Nadkarni & Gupta/Task-Based Model of Perceived Website Complexity

RESEARCH ARTICLE

A TASK-BASED MODEL OF PERCEIVED WEBSITE COMPLEXITY1
By: Sucheta Nadkarni College of Business Administration University of Nebraska, Lincoln Lincoln, NE 68588-0491 U.S.A. snadkarn@unlnotes.unl.edu Reetika Gupta College of Business and Economics Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 18015 U.S.A. reg205@lehigh.edu

research have created an important debate: Does complexity enhance or inhibit user experience at a website? In this study, we draw on the task complexity literature to develop a broad and holistic model that examines the antecedents and consequences of PWC. Our results provide two important insights into the relationship between PWC and user outcomes. First, the positive relationship between objective complexity and PWC was moderated by user familiarity. Second, online task goals (goal-directed search and experiential browsing) moderated the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. Specifically, the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction was negative for goal-directed users and inverted-U for experiential users. The implications of this finding for the practice of website design are discussed. Keywords: Perceived website complexity, user perception, website usability

Abstract
In this study, we propose that perceived website complexity (PWC) is central to understanding how sophisticated features of a website (such as animation, audio, video, and rollover effects) affect a visitor’s experience at the site. Although previous research suggests that several elements of perceived complexity (e.g., amount of text, animation, graphics, range and consistency of webpages configuring a website, ease of navigating through it, and clarity of hyperlinks) affect important user outcomes, conflicting results yielded by previous
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Introduction
Businesses spend billions of dollars annually to add a wide range of sophisticated features, such as animation, audio, video, and rollover effects, to improve users’ experience with their websites. However, these features are of value only when online users find them interesting and when the user experience at the website is satisfying. For example, Brynjolfsson and Smith (2000) find that by providing efficient search features at a website, online retailers can charge a price-premium to time-sensitive customers. In contrast, when website features inhibit information search, users do not buy products at the website, resulting in loss of sales for online firms (Hof 2001). Moreover, Kotha, Rajgopal, and Venkata-

Deborah Compeau was the accepting senior editor for this paper. Sue Brown was the associate editor. Dov Te'eni, Vicki McKinney, and Alex Ramirez served as reviewers. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the INFORMS Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2000; American Marketing Association Educators’ Conference, Orlando, FL, 2002; and the OCIS Division of the Academy of Management National Conference, Seattle, WA, 2003.

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chalam (2004) argue that website design layout can provide online retailers cost advantages by reducing the cost of acquiring new customers and the need for expensive offline support as customers navigate the site and help themselves. In other words, website features that provide users a satisfying experience can act as differentiators in a cluttered market place and can provide online retailers with a sustainable competitive advantage (Kotha et al. 2004). Thus, understanding how the information cues presented at a website affect user experience is critical for the success of online companies. We propose that perceived website complexity (PWC) is central to understanding how these information cues affect a user’s experience at the website. There is evidence that elements of PWC affect the degree to which users find a website appealing and satisfying (Geissler et al. 2001; Stevenson et al. 2000). This implies that by effectively managing a website’s level of complexity, a firm can differentiate its website from other sites and produce a compelling navigation experience for users. Drawing on Wood’s (1986) framework of task complexity, we define PWC as a function of three facets: component (density and dissimilarity of visual features such as text, graphics, video, and animation presented at a website), coordinative (range of topics covered by the website and interrelationships between these topics), and dynamic (ambiguity and clarity of actionoutcome relationship in a hyperlink). Research suggests that several elements of PWC (e.g., amount of text, animation, graphics, range and consistency of webpages configuring a website, ease of navigating through it, and clarity of hyperlinks) affect important user outcomes such as perceived web-information and web-system quality (McKinney et al. 2002), perceived ease of use (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002), communication effectiveness (Geissler et al. 2001), and satisfaction (Stevenson et al. 2000). However, a particularly important debate remains unresolved. Results of some studies suggest that simple websites are easy to use and effective (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Shneiderman 1998), whereas others suggest that complexity increases the richness of information presentation and thereby enhances user satisfaction (Palmer 2002). In addition, other studies suggest an inverted-U relationship between website complexity and communication effectiveness (Geissler et al. 2001; Stevenson et al. 2000). Because different studies present conflicting findings, it is unclear whether complexity enhances or inhibits user experience at a website. We attempt to address this question by theorizing that user familiarity and online task goals play important roles in determining how PWC affects an important user outcome, user satisfaction. The model of PWC developed in our study clarifies the relationship between complexity and user outcomes in two

ways. First, we distinguish between objective website complexity and PWC. Our study shows that the relationship between objective website complexity and PWC is moderated by user familiarity. Second, our study demonstrates that online task goals—goal-directed (focused on information gathering to achieve a predetermined end goal) and experiential (focused on information browsing for recreation and navigational experience) (Hoffman and Novak 1996; Schlosser 2003; Te'eni and Feldman 2001)—are important in understanding the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. We show that the PWC–user satisfaction relationship is different for goal-directed and experiential users as the two online task goals induce users to adopt separate mechanisms in interacting with the online environment. An important implication of our results is that web designers need to create websites that can accommodate different levels of complexity in order to maximize the satisfaction of both goal-directed and experiential users. Taken as a whole, the comprehensive set of antecedent and outcome relationships of PWC examined in this study can provide useful insights for web evaluation and design.

Theory Development
Definition of Perceived Website Complexity
We use Wood’s (1986) comprehensive framework of task complexity to define perceived website complexity. This task-based framework is especially important for the online environment, where users visit websites mainly to fulfill task goals such as goal-directed search and experiential browsing (Hoffman and Novak 1996; Novak et al. 2003). Wood contends that information cues (pieces of information about the stimulus that individuals must process in performing a task) are central to understanding perceived complexity. For online users, websites are the primary medium through which they interact with the information cues in the online environment to achieve their online task goals. Because websites represent a major task stimulus for online users (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Venkatesh and Agarwal 2006; Hoffman and Novak 1996; McKinney et al. 2002; Palmer 2002), information cues (e.g., text, animation, hypertext structure, and navigation tools) presented at a website are central to online users’ perceptions of task complexity. Wood specifies perceived complexity (TCt) as a linear combination of three dimensions that capture distinct elements of the information cues that make up a task stimulus: component (TC1), coordinative (TC2), and dynamic (TC3): TCt = "TC1 + $TC2 + (TC3

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Perceived component complexity refers to the users’ perceptions of the density and dissimilarity of information cues in the task stimulus. A task stimulus with dense and dissimilar information cues is perceived as more complex than one with sparse information cues. For a website, dense cues are represented by long text, many images, and colors; whereas dissimilarity is reflected in the use of varied formats (e.g., text, graphics, and animation) such as dissimilar graphics and dissimilar information items on a webpage. Perceived coordinative complexity describes users’ perceptions of the range of and interdependencies among the different information clusters (groups or chunks of related topics) in the task stimulus. The wider the range of information clusters and interrelationships among the clusters, the greater the perceptions of coordinative complexity. For a website, high coordinative complexity is reflected in a wide range of topics covered by the website, high number of webpages configuring a website, and many paths linking webpages. Perceived dynamic complexity refers to the ambiguity (number of different possible interpretations of the same piece of information) and uncertainty (clarity of action–outcome relationships) that individuals face in performing a task. Ambiguous hyperlinks and search procedures and unpredictable click streams can increase the dynamic complexity of a website. Previous literature posits that simultaneous sources of complexity, from all of the elements of a stimulus, are perceptually integrated to produce a general level of perceived complexity (Berlyne 1960; Wood 1986). Thus, we treat PWC as a unified aggregate construct and test our model for the aggregate PWC rather than for individual facets of PWC (component, coordinative, and dynamic).

sentation formats, multimedia and search tools, hierarchical menu structure, and download time for webpages) and has its roots in the system design literature (Bucy et al. 1999; Nielsen 2000; Schubert and Selz 1998; Shneiderman 1998). In contrast, perceived complexity is rooted in the human– computer interaction (HCI) literature and captures users’ personal interpretation of the website and their interaction with it (e.g., how uncertain and ambiguous users find the hyperlinks, how dense and dissimilar users find the information cues presented at a website) (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; McKinney et al. 2002; Te'eni 1989, 2001). The central tenet of the perceived complexity literature is that users may perceive the same level of objective complexity differently because of their different backgrounds and experience.

