Q This study aims at determining and evaluating the relationship between website attributes and online purchasing behavior Home, - AN EVALUATION OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WEBSITE ATTRIBUTES & ONLINE PURCHASING BEHAVIOR Introduction to the Topic In the current state of busy life styles and hectic work schedules, online purchasing has become an inevitable part of today’s consumer generation. Accessibility in procuring the products anytime and anywhere has also increased the rate of online purchases, states Burgess, Sellitto, and Karanasios (2009). For website based E-commerce businesses, one of the major factors that influence the credibility factor of an online buyer decision making process, according to Hausman and Siekpe (2009) is the features of the seller’s website. This study will identify the relationship between website attributes and the online purchasing behaviour of customers. The pragmatic analysis and study of the inter-relatedness of various website attributes and their influence on factors leading to a buyer decision will be conducted in the context of online retail sector in UK and Waitrose, the retail giant in the country. Firstly, this chapter explores the research and organisational background that led to the study. Secondly, it discusses the rationale for selecting the topic and its relevance with respect to Waitrose and the online retail industry in UK. Thirdly, it defines the aims and objectives of the study and finally, details the research questions that will be investigated in to further through the research process. Research Context In today’s highly competitive online business environment where choices are huge, customer loyalty levels are comparatively less and customer demands are ever changing, one of the biggest challenges that a business faces is to convert its website visitors in to real customers and eventually loyal. Website attributes can be defined as the features of a website that play a significant role in influencing the perceptions and attitudes of a customer about the credibility of a retailer/brand (Liu, Li and Hu, 2013). The characteristics of a website like its personalisation, informativeness, interactivity, navigation, entertainment, accessibility, privacy and security create highest influence on consumers (Garg, 2015). Roy Dholakia and Zhao (2010) identify that the online purchase behaviour of customers are often influenced by the attractive website contents and its characteristic features. Online purchase behaviour can be defined as the overall attitude, preference, intention and decision of a consumer while going through the purchase process starting from identifying his/her need, search for relevant information, trust-building, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and ending with post-purchase behaviour (Verhagen and van Dolen, 2011). If the relationship between the website attributes and the level of influence of each factor on the purchase behaviour of consumers can be comprehended, it would highly facilitate online retailers to develop effective marketing strategies to convert website visitors in to consumers while retaining existing online customers (Shalini and HemaMalini, 2015). Organisational Context Waitrose is a retail food division of the British Supermarket chain founded in 1904, operating under the largest employee-owned retailer, John Lewis Partnership. Waitrose has been recognized as the sixth largest UK grocery retailer serving around 350 locations (as of August 2016) and possessing the royal warrant to supply groceries. It is a brand that has been identified as the most ethical with regards to Fairtrade produce in comparison to other players in the market (Deshpande et al., 2011). The supermarket chain majorly operates through its offline stores and online presence through grocery shopping website www.waitrose.com, ‘Waitrose Entertaining’ and ‘Dotcom Fulfilment Centre’ (Stroud, 2011). The market share of Waitrose has drastically gone up since the launch of its website with online purchasing facilities for consumers owing to personalisation, attractive content and discounts (Holland and Mandry, 2012). In spite of being one of the most prominent online supermarket retailers in the UK, reports identify that Waitrose confronts several website issues and it has dissuaded its online sales recently (Kollewe, 2011). Since the inception of its online business, Waitrose has been facing many customer issues regarding the website like website crashing in the midst of placing orders, wrong accounting with excessive orders or non-recognition of placed order when the customer goes to collect it (Hawkes, 2013; Doherty, 2016), difficulty in navigation etc which has been continuing till date (Complaints Department UK, 2017). This makes it extremely important for Waitrose to understand the relationship between its website attributes and customer buying decision behaviour so as to plan accordingly towards resolution of issues. Research Rationale The ability to easily compare, find discounts and purchase at a click through electronic commerce has been widely embraced by smart consumers but the level of satisfaction on electronic purchase experience is lower (Luo, Ba and Zhang, 2012). This can be attributed to various factors like previous experience with the retailer, the difficulty in using website, lack of complete information to assist in purchase, inability to build trust and credibility, poor website design that fails to retain customer interest and failure to cater towards creating customer delight or satisfaction (Shalini and HemaMalini, 