themselves and their
business partners, such as outsourcing departments (logistic departments).
The lack of integration of all functional departments and external partners is
one of the primary forces causing customer problems related to delayed
delivery:
This is not a company I feel that can be counted on. Their shipping dept. seems to
be their biggest downfall. I received confirmation of my order a week after it
arrived. My parents ordered back in December when they were guaranteeing free
next day delivery. It sat on the dock for weeks and they still haven't received it.
The customer service rep. gave no help at all. She sounded like she didn't know
what she was talking about and never offered a replacement or compensation. The
offer would have to be excellent for me to do business with them again.

Identified dimensions

Regarding the last two newly identified dimensions, it was found that
site-aesthetics serve two functions:

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(1) they provide visitors with a positive image; and
(2) they can render customers' surfing experience enjoyable.
One customer praised a site in this manner:
The overall page design of www.[company E].com is a bit cold and antiseptic . . .
It feels and looks like a visit to a hospital.

Security and privacy are also objects of concern on the part of some online
customers:
[Company X] promises to keep your health information private, yeah right!! They
treated both my doctor and me with contempt. I will never never shop there again.

However, it seems that an accelerating trend of larger number of customers
are becoming accustomed with shopping online. Many of these are not
overly concerned with privacy and security:
I experienced no problems with privacy and would not hesitate to do business with
them again.

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction drivers
Since some consumers evaluated their online retailers both negatively and
positively, even in one message, the researchers coded positive points to
satisfied dimensions and negative points to dissatisfied. For instance, prompt
delivery was coded in the satisfied dimensions class while delayed delivery
was assigned to the dissatisfied group. Table I sets forth frequencies of
mentions for each of the quality dimensions identified earlier, classified by
the satisfied and dissatisfied comments.
Satisfied categories

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The five most frequently mentioned for the satisfied categories are
responsiveness (30.7 per cent of all mentions), credibility (18.4 per cent),
ease of use (12.6 per cent), reliability (8.5 per cent), and convenience (8.0
per cent). These five dimensions represented 78.2 per cent of all mentions,
while the remaining 12 dimensions only registered 21.8 per cent. The
responsiveness dimension provided the highest frequency of mention (589 of
1,920). For the dissatisfied group, ``responsiveness'' is also the most
influential source (29.4 per cent), followed by reliability (18.6 per cent),
ease of use (12.0 per cent), credibility (9.9 per cent), and competence
JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 17 NO. 7 2003

(6.8 per cent). These five factors account for 76.7 per cent of all mentions.
Given the effect of negatively-performed service quality attributes on
consumers' assessment of overall satisfaction, more emphasis should be
placed on the above five dimensions and their critical items.

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Dissatisfaction

The relative importance of often-mentioned factors in contributing to
customers' dissatisfaction differs somewhat from those of satisfaction, which
is consistent with Johnston's (1997) findings. Negative performances on
service attributes such as reliability, competence, and personalization are
more likely to lead to consumer dissatisfaction, compared to the ability of
positive performances on these attributes to gain consumer satisfaction. On
the other hand, consumer confidence in an online company is more related to
satisfaction than to dissatisfaction.
Conclusions
Listening to the voices of their customers is the initial step in planning
service quality improvement endeavors. In turn, the identification of
customers' expectations related to Internet purchasing provides a frame of
reference for online companies to assess their overall service quality. Once
this preliminary activity has been satisfactorily completed, full-fledged
improvement efforts can be initiated.

Online consumers

The inquiry identified 14 service quality dimensions by analyzing 1,078
anecdotes written by online consumers based on their shopping experience.
The important items under each dimension were also uncovered. Ideally,
management should grant attention to the full spectrum of 14 dimensions
identified in this study. However, given resource constraints faced by most
firms, management may elect to focus on the key dimensions of
responsiveness, credibility, ease of use, reliability, convenience and access.
These particular dimensions are likely to yield a higher degree of satisfaction
that than other dimensions
More specifically, the study suggests that prompt delivery and prompt
response to customers' concerns and inquires are important means of
reducing dissatisfaction and increasing customer satisfaction. Many online
companies have not been able to perform their delivery promises due to high
out-of-stock conditions and inefficient delivery operations. To improve order
fulfillment achievement, online companies may choose to focus on
improving demand forecasting accuracy, and/or integration of e-commerce
servers and fulfillment systems (Jedd, 2000).

Interactive communication

Internet-based stores still function in much the same way as traditional
stores. Technical failures have been so common that online shoppers often
need to receive assistance from online companies. As such, prompt response
to customer concerns and inquiries, and interactive communication are
critical in order that consumers might reap the convenience of online
shopping. Since e-mail is an important means of communication for
customers, companies should take steps to insure prompt response to
customers' e-mail inquiries. In order that they might promptly respond to
customers' inquiries, online companies must provide adequate time utility by
providing sufficient numbers of staff and by optimizing internal and external
collaboration.
Equally important, companies should deliver promised services with high
degrees of accountability and accuracy. Online consumers frequently
complain about unreliable customer services. In this regard, inaccurate order
fulfillment is the most-mentioned reason under the ``reliability'' dimension

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695

that results in consumer complaints. One of primary reasons for this poor
fulfillment would be the lack of synchronizing online with offline business
processes. Also, some consumers complained that they did not receive
promised discounts or could not use coupons as the provider had promised.
These service failures are often brought about by miscommunication
between customers and Internet retailers, specifically those relating
transaction terms and conditions.
Shopping experience

Since ``ease of use'' is a primary determinant of customer adoption of a new
information technology (Davis, 1989), it plays a critical role in attracting
both experienced and new online customers. Ease of navigation is essential
for consumers to achieve an enjoyable and efficient shopping experience. As
Rice (1997) has pointed out, for Internet-based shopping to achieve
mass-market penetration, it must be made substantially easier for consumers
to navigate and locate information or content. To facilitate consumer search
for desired products, services, and information, online retailers should fulfill
all the vital functions customers required, design user friendly pages, and
take step to provide adequate information retrieval speed.