PWC and Web Evaluation Outcomes
Web evaluation studies suggest that elements of component (e.g., amount of text, animation, and graphics on webpages), coordinative (e.g., range and consistency of webpages configuring a website), and dynamic complexity (e.g., ease of navigating through it and clarity of hyperlinks) that make up PWC determine important user outcomes such as webinformation and web-system quality (McKinney et al. 2002), perceived ease of use (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Davis 1989; Venkatesh 2000; Venkatesh et al. 2003), communication effectiveness (Geissler et al. 2001), and satisfaction (Stevenson et al. 2000). However, the varied interpretations resulting from these studies have produced controversy as to whether PWC increases or hinders user satisfaction at a website. One stream of research suggests that PWC increases the richness of information presentation, thereby providing a rich and satisfying experience (Hall and Hanna 2004; Nack et al. 2001; Palmer 2002). Other research suggests that PWC creates confusion and frustration in users, resulting in a negative impact on key user outcomes such as perceived ease of use (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Shneiderman 1998; Venkatesh 2000; Venkatesh et al. 2003). A third stream suggests an inverted-U relationship between PWC and user outcomes, such that low levels of PWC create boredom for users, whereas high levels of PWC create confusion and conflict for users (Geissler et al. 2001; Stevenson et al. 2000). Thus, this research posits that medium levels of PWC maximize user satisfaction by arousing users’ curiosity and engaging them in the navigation process without excessively burdening them. We address this theoretical conflict regarding website complexity by developing a broad and holistic model that integrates objective website complexity, PWC, user familiarity, online task goals, and user satisfaction. We discuss this model in the following section.

Objective Complexity and Perceived Complexity
The literature on task complexity distinguishes between objective and perceived complexity of a task stimulus (Campbell 1988; Earley 1985; Te'eni 1989, 2001; Wood 1986). The objective complexity is defined by the number and configuration of information cues in the stimulus itself, whereas perceived complexity, which is based on the individual’s perception of the stimulus, focuses on the person– stimulus interaction. The web evaluation literature also treats objective and perceived complexity as distinct constructs capturing different facets of websites. Objective complexity is defined by a universal set of design characteristics that encompass the technological aspects of a website (e.g., pre-

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Objective Website Complexity H1 User Familiarity H2
Component Complexity

PWC

Coordinative Complexity

Online task goals: Goal-directed vs. Experiential

H3, H3a, H3b

Dynamic Complexity

User Satisfaction

Figure 1. Theoretical Model of Perceived Website Complexity

Hypotheses
Drawing on the task complexity literature (Campbell 1984, 1988; Campbell and Gingrich 1986; Early 1985; Wood 1986), we develop a model (shown in Figure 1) that examines the antecedents and consequences of PWC. We propose that (1) PWC mediates the relationship between objective complexity and user satisfaction, (2) user familiarity moderates the relationship between objective complexity and PWC, and (3) online task goals moderate the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. Thus our model addresses how user familiarity and online task goals determine the varying relationships between objective complexity, PWC, and user satisfaction. We discuss each of these propositions in the following sections.

1985; Lindsay and Norman 1977; Wood 1986). This cognitive load translates into the perceived complexity of the information cues in the task environment. When individuals face information cues, they spend cognitive resources to encode the cues and decide how to respond to these cues (Lindsay and Norman 1977). Objectively complex cues require significantly more cognitive resources to encode and respond to than simple cues. Because users have limited cognitive resources, the excessive information processing demands of objectively complex cues may create cognitive overload. The notion of cognitive load (Lindsay and Norman 1977) is consistent with Miller’s (1956) seminal work on “the magical number seven, plus or minus two,” which suggests that human working memory can hold up to seven bits of information, plus or minus two, at one time. This limitation of human information processing in short-term memory requires that displays be kept simple by minimizing animation, wild background patterns, and contrasting text colors; that multiple page displays be consolidated; and that windowmotion frequency be reduced (Nielsen 1994; Shneiderman 1998). Thus, simple layout, clear content, and straightforward navigation procedures reduce the cognitive strain on users. When users experience less cognitive strain in interacting with a website, they are likely to find it less complex. Hypothesis 1: Objective website complexity will be positively related to PWC.

Objective Website Complexity and PWC
The task complexity literature contends that perceived complexity mediates the relationship between objective complexity and task outcomes. Thus, it is perceived and not objective complexity that directly affects user outcomes. Objective complexity of a task influences the cognitive load associated with performing the task—the information processing effort that individuals need to spend in order to see and understand information cues in the task stimulus (Campbell 1984, 1988; Campbell and Gingrich 1986; Early

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User Familiarity
The task complexity literature suggests that the relationship between objective complexity and perceived complexity is a function of the individual’s familiarity with the task stimulus and/or task domain (Campbell 1988; Earley 1985; Huber 1985; Jacoby et al. 1971; Keisler and Sproull 1982; Taylor 1981). Familiarity increases individuals’ tolerance of complexity by (1) allowing them to better understand interrelationships between elements of the task stimulus and (2) helping them to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the task stimulus. Individuals familiar with the task stimulus or domain have superior knowledge of a given task stimulus than others have, which allows them to develop a better understanding of the relationships between different elements of that task stimulus (Cox and Cox 1988; Hong et al. 2002; Russo and Johnson 1980). Individuals familiar with the task stimulus or domain can encode new information in the task stimulus more efficiently than other individuals can. Results of recent studies support the conclusion that the richer store of knowledge possessed by users familiar with the web contributes to a clearer and better understanding of the content, organization, and browsing procedures of the website or the products offered than is possible for individuals who are unfamiliar with the web (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Cox and Cox 2002). Thus, for the same level of objective website complexity, users familiar with the websites or products available at the website may experience less PWC than unfamiliar users. A critical facet of processing task-related information is the ability to select relevant information while ignoring information irrelevant to the task at hand (Berlyne 1970; Larkin et al. 1985). Individuals familiar with a task stimulus or task domain may use their domain knowledge to limit their attention to task-related information, thus minimizing their cognitive efforts toward redundant information at a website. Therefore, we expect that familiarity will moderate the relationship between objective complexity and PWC. Hypothesis 2: User familiarity will moderate the relationship between objective website complexity and PWC such that, for the same level of objective website complexity, the PWC ratings of users familiar with the website or products available at a website will be lower than those of users not familiar with the website or products available at a website.