2015). Though Waitrose is one of the leading supermarket retailers in UK, issues associated with its Search Engine Optimization (SEO), navigation, website responsiveness, etc. has negatively influenced its online sales (Savvas, 2011). This can prove enormously detrimental to not only the online but the offline business of Waitrose as well because distrust in the retailer will affect the over business and thus the market share of the company. Hence developing alluring and captivating website attributes has become a challenging task for most of the organizations today including Waitrose. Therefore, through this dissertation researcher intends to evaluate the website attributes of Waitrose as the independent variable and assesses its impacts on the dependent variable which is the online purchasing behaviour of customers. Research Aim This research aims in determining the influence website attributes inflict on online purchasing behaviour of customers. For the purpose of comprehensive study, researcher conducts this investigation on the business scenario of Waitrose. Research Objectives • To identify the imperative role of website attributes in the purchase paradigm of the current era • To recognize the factors influencing online purchasing behaviour of customers • To recognise the relationship between website attributes and online purchasing behaviour of customers • To evaluate the impact of website attributes on online purchasing behaviour of customers with reference to the business milieu of Waitrose Research Questions 1. What are the key website attributes that attract a potential customer? 2. What are the various factors that influence an individual’s online purchasing behaviour? 3. What is Buying Decision Process and how is it related to online purchasing behaviour of customers? 4. Are the website attributes of Waitrose effective in persuading online purchasing behaviour of its customers? Summary This investigative research is being conducted to identify the dilemmas associated with the website attributes of Waitrose and evaluate its impacts on online purchasing behaviour of customers. Hence this research has substantial industrial significance in the prospect that it helps Waitrose and similar retailers to comprehend their online flaws and resolve them to positively influence the online purchasing behaviour of customers. The first chapter of this study has thus given a detailed description of the rationale, aims and objectives and framed the questions for the present study. LITERATURE REVIEW Introduction This chapter of the current study focuses on reviewing the literature of the topic. Literature review is considered as a method of going through the scholarly works about the methodological and theoretical contributions to a research topic substantiating the presently available knowledge (Chiou, Lin and Perng, 2010). In this research, the researcher examines the scholarly contributions on website attributes which is the independent variable, the purchase behaviour of customers which is the dependent variable and the impact of website attributes on online purchasing behaviour of customers to show their inter-relatedness. For the same, we will also be reviewing the factors affecting purchase behaviour, the buying decision process, the relevance of the topic in UK retail industry as well as at Waitrose and then based on the review of literature, developing a conceptual framework which will form the backbone for this research. Website attributes A website is an online platform that provides information and provides facilities for online transactions to its customers by influencing their perception towards its effectiveness (Parboteeah, Valacich and Wells, 2009). Website attributes are defined as the characteristic features of a website that focus on providing a positive online experience to its customers (Burgess, Sellitto, and Karanasios, 2009). Studies by different scholars have explored different sets of website attributes in relation to their industrial implications, degree of impact on various customer segments, influence on consumer behaviour etc. Lociacono et al.’s (2002; cited in Swaid and Wigand, 2012) in his study has determined 12 website attributes to be visual appeal, flow/emotional appeal, innovativeness, ease of understanding, information fit-to-task, interactivity, response time, intuitive operations, trust, consistent image, and online completeness while Roy Dholakia and Zhao (2010) identified convenience, usability, delivery, trust, and security as the key website attributes that would affect customer purchase intentions. One of the most relevant identification of website attributes for the retail industry has been done by Goi (2011) who states that website attributes can be categorised under the following six heads: Functionality, Design, Content, Originality, Professionalism & Effectiveness and Privacy and Security. All these six attribute heads have been identified by the scholars mentioned below, to have a direct influence on online customer purchasing behaviour. Functionality of a website is the usability in terms of overall ease of browsing and shopping experience during the search, comparison and transaction. It includes ease of navigation and smoothness in accessibility, active hyperlinks, customer feedback options, keyword search, online ordering and status tracking system, personalisation and virtual reality display (Chen, Hsu and Lin, 2010). Website design refers to the aesthetic appearance, organised content display and the overall visual attractiveness of a website that can keep the customer engaged