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Finally, the trustworthiness and believability of an online retailer can only be
generated through reliable and prompt services. The chance of
miscommunication tends to be high since online customers often lack direct,
face-to-face interaction with service providers. As such, company
representatives should have adequate training, supervision, and motivation to
answer customer inquiries and solve problems within a reasonable time.
Limitations and suggestions for future studies
Despite the fact that the authors carefully selected two qualified customer
review sites, examined each message and attempted to exclude all irrelevant
anecdotes, the nature of content analysis of compliments and complaints
dictates that the study has possible shortcomings. First, the existence of
self-selected samples that are not necessarily representative constitute one
limitation (Ford et al., 1997). The possibility of obtaining biased results from
self-selected samples of Internet consumers might be higher than is
desirable. Second, consumer compliments and complaints generally reflect
extreme dissatisfaction or satisfaction, but may not identify neutral factors
(Johnston, 1995). Therefore, except for the total 14 quality dimensions, some
key attributes may not have been uncovered. However, this study was
designed to explore, in depth, the underlying primary drivers of
Internet-based purchasing service quality. Neutral factors are not necessarily
significant components of the primary drivers category.
Future studies may attempt to compensate for the weaknesses of content
analysis of compliments and complaints. Other measurement methods, such
as mail surveys or focus group interviews, can be utilized to access the
validity of the identified dimensions. Then, those validated quality
dimensions can be purified by employing confirmatory factor analysis. After
mutually exclusive dimensions are identified, the relationship between
service quality dimensions, and overall Internet purchasing service quality
and customer satisfaction can be ascertained more comprehensively.
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&

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This summary has been
provided to allow managers
and executives a rapid
appreciation of the content
of this article. Those with a
particular interest in the
topic covered may then read
the article in toto to take
advantage of the more
comprehensive description
of the research undertaken
and its results to get the full
benefit of the material
present

Executive summary and implications for managers and
executives
Listen to the voice of customers
Online companies have often encountered substantial problems in providing
quality services, partly because the Internet is a relatively new and
unpredictable channel. All firms can improve the quality of the service they
offer by listening to the voice of customers, but this is particularly important
in Internet commerce, where powerful search engines and possibilities for
instant price comparisons increase the importance of competitive
advantages derived from excellent customer services and the advanced
quality of online information systems. Yang et al. analyse more than 1,000
consumer anecdotes of online shopping experiences from consumer-review
Web sites.
Feedback from online customers
Based on these anecdotes, the authors generate 42 items ± ranging from
providing information on products and service to ensuring prompt delivery
and from carrying out continuous improvement of online systems to being
consistently courteous ± that make up the main themes of the overall service
quality of online retailing. The authors classify these items under 14
categories ± responsiveness, credibility, ease of use, reliability, convenience,
communication, access, competence, courtesy, personalization, continuous
improvement, collaboration, security/privacy and aesthetics ± which
represent the main service-quality dimensions.
The critical areas for improvement
Ideally, of course, managers should grant attention to all 14 categories
identified in the study. However, given the resource constraints faced by
most firms, management may elect to focus on the dimensions likely to yield
the highest degree of satisfaction:
.

.
.

.

.

.

responsiveness ± offering prompt delivery and overall service, a timely
response from the company representative and quick solutions to
problems;
credibility ± having a good reputation and inspiring confidence;
ease of use ± having a site that is easily navigated, user friendly, fast,
accessible, easy to check out and that provides the functions customers
need;
reliability ± fulfilling orders accurately, keeping accurate records,
offering correct service in general, keeping the service and promotion
promise, dealing with online transactions accurately and providing any
refunds correctly;
convenience ± offering convenient shopping and the possibility to deliver
or pick up at the store; and
access ± providing easy e-mail or telephone access to company
representatives.

Promptness of delivery and response
More specifically, the study suggests that prompt delivery and response to
customers' concerns and inquiries are important means of reducing
dissatisfaction and increasing satisfaction. Promptness of delivery can be
improved by concentrating on forecasting demand accurately and by
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699

integrating e-commerce servers and fulfilment systems properly. Providing a
prompt response to customers' inquiries and concerns can be achieved by
ensuring that customers can contact the company easily by e-mail or
telephone, and receive a rapid reply. This involves having enough trained
and motivated staff to deal with inquiries and optimising internal and
external collaboration.
Accountability and accuracy
Companies should ensure that they can deliver promised services with a high
degree of accountability and accuracy. Customers frequently complain of
inaccurate order fulfilment. This is often caused by the company failing to
synchronise online and offline business processes. Some customers complain
that they did not receive the promised discounts or could not use coupons as
the provider promised. These service failures often result from
miscommunication between customers and Internet retailers.

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Ease of navigation
Customers must be able to navigate Internet sites easily and locate the
information they want, if Internet-based shopping is to achieve mass-market
penetration. Internet pages should therefore be user-friendly and the site
should operate as speedily as possible.
(A preÂcis of the article ``Services quality dimensions of Internet retailing: an
exploratory analysis''. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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