PWC, Online Task Goals, and User Satisfaction
The concept of user satisfaction occupies a central position in information systems as well as web evaluation research. Information systems studies have shown that when users are satisfied with a system, they are more likely to use the system (Delone and McLean 1992). User satisfaction is also central to website evaluation research (Palmer 2002; Te'eni and Feldman 2001). When users experience satisfaction at a website, they are likely to return to the website (Hoffman and Novak 1996; Te'eni and Feldman 2001), purchase products at the website, and recommend the website to others (McKinney et al. 2002). Conversely, when users are dissatisfied with the website, they are likely to develop a negative impression of the website, which is likely to hurt the overall image of the website and online sales through the website. In other words, user satisfaction is critical to website success. Thus, we chose user satisfaction as the outcome in our model of PWC. We posit that online task goals will play a significant role in determining the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction with the website. Researchers have classified online task goals into two distinct categories: goal-directed and experiential (Hoffman and Novak 1996; Novak et al. 2003; Schlosser 2003; Te'eni and Feldman 2001). A goal-directed activity consists of using the Internet for its informative value and purchase utility, such as directly searching for specific information to accomplish a task or to reduce purchase uncertainty, whereas an experiential goal refers to browsing the website in a relatively unstructured manner for recreational purposes. Research suggests that goal-directed and experiential task goals induce users to adopt separate mechanisms as they interact with the online environment (Hoffman and Novak 1996; Schlosser 2003), implying that PWC may interact with online task goals to modify users’ satisfaction with the website. Goal-directed users have a clearly definable goal hierarchy, putting more effort into reaching the end goal rather than into undirected exploration. Goal-directed users consider challenge a deterrent to their main effort, as they do not want to expend unnecessary effort in processing challenging information (Wolfinbarger and Gilly 2001). As the complex cues in the environment shift goal-directed users’ attention away from their end-goals, medium and high levels of PWC may pose a challenge to these users. Therefore, we predict that the distraction experienced by goal-directed users at medium and high levels of PWC may decrease their satisfaction at the website. On the other hand, goal-directed users will experi-

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ence satisfaction at low levels of PWC, characterized by few information cues and clusters, and by clear, unambiguous hyperlinks. Such a relatively uncluttered and easily navigable environment facilitates the efficient scanning of goal-relevant information. In contrast, experiential users are not guided by a specific end outcome. They adopt a spontaneous stance, focusing on the process of exploration (Schlosser 2003; Wolfinbarger and Gilly 2001). Because of this focus, they seek a higher level of challenge and put greater effort into processing challenging information. Accordingly, we predict that experiential users will derive satisfaction from websites with medium levels of PWC, whose multitude of cues and clusters and ambiguous hyperlinks provide them with the stimulating and challenging environment that they seek. This supports the stimulus complexity view (Berlyne 1960), which posits that medium levels of complexity provide the ideal scenario to users. Experiential users will not be satisfied with low-PWC websites because these do not provide the engagement and challenge that they need in order to enjoy the browsing process. However, at very high levels of PWC, experiential users will experience confusion and conflict, and ultimately low satisfaction levels, as they lack the resources needed to process the excessive number of cues and clusters and the completely ambiguous information. We therefore expect the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction to be different for goal-directed and experiential users. Hypothesis 3: Online task goals will moderate the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. Hypothesis 3a: There will be a negative relationship between PWC and user satisfaction for goal-directed users. Hypothesis 3b: There will be an inverted-U relationship between PWC and user satisfaction for experiential users.

used the construct measures developed in the pilot phase to test our hypotheses. We describe each phase briefly in the following paragraphs. Pilot Phase Because we drew on measures of PWC from different research areas, the pilot phase was important to ensure that these measures were relevant to our online website context and to allow for modification of the wording of measurement items, making them meaningful to online users. We developed the PWC scale in the pilot phase through a series of steps. First, on the basis of a thorough search of the website evaluation, HCI, and information systems literatures, we identified existing measurement items that fit the definitions of component, coordinative, and dynamic complexity. This literature search yielded 22 items—15 web-specific and 7 not specific to websites (Cox and Cox 1988; Daft and Lengel 1986; Kieras and Polson 1985). Second, we conducted a free-association task (Aaker 1997) to ensure that the measurement items comprehensively captured our specified constructs and they were meaningful to people (Aaker 1997; Bagozzi 1980). We asked 40 subjects (mean age = 23, female = 30 percent) to write down complexity characteristics that first came to mind when thinking about the three websites that they most often visited. We used the specific characteristics yielded by the free-association task to recast the 22 items in a language meaningful to website users. Third, we conducted a Q-sort analysis to qualitatively validate the dimensionality of the 22 items (Anderson and Gerbing 1991; Bagozzi 1980). We provided three professors and two web designers the definitions of component, coordinative, and dynamic complexity and the 22 measurement scales and asked them to sort the scales by the construct (W = 0.81). Fourth, we pilot tested the questionnaire on a voluntarily recruited pool of 50 undergraduates and 30 web experts (website designers and researchers) using 6 websites representing high (2), medium (2), and low (2) levels of objective complexity (which were a subset of websites used in the testing phase) and online task goals (goal-directed and experiential) similar to the ones used in the testing phase of the study. We did not provide any time limit for task completion in the pilot. However, we asked the pilot subjects to answer the total time that they typically spend on a website for both searching and browsing. The pilot subjects suggested that they spend between 20 and 25 minutes at the website for both browsing and searching, which is consistent with the findings of previous web evaluation studies (e.g., Agarwal and Venkatesh

Research Methods
Research Design and Data Collection
The design of this study comprises two phases: pilot and testing. In the pilot phase, we developed the PWC measures and conducted preliminary testing of the reliability and validity of our construct measures. In the testing phase, we

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2002). After completing the pilot questionnaire, each respondent reviewed all questions for content, clarity, meaningfulness, and the ability to measure the construct (Bagozzi 1980). We also used item-total correlation and discrimination based on the t-statistic to eliminate redundant items (Churchill 1979). Items with low item-total correlations (two items: 0.25, n.s. and 0.19, n.s.) and nonsignificant t-statistic (same two items: 1.07, n.s. and 1.24, n.s.) between the ratings of respondents above 74th percentile and those below the 26th percentile were eliminated. Based on these results of the pilot test, we retained 20 items for the testing phase of the study. In the pilot phase, we also conducted a preliminary analysis of the dimensionality and validity of other construct measures before using them in the testing phase. In the exploratory factor analyses on a sample of 80 subjects, consistent with previous literature, the user familiarity construct yielded two dimensions (factor 1: eigen value = 3.24, factor loadings = 0.82, 0.86; factor 2: eigen value = 2.84, factor loadings = 0.84, 0.88) explaining 79 percent of the variance. Consistent with our conceptualization of PWC, the 20 items of PWC yielded three dimensions—component (eigen value = 4.51), coordinative (eigen value = 3.67), and dynamic (eigen value = 2.98)—that explained 84 percent of the variance. The factor loadings on each factor ranged from 0.82 to 0.93. Finally, consistent with McKinney et al. (2002), the user satisfaction scale yielded a single factor (eigen value = 3.95) explaining 78 percent of the variance in the pilot study. The results provide preliminary evidence of validity for our construct measures.

ponent complexity: t = 1.14, n.s.; coordinative complexity: t = 1.05, n.s.; dynamic complexity: t = 0.97, n.s.; product familiarity: t = 1.18, n.s.; website familiarity: t = 1.03, n.s.; user satisfaction: t = 0.95, n.s.). Therefore, we combined the two samples to test our model (n = 452). We used the same procedures for all subjects. Student volunteers were recruited for the study by circulation of a notice describing the experiment to students from the sections of a senior-level required course in business policies and of a junior-level required introductory course in marketing (participation rate: 89 percent). Nonstudent volunteers were recruited by circulating the notice to visitors of a local community public library (participation rate: 78 percent). We collected the data in a computer laboratory setting for all subjects by using Dell computers with Windows XP, and comparable hard drive space and RAM. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two online task goal conditions (goal-directed and experiential) and one of three objective complexity conditions (high, medium, and low). Each participant was given an instruction sheet that explained the specific task assigned (goal-directed or experiential) and that instructed him/her to visit the site for 20 minutes (based on previous web evaluation studies and pilot results), to complete the task assigned, and to complete the questionnaire (which had been placed in a sealed envelope under the instruction sheet) after completing the task.

Objective Website Complexity Conditions
Testing Phase In the testing phase, we collected data from 332 undergraduate students at a major eastern (170) and a major midwestern (162) university to test our hypotheses. Most of the subjects (67 percent) were 18 to 24 years old and 43 percent of the subjects were female. All subjects had over 3 years of experience in using the Internet, and their weekly Internet use ranged from 4 to 10 hours. To ensure that results were not idiosyncratic to student subjects, we replicated the study with subjects drawn from the population at large, collecting data from 120 nonstudent subjects (male: 75, female: 45) belonging to the age groups 9 to 14 years (40) and 30 to 60 years (80). Subjects, who regularly visited the library in the local community, comprised a cross-section of people from different educational backgrounds and had an average age of 42. We used the unpaired t-test (n = 452) to determine whether there were significant differences in our study variables between the two samples. There were no differences in the results obtained with the two samples (comWe used a series of steps to select websites representing high, medium and low levels of objective complexity. First, we randomly selected from Yahoo! Directories 150 websites representing 10 product categories: travel, auction, entertainment, news or media, sports, computer hardware components, office software, auto, astronomy, and fertilizers. Using multiple stimuli (e.g., websites) to represent the treatment cells decreases the likelihood of skewed results and potential confounds and increases the robustness and generalizability of the results (Aaker 1997; Cox and Cox 2002). Based on a thorough review of the web design literature, we identified 13 objective complexity metrics that capture the underlying technological characteristics of website design (hypertext structure and presentation) and that are relevant to component (e.g., percentage of white space, graphics count and size, word count, color count), coordinative (e.g., number of webpages, average depth of pages, average internal and external, and same page links on the webpage, and coefficient of variation in the number of presentation forms such as text,

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graphics, and video), and dynamic complexity (e.g., average pop-up advertisements per webpage, average webpage download time, number of support tools such as site map, search option and help links) (Bucy et al. 1999; Nielsen 2000; Palmer 2002; Schubert and Selz 1998; Shneiderman 1998). We acknowledge that objective complexity measures do not have a perfect mapping with measures of component, coordinative, and dynamic complexity because, as discussed earlier, objective complexity and PWC have roots in different streams of literature and encompass different assumptions about complexity. However, we chose objective complexity measures that were relevant to the three facets of PWC. For example, the objective complexity measures of “pop-up advertisements,” “page download time,” and “support tools” are relevant to dynamic complexity; the higher the number of pop-up advertisements and page download time, the higher the uncertainty (dynamic complexity) associated with the links on the webpages. On the other hand, the higher the support tools available at a website, the lower the uncertainty associated (dynamic complexity) with the links on the webpage. We used a web metrics software package to calculate the 13 complexity measures. We then computed an aggregate measure of objective complexity2 (coefficient " = 0.79) based on the mean z scores of the 13 variables. Such formative treatment of objective complexity is consistent with the web design literature cited above. We then classified the 150 websites into high (top 33.33 percentile: 50 websites), medium (middle 33.33 percentile) and low (bottom 33.33 percentile) objective complexity levels. Thirty experienced web designers rated the degree to which each of the ten objective metrics makes the website complex (seven-point scale: not complex at all, 1; neutral, 4; highly complex, 7) based on “universal web design principles” to define robust factor levels. Each website was rated by three designers. There was a high correlation between the objective metrics and designers’ ratings (ranging from 0.59, p < 0.001 to 0.91, p < 0.0001) for the 150 websites. We selected the final websites in two stages. First, the websites’ level of complexity were categorized as high, medium, and low based on objective metrics as well as on ratings of the designers. Second, websites were chosen so that the number

of websites in each complexity level was equal for the three categories. This process yielded a total of 48 websites—16 in each complexity level. The 48 websites represented eight product categories: travel, auction, news or media, sports, computer hardware components, office software, auto, and astronomy. We developed a categorical variable of objective website complexity (high, medium, and low) rather than continuous individual measures to ensure an adequate number of subjects per treatment cell (Churchill and Surprenant 1982). We used ANOVA and mean-difference tests to confirm that there was a significant difference in aggregate objective complexity metrics measured across the three levels (F = 19.21, p < 0.001).

Online Task Goal Conditions
We designed the two online task goal conditions—goaldirected and experiential—based on existing, valid manipulations (Novak et al. 2003; Schlosser 2003). Those assigned to a goal-directed task condition were instructed to go to their site with “the goal of efficiently finding something specific within that site” (Schlosser 2003, p. 188). Those assigned to the experiential task goal condition were instructed to “have fun, looking at whatever you consider interesting or entertaining.” What to look for was not specified, so that goaldirected and experiential users would have similarly heterogeneous information needs. Thus, both goal-directed and experiential users could adapt their experience to match their own information or entertainment needs (Schlosser 2003). To ensure that users viewed the website in the light of the assigned online task goal, we designed a scale of manipulation check for the two task conditions based on codes constructed by Novak et al. (2003). We show the items in the manipulation check scale in Table 1. Goal-directed users reported a significantly lower score (M = 2.71) than experiential users (M = 3.80; F = 29.17; p < .001) on the manipulation scale, suggesting that they were more focused and had an identifiable purpose. The scale was an agree–disagree scale where 1 suggested “high goal-directedness” and 7 “low goal-directedness.”

Measures
2

We also conducted partial least squares analyses in which we measured objective website complexity as follows, which is in line with our definition of PWC: TCt = "TC1 + $TC2 + (TC3. We then classified the 48 websites into high (top 33.33 percentile), medium (middle 33.33 percentile), and low (bottom 33.33 percentile). Because this classification of websites based on PLS analyses matched completely the classification based on the objective complexity measure based on the mean z-scores of the 13 metrics, we do not include this analysis in the paper.

Perceived Website Complexity We used the 20-item scale developed in the pilot phase to measure PWC. We show the 20 items and the supporting literature in Table 1 and illustrate them graphically in Appendix A .

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Table 1. Theoretically Derived Measurement Scales of Component, Coordinative, and Dynamic Complexity
Construct Definition Component Complexity: The degree to which users find the form and content cues at the individual webpages visually dense and dissimilar Theoretical Dimensions Similarity/ dissimilarity (Berlyne 1960) Website Complexity Measures of Each Theoretical Dimension 1. The clarity between text and images was High (1) – Low (7) 2. The images (or graphics) on the webpages were Similar (1) – Dissimilar (7) 3. The information items on the webpages were Similar (1) – Dissimilar (7) 4. The text on the webpages was Short (1) – Long (7) 5. The webpage backgrounds were Not visually dense at all (1) – Visually Dense (7) 6. The graphics on the webpages were Not visually dense at all (1) – Visually dense (7) 7. The layout of the webpages was Not visually dense at all (1) – Visually dense (7) 1. The range of the alternative links to find information was Broad (1) – Narrow (7) 2. The choice of both image and text clicks was Broad (1) – Narrow (7) 3. The variety of information clusters (groups of related information) was Low (1) – High (7) 4. The links at the website were Logical (1) – Illogical (7) 5. The layout across the webpages was Uniform (1) – Not Uniform at all (7) 6. The backgrounds across the webpages were Uniform (1) – Not Uniform at all (7) 7. The information clusters (groups of related information) were Interrelated (1) – Not at all interrelated (7) 1. Procedures to browse the websites were Unclear (1) – Clear (7) 2. Hyperlinks on the website were Unambiguous (1) – Ambiguous (7) 3. Information presented on the websites was Unambiguous (1) – Ambiguous (7) 4. Information on the succeeding links from the initial page was Predictable (1) – Unpredictable (7) 5. Individual links took me to desired webpages: Always (1) – Never (7) 6. Information presented on the website was Uncertain (1) – Certain (7) 1. Percentage of white space: Percentage of a page not taken up by text and graphics 2. Graphics count: The mean number of graphics on the webpages 3. Graphics size: The mean size of the graphics on the webpages 4. Word count: The mean number of words on the webpages 5. Color count: The mean number of colors on the webpages 6. Average number of different presentation forms used on a webpage (text, graphics, video, audio, animation) Bucy et al. 1999 Geissler et al. 2001 Nielsen 1994, 2000 Palmer 2002 Perrow 1986 Schubert and Selz 1998 Shneiderman 1998 Took 1990 Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002 Daft and Lengel 1986 Ha and James 1998 Kieras and Polson 1985 McKinney et al. 2002 Nielsen 2000 Palmer 2002 Schubert and Selz 1998 Shneiderman 1998 Steuer 1992 Source of Items Geissler et al. 2001 Stevenson et al. 2000

Visual density (Berlyne 1960; Campbell 1988)

Coordinative Complexity: Users’ perceptions of the range of and the degree of connectedness among the information clusters at a website

Range (Campbell 1988; Wood 1986)

Connectedness/ Interrelationships (Steinmann 1976)

Dynamic Complexity: Users’ perceptions of ambiguity of hyperlinks and uncertainty of the relationship between the hyperlink and the ensuing webpages Objective Website Complexity

Ambiguity (Campbell 1988)

Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002 McKinney et al. 2002 Oinas-Kukkonen 1998 Palmer 2002 Steuer 1992 Te’eni 2001

Action-outcome Uncertainty (March and Simon 1958)

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Table 1. Theoretically Derived Measurement Scales of Component, Coordinative, and Dynamic Complexity (Continued)
Construct Definition Theoretical Dimensions Website Complexity Measures of Each Theoretical Dimension 7. Average internal, external and same page links on the webpage 8. Number of webpages configuring a website 9. Average depth of pages: The average number of pages from a home page to a page with no more forward links or only links external to the website 10. Coefficient of variation in the number of different presentation forms (e.g., text, graphics, video, audio, animation) used across webpages 11. Average pop-up advertisements per webpage 12. Average webpage download time 13. Number of support tools (e.g., site map, search option, help links) Familiarity Product familiarity 1. My knowledge of the product/s served by the website is: Very Low (1) – High (7) 2. I have used the products served by the website: Very often (1) – Never (7) 3. My knowledge of the website is: Very High (1) – Low (7) 4. I have visited the website: Never (1) – Very often (7) When I was at the XX website….. 1. I had a distinct identifiable purpose: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 2. I was looking up specific information: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 3. I was very focused: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 4. I was absorbed in finding specific information: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 5. I was clicking often and went to many different webpages: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 6. I was absorbed in seeing where I could go next: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 7. I was randomly surfing through the website: Strongly agree (1) – Strongly disagree (7) 1. After using this website, I am: Very dissatisfied (1) – Very satisfied (7) 2. After using this website, I am: Very displeased (1) – Very pleased (7) 3. Using this website made me: Frustrated (1) – Contented (7) 4. After using this website, I feel: Terrible (1) – Delighted (7) 5. After using this website, I will: Never recommend it to my friends (1) – Strongly recommend it to my friends (7) 6. After using this website, I will: Never use it again (1) – Most likely use it again (7) Novak et al. 2003 Cox and Cox 1988, 2002 Hong et al. 2002 Source of Items

Website familiarity Online Task Goal Manipulation Check Goal-directed and Experiential

User Satisfaction

McKinney et al. 2002

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Appendix A1 illustrates websites with high and low perceived component complexity based on visual density and dissimilarity. The website with low component complexity has sparse information cues (use of fewer graphics and colors) presented in a single format (text only and content of the items is related), whereas the one with high component complexity has visually dense information cues (long text, many graphics, and colors) presented in different formats (use of text, graphics, and video; dissimilar graphics; dissimilarity of content items on the same webpage—movie trailer, cooking, news, weather, directories). Appendix A2 illustrates websites with high and low perceived coordinative complexity based on the range of information clusters and the interrelationships between them. The coordinatively simple website includes few information clusters (e.g., top stories, world, domestic country, business, science technology, and sports) with few interrelationships between information clusters (e.g., few click choices in that only headlines can be clicked, uniformity in layout across webpages). On the other hand, the coordinatively complex website covers a broad range of information clusters (e.g., more news topics, more external links to domestic and international news sources) and many interrelationships between information clusters (e.g., more click choices—both headlines and photos can be clicked, layout across webpages is not uniform). Appendix A3 demonstrates the ambiguity and uncertainty with elements of perceived dynamic complexity. In Appendix A3, icons that resemble the shopping carts used in real stores allow users to clearly interpret the hyperlink, based on their experiences in a real store, resulting in low levels of perceived ambiguity with the hyperlink. In contrast, icons that resemble “normal bags” or a “line of interlocked shopping carts” may produce confusion and multiple interpretations of what a hyperlink represents, creating high levels of perceived ambiguity associated with the link. Similarly, in Appendix A3, by clicking on the “Chicago Bears@Green Bay packers at Lambeau field” link, users expect to reach a webpage where they can place a bid for these specific tickets, as is shown in the certain link. However, in the case of the uncertain link, when a user reaches an external webpage (Joe’s Green Bay Packers’ corner) that does not allow him/her to place the bid, the individual action-outcome expectancy is not met. This increases users’ perception of uncertainty associated with this hyperlink. The final design of the questionnaire, including clarity and specification of instructions, choice of rating scales, reverse coding and sequencing of items, was based on suggestions to reduce method bias (Torangeau 1999; Williams and Anderson 1994).

User Familiarity The literature has identified two measures of familiarity: knowledge/expertise and exposure (Cox and Cox 2002; Hong et al. 2002; Jacoby et al. 1971; Johnson and Russo 1984; Russo and Johnson 1980). We measured product familiarity by the user’s knowledge of the product and frequency of product use and we measured website familiarity by the user’s knowledge of the website and frequency of visits to it. Based on previous research and results of the pilot study, we defined user familiarity as a higher order factor comprising two dimensions: product familiarity and website familiarity (Law and Wong 1998). User Satisfaction We adapted the six-item scale of user satisfaction developed by McKinney et al. (2002) (shown in Table 1). This scale is especially useful for our study for three reasons. First, it was developed specifically for websites, which is the focus of our study. Second, it measures users’ overall satisfaction with the website rather than their satisfaction with specific attributes of the website. Third, the psychometric properties of this scale indicated promising validity and reliability in a previous study (McKinney et al. 2002) as well as in our pilot study. Control Variables We controlled for several variables that may serve as alternative explanations of variance in PWC and user satisfaction. First, a potential alternative explanation of PWC and user satisfaction is initial likeability. Grush (1976) suggests that likeability of initially liked stimulus tends to improve with exposure, whereas that of initially disliked stimulus declines. We also controlled for the users’ liking of the products served by the website. For example, users who are movie enthusiasts are likely to find a movie site usable regardless of website complexity (perceived or objective) and user familiarity. Thus, in our empirical analyses, we controlled for the initial liking of the website and the products it serves. Because the two measures were highly correlated (r = 0.61, p < 0.001), we created a composite measure of initial liking. We also controlled for four individual demographics (gender, age, education, and Internet experience) that have been shown to affect users’ perceptions of and attitudes toward computerrelated technologies in general and websites specifically. Several HCI and web evaluation studies have shown that males and females interact differently with, and have different attitudes toward, computer-related technologies in general

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(Harrison and Rainer 1992; Wilder et al. 1985) and websites in particular (Venkatesh and Agarwal 2006), and these differences may lead to differences in perceptions of website complexity and user satisfaction. Studies have also shown that younger users hold more positive attitudes toward computers than do older users (Harrison and Rainer 1992; Venkatesh and Agarwal 2006), which may lead to differences in perceptions of website complexity and user satisfaction between older and younger users. Several HCI studies have found that education is positively related to favorable computer attitude and negatively related to computer anxiety (Harrison and Rainer 1992; Igbaria and Parasuraman 1989). Thus, users with higher education are likely to be more tolerant of complexity and find the websites more satisfying than users with lower education levels. Finally, because Internet experience positively affects attitudes toward websites and anxiety in navigation (Hong et al. 2002), experienced Internet users are likely to be more tolerant of complexity and find complex websites more satisfying than less experienced users.

1998). Then, in line with the work of Chin et al. (2003), we represented LIVs by creating all possible products from the two set of indicators. Finally, we used the LIV, objective website complexity × familiarity, to estimate the interaction effect of familiarity and we used the LIVs, PWC × online task goals, and PWC² × online task goals, to estimate the interaction effect of online task goals in the structural model (Chin et al. 2003; Kenny and Judd 1984).

Results
Assessment of Measures
The descriptive statistics of the constructs are shown in Table 2. As mentioned earlier, results of unpaired t-tests suggested no significant differences between the student and the nonstudent samples. We assessed the reliability of individual items by inspecting the loadings of the items on their corresponding construct (Chin 1998) and their internal consistency values (Fornell and Larcker 1981). As shown in Table 3, all measures satisfied requirements for reliability (reliability greater than 0.70). The internal consistency values for all constructs (Table 3) exceed the 0.70 guideline that Nunnally (1978) recommends. We assessed the discriminant validity of the first-order constructs by assessing their cross-loadings on other constructs. The range of cross-loadings shown in Table 3 is considerably lower than the corresponding factor loadings. These results support the discriminant validity of all first order construct measures. For the second-order factor of PWC, the structural coefficients of component (0.85), coordinative (0.83), and dynamic complexity (0.75) were considerably higher than the recommended value of 0.70 (Chin 1998). The two subdimensions of product (0.87) and website (0.81) familiarity also loaded highly on the second-order factor, user familiarity. The interfactor correlations (component–coordinative: 0.35; component–dynamic: 0.37; coordinative–dynamic: 0.34) were considerably lower than the structural coefficients of PWC. Similarly, the inter-factor correlations between website and product familiarity (0.45) were lower than the structural coefficients of user familiarity. Collectively, these results provide evidence of reliability and validity for the higher order factors.

Data Analyses
We used partial least squares to analyze the data (Chin 1998; Venkatesh and Morris 2000). The categorical measures of objective website complexity, online task goals, and the interaction variables in our model violate the multivariate normality required by maximum likelihood estimation. PLS is particularly useful for our study because it is robust to nonnormal data distribution (Chin 1998). We used the measurement variables to generate first order factor scores (objective complexity, product familiarity, website familiarity, component complexity, coordinative complexity, dynamic complexity, and user satisfaction). We estimated second order factor scores for PWC and user familiarity using the repeated indicators method based on the hierarchical component model suggested by Wold (1981). This method is especially suited for our study because it can estimate formative indicators such as those of PWC and user familiarity and works best when the number of indicators is approximately equal for each construct (which is the case for the subconstructs of both PWC and user familiarity) (Chin et al. 2003). Before estimating the structural models, we created three latent interaction variables (LIVs): objective complexity × familiarity, PWC × online task goals, and PWC² × online task goals. First, to reduce inflation in path coefficients, we standardized and centered the indicators of each construct (Chin

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Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Cross-Sample Differences in Study Constructs
Descriptive Statistics Undergraduate Sample (n = 332) Mean SD 4.05 1.89 4.21 1.75 4.29 1.94 4.22 1.55 4.11 1.73 4.54 1.92 Library Sample (n = 120) Mean SD 4.12 1.95 4.15 2.01 4.32 1.76 4.17 1.63 4.24 1.88 4.43 2.17 Unpaired t-test (n = 452) t-value 1.14 1.51 0.79 1.01 0.86 0.97

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Constructs Component website complexity Coordinative website complexity Dynamic website complexity Product familiarity Website familiarity User satisfaction

Table 3. Loadings, Cross-Loadings, and Reliability of First-Order Factors
Items Component website complexity (COMP) COMP1 COMP2 COMP3 COMP4 COMP5 COMP6 COMP7 Coordinative website complexity (COOD) COOD1 COOD2 COOD3 COOD4 COOD5 COOD6 COOD7 Dynamic complexity (DYN) DYN1 DYN2 DYN3 DYN4 DYN5 DYN6 Product Familiarity (PFAM) PFAM1 PFAM2 Website Familiarity (WFMA) WFAM3 WFAM4 User Satisfaction (SAT) SAT1 SAT2 SAT3 SAT4 SAT5 SAT6 Factor Loadings 0.88 0.89 0.85 0.90 0.87 0.83 0.91 0.85 0.89 0.82 0.89 0.81 0.89 0.84 0.82 0.85 0.81 0.79 0.83 0.88 0.91 0.87 0.85 0.82 0.88 0.85 0.84 0.87 0.89 0.91 Range of Factor Cross-Loadings
0.21 – 0.32 0.25 – 0.39 0.19 – 0.29 0.24 – 0.35 0.21 – 0.37 0.17 – 0.41 0.25 – 0.44 0.28 – 0.36

1.

Reliability (n = 452) 0.87

2.

0.92
0.21 – 0.39 0.16 – 0.42 0.25 – 0.40 0.28 – 0.37 0.22 – 0.41 0.18 – 0.33 0.15 – 0.42 0.17 – 0.32

3.

0.85
0.29 – 0.35 0.22 – 0.38 0.27 – 0.43 0.18 – 0.29 0.25 – 0.36 0.20 – 0.32 0.33 – 0.45

4.

0.89 0.15 – 0.40 0.22 – 0.38 0.84 0.29 – 0.42 0.23 – 0.32 0.92

5.

6.

0.18 – 0.39 0.24 – 0.43 0.21 – 0.39 0.26 – 0.33 0.19 – 0.31 0.24 – 0.36 0.28 – 0.42 Because they are products of other items, indicators for interaction terms are typically not included in a confirmatory factor analysis of the measurement model. Their inclusion would violate assumptions about the item’s independence (Yang Jonson 1998).

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Assessment of Structural Model3
The intercorrelations among our study constructs are shown in Table 4, whereas the results of our PLS analyses are shown in Table 5. We discuss these results in the following sections. Antecedents of PWC Table 5 presents the results for the antecedents of PWC.4 None of the control variables were significantly related to PWC (R² = 0.09). Objective website complexity (B = 0.31, p < 0.001) had a positive relationship with PWC, supporting hypothesis 1. Familiarity (B = –0.22, p < 0.05) had a negative relationship with PWC. The significant negative interaction terms of objective website complexity × familiarity (B = –0.27, p < 0.001) suggests that the lower the familiarity, the higher the PWC for a given level of objective website complexity. These results support H2. Figure 2 depicts these relationships graphically for familiar and unfamiliar users (split on the median rating: 4).The graphs indicate that there are no differences in slopes of familiar and unfamiliar users between low and high complexity levels, indicating no interaction effects of familiarity. However, there are differences in the slopes of familiar and unfamiliar users in moving from low to medium levels of PWC and from medium to high levels of PWC. This suggests that the interaction effects of familiarity are driven by medium levels of PWC. Outcomes of PWC We tested the mediating effect of PWC between objective website complexity and user satisfaction in two separate models. In the first model, we tested the direct effect of objective website complexity on user satisfaction. The results of this analysis are shown in Part B of Table 5. There is an inverted-U relationship between objective website complexity and user satisfaction as is indicated by the significant negative objective website complexity square term (B = –0.16, p < 0.05). Moreover, the significance of the objective website complexity square × online task goals suggests that online task goals moderate this inverted-U relationship (B = –0.22, p < 0.05).

Second, we tested the full model of objective website complexity, PWC, online task goals, and user satisfaction,5 which is shown in Part C of Table 5. The results show that once the PWC variables are entered in the model, the effect of objective complexity on user satisfaction becomes insignificant, confirming that objective website complexity influences user satisfaction through PWC. The negative PWC² term (B = –0.17, p < 0.05) suggests an overall inverted-U relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. The significant negative interaction term—PWC² × online task goals (B = –0.32, p < 0.001)—confirms the moderating effect of online task goals in the relationship between PWC and online task goals, supporting H3. This moderating effect is depicted graphically in Figure 2; a negative linear relationship is seen between PWC and user satisfaction for experiential users, and an inverted-U relationship between PWC and user satisfaction for goaldirected users. These results support H3a and H3b.

Discussion
This research was motivated by an interest in examining how and why PWC affects the user outcomes in an online environment. To this end, we developed and tested a holistic model comprising objective website complexity, user familiarity, PWC, online task goals, and user satisfaction. Specifically, by focusing on user familiarity and online task goals, we attempted to resolve the theoretical debate regarding the nature of the relationship between complexity and user outcomes. Not only does our model synthesize and integrate research on complexity, it extends this body of work by clarifying how PWC affects user satisfaction. Our results provide two important insights into the relationship between PWC and user outcomes. First, the positive relationship between objective complexity and PWC was moderated by user familiarity. Second, online task goals moderated the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction. Specifically, the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction was negative for goal-directed users and inverted-U for experiential users. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these results in the following sections.

Limitations
3

We conducted PLS analyses separately for each dimension of PWC: component, coordinative, and dynamic complexity. The results of each individual dimension of PWC were consistent with the overall model of PWC. We compared the full model including interactions (objective website complexity × familiarity) with the model without the interaction term. The variance explained increased significantly by adding the interaction term ()R² = 0.14, p < 0.001).

Limitations that circumscribe the interpretation of our findings must be acknowledged. First, our conceptualization
5

4

Similarly, we compared the full model including the online task goals × PWC interaction with the model without this interaction. The variance explained increased significantly ()R² = 0.12, p < 0.001).

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Table 4. Intercorrelations among Study Constructs
Constructs Objective Complexity PWC User Satisfaction User Familiarity Online Task Goals
**p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

1 — 0.30*** 0.24* –0.07 0.09

Intercorrelations (n = 452) 2 3 4 — 0.25* –0.21* –0.32***

5

— –0.22 –0.19

— 0.08

*p < 0.05

Table 5. PLS Results

a

PWC Parameter Estimate (Standard Error) A. Objective Website Complexity, Familiarity, and PWC (n = 452) Control Variables R² Model Variables: R² Objective Website Complexity Familiarity Objective Website Complexity × Familiarity
c b

0.09 0.25 0.31*** (0.09) –0.22* (0.07) –0.27*** (0.04)

B. Objective Website Complexity, Online Task Goals, and User Satisfaction (n = 452) Model Variables: R² Objective Website Complexity Objective Website Complexity² Online Task Goals Objective Website Complexity × Online Task Goals Objective Website Complexity² × Online Task Goals 0.17 0.23* (0.11) –0.16* (0.05) 0.12 (0.02) 0.19* (0.02) –0.22* (0.06)

C. Objective Website Complexity, PWC, Online Task Goals, and User Satisfaction (n = 462) Model Variables: 0.23 R² Objective Website Complexity 0.12 (0.07) Objective Website Complexity –0.09 (0.05) Objective Website Complexity² 0.11 (0.08) Online Task Goals 0.08 (0.04) Objective Website Complexity × Online Task Goals –0.17 (0.07) Objective Website Complexity² × Online Task Goals PWC 0.28*** (0.07) PWC –0.17* (0.04) PWC² 0.13 (0.02) Online Task Goals 0.27** (0.02) PWC × Online Task Goals –0.32*** (0.05) PWC² × Online Task Goals
a

We also ran a PLS model for each dimension of PWC (component, coordinative, and dynamic complexity) to confirm that the results of the overall model were consistent with each dimension of complexity. Because we found that the results for each individual dimension of PWC were consistent with the overall results for the PWC construct, we do not report the results in the paper. b Control variables include age, education, gender, computer use in hours per week, computer use in years, and initial satisfaction with the website. c Online task goals were represented by a dummy variable: Goal-directed = 0 and Experiential = 1. *p < .05 **p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001

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Objective Website Complexity, Familiarity, and PWC

PWC, Online Task Conditions, and User Satisfaction
Goal-directed Experiential

7 6

Unfamiliar Familiar
User Satisfaction

7 6 5 4 3 2 1

PWC

5 4 3 2 1

Low

Medium

High

Low

Medium PWC

High

Objective Website Complexity

Figure 2. Moderating Effects of Familiarity and Online Task Goals in the Antecedent and Consequence Relationships of PWC

of PWC was based on Wood’s (1986) framework of perceived task complexity, which we chose because it comprehensively captured the user–task interactions that are important to defining complexity in an online environment. Thus, our findings are unique to this specific view of complexity. We acknowledge that there are other frameworks that define complexity differently. For example, complexity has been defined by the cognitive load—the number of resources it uses (Kramer et al. 1983; Moray 1977; Sheridan 1980; Welford 1978). Although, we developed the relationships between objective website complexity and PWC on the basis of these cognitive load arguments, we did not define PWC as cognitive load. Examining our model of PWC by using this definition of complexity may yield some important additional insights. Second, we created three levels (high, medium, and low) for our objective website complexity condition so that we had an adequate number of subjects in each treatment cell (Churchill and Surprenant 1982). However, because of this categorization, we could not assess whether the 16 websites in each category affected this result. In other words, the 16 websites in each treatment cell could represent diverse characteristics that could affect the results differently. Although, we used a number of websites to achieve representativeness, we do understand that collapsing the websites to create three levels could have created a within-cell bias (Kirk 1982). Third, we examined complexity at an aggregate level to determine task outcomes, which is consistent with previous

literature on perceived complexity (Berlyne 1960; Wood 1986). However, it would be interesting in future research to investigate the effects of each dimension of PWC (component, coordinative, and dynamic) on user satisfaction and the underlying processes driving these effects. Finally, goal-directed and experiential categories represent just one way of classifying online task goals. Other classifications of online task goals, such as transacting (purchasing) and communicating (chatting) (Hoffman and Novak 1996), may yield different results. A related task classification pertains to task uncertainty (e.g., routine or nonroutine) (Galbraith 1973; Perrow 1967, 1986). The antecedent and consequence relationships of PWC may play out differently for routine tasks (repetitive, predictable, well understood) and nonroutine tasks (unique or ever changing situations, difficult to understand).

Theoretical Implications and Future Research
Our finding that user familiarity moderated the positive relationship between objective complexity and PWC is consistent with the task complexity literature (Campbell 1988; Earley 1985; Huber 1985; Jacoby et al. 1971; Taylor 1981). Users with relatively low familiarity experienced higher PWC than users with higher familiarity for a given level of objective complexity (shown in Figure 2). This difference points out the importance of user familiarity in managing complexity in an online environment. Although the role of user familiarity

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has been emphasized in literature on information systems use (Harrison and Rainer 1992), website evaluation research has largely ignored the role of familiarity (an exception is Hong et al. 2002). Our results suggest that future studies should incorporate user familiarity in testing relationships among web evaluation constructs in an online environment. The second and more important set of results explains how PWC affects user satisfaction and reconciles the conflicting findings regarding this relationship in previous literature. The PWC–user satisfaction relationship was negative for goaldirected users. Because goal-directed users focus on the endgoal and minimize their cognitive effort on the navigation process, medium and high levels of perceived complexity distract and frustrate them. In contrast, the inverted-U relationship between PWC and user satisfaction for experiential users suggests that experiential users are as frustrated with low levels of PWC as they are with high levels of PWC; their satisfaction is maximized at medium levels of PWC. Thus, our results address the theoretical conflict on whether complexity inhibits (Agarwal and Venkatesh 2002; Shneiderman 1998; Venkatesh 2000; Venkatesh et al. 2003) or improves (Hall and Hanna 2004; Nack et al. 2001; Palmer 2002) positive user outcomes. Our results suggest that the nature of the relationship between PWC and user satisfaction is too complex to be explained completely by a single stream of research. The different explanations of the PWC–user outcome relationship are not contradictory; rather, they are complementary in explaining this relationship for goal-directed and experiential users; complexity inhibits user satisfaction for goal-directed users, whereas medium levels of complexity enhance user satisfaction for experiential users. Although we did not empirically test the specific processes underlying the differences in the PWC–user satisfaction relationships for goal-directed and experiential users, our results do raise an interesting question: Are the processes underlying the PWC–user satisfaction relationships different for goal-directed and experiential users? For example, the negative relationship between PWC and user satisfaction suggests that cognitive processing mechanisms may be driving this relationship for goal-directed users. In contrast, the inverted-U relationship between PWC and user satisfaction for experiential users suggests that cognitive processing mechanisms may not completely explain how PWC affects user satisfaction for these users. The cognitive processing mechanisms gain prominence at high levels, but not at low and medium levels, of PWC. Other important aspects may be critical in explaining this relationship for experiential users: curiosity and interest (Berlyne 1960), which capture the fun, entertainment, and enjoyment value of the website (Hall and Hanna 2003; Nack et al. 2001). To maximize the satisfaction of experiential users, web designers may need to manage the

complexity of the website by balancing the cognitive processing elements with the fun and entertainment value. Empirical examination of this contention is an important area for future research. Our findings on the nature of the PWC–user satisfaction relationship also contribute to the literature on online task goals (Moe 2003; Schlosser 2003). Online task goal studies have examined how these goals affect the search procedures and shopping behaviors that users adopt. However, these studies have ignored the role of the perceived attributes of the online task environment, such as complexity, in the relationship between user task goals and user outcomes. Our research shows that the fit between PWC and online task goals is an important predictor of user satisfaction. Further, the importance of PWC–online task goal fit suggested by our study raises an interesting question: How do goal-directed and experiential users cope with PWC? Based on Gollwitzer’s (1999) theory of implementation intentions, there could be two strategies of coping with complex environments: complexity-resolving and task-facilitating. As the mechanisms driving PWC–user outcome relationships are different for goal-directed (cognition-based processes) and experiential (affect-based processes) users, these two categories of users may adopt different strategies to cope with complexity in an online environment. For example, when goal-directed users face complexity, they may employ complexity-resolving strategies by relying on navigational aids (e.g., tool bars, search function) available at the site to relieve some of the cognitive load that they experience. On the other hand, experiential users who face complexity may be motivated to resolve this complexity on their own and may adopt task-facilitating strategies where they continue their exploration in an undirected manner. Examining these differences in coping strategies adopted by goal-directed and experiential users is an important area of future research.

Practical Implications
The results of our study have some important practical implications. We found that user satisfaction for goal-directed users was maximized at low levels of complexity, whereas experiential users found medium levels of complexity most satisfying. This suggests that to maximize user satisfaction, web designers must provide different levels of complexity to goal-directed and experiential users. Web designers can create distinct websites with low and medium levels of complexity in many ways. One way would be to provide two hyperlinks for entering the site: Text Only and Rich Graphics. Clicking on the Text Only hyperlink

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could take goal-directed users to a simple website with few graphics, little or no animation, few colors, clearly spelled out text hyperlinks, limited information clusters, and an open layout with adequate blank space. In contrast, experiential users could click on the Rich Graphics hyperlink to access a complex but visually rich website with a wide range of interrelated information categories, rollover effects in navigation, and audio and video formats, which could provide experiential users a stimulating and enjoyable experience at the website. A second way to create websites with different levels of complexity is to provide users a login option by registering at the website. Registered users could access more visually rich, complex, and expanded information at the website than nonregistered users. Because goal-directed users are focused on the goal, they would prefer to search a simple website without logging in, whereas experiential users could use the log-in option to access a medium complexity website. As web designers provide higher levels of complexity to experiential users (than goal-directed users), web designers can use methods such as consumer profiling (Raghu et al. 2001) to identify experiential users, to determine the range of information that may be of interest to them, and to allow experiential users to better manage perceived complexity at a website. Current technology available on the web such as dynamic HTML, applets, and cookies provides the means to acquire an individual customer profile. By use of these applications, customers can be profiled in many ways, including registration forms completed by users, history of users’ actions, and current user activity. For example, a site that sells both compact disks and books may profile a user who always goes to the compact disks sections and never to the book section as a music lover. The site could then provide this user a wide range of music-related information, including hyperlinks to external musical sites in a variety of formats such as audio, graphics, and video. Although such richness of form and content cues increases the complexity of the website, it will also make the website more enjoyable to experiential users because the information content matches the interests of the users. Web designers may also be able to use the type of products served at the website to determine whether their user pool is typically goal-directed or experiential, and may be able to adjust the complexity of the website to maximize the satisfaction of their users. Recent research seems to suggest that the nature of website experience desired by users may depend on whether the online product is a search product (products that can be evaluated based on prepurchase or pre-use information) or an experience product (products that can be evaluated only by using or buying the product) (Schlosser 2003). As users can gain complete information on search products before purchase (Wright and Lynch 1995), websites

containing search product domains (e.g., a university website with information about application procedures, specific majors, etc.) will attract goal-directed users seeking detailed information about the product to facilitate their decision making. Conversely, at websites containing experiential products (e.g., music, wine), users are not looking at information cues at a website to influence their purchase decision. Instead, such websites will attract experiential users who are seeking to enjoy the process of browsing. Because the product category at a website determines the type of users (goaldirected or experiential) that visit the website, web designers can use this information to discern the optimum level of complexity to be provided at these websites to maximize the satisfaction of their users.

Conclusions
The overarching goal of this paper was to enrich our understanding of how website complexity affects important user outcomes. We proposed perceived website complexity as a key construct in understanding how the use of sophisticated website design features such as animation, audio, video, and rollover effects affect user satisfaction. The results suggest that online task goals (goal-directed and experiential) determine how PWC affects user outcomes. Our study represents a first step in integrating disparate explanations to develop a more complete understanding of the complex relationships between PWC and user outcomes. Given the undeniable reality that complexity is inevitable as web design technology becomes more sophisticated and as the scope of online activities expands, research that sheds light on how to manage and adjust this complexity to maximize user outcomes has value to both theory development and practice. Several avenues for future work remain, and we hope that this study will stimulate others to extend this line of research further.

Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank Professor Deborah Compeau (senior editor), the associate editor, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions, which helped improve this paper considerably.

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About the Authors
Sucheta Nadkarni is an associate professor of Management at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on cognitive issues in strategic decision making and management information systems. She has published or has papers forthcoming in journals such as Strategic Management Journal, Journal of International Business Studies, Organization Science, and MIS Quarterly. Reetika Gupta is an assistant professor of Marketing at Lehigh University. She received her Ph.D. from Baruch College, City University of New York. Her research interests include consumer behavior in interactive consumption environments and consumer learning of new products.

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Appendix A
Graphical Illustrations of Sale Items
A1. Illustration of Component Complexity
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A2. Illustration of Coordinative Website Complexity

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High Coordinative Complexity
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Tastee chocolate company opened its new plant in California. This plant employs 1,000 full time employees and is located Apple county. Tasteeinvested a tfotal of 20 million dollars and the company expects to produce over 200,000 units of chocolate a month More>>

Hurricanes hit some parts of the world
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Press Television Domestic International

Domestic unrest against current government in an Asian country
There were several demonstrations and strikes against the local government in an Asian country. 50 people were injured and no casualties were reported. The government officials continued their negotiations with the leaders of the demonstrating organization to restore peace. More>>

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A3. Illustration of Dynamic Website Complexity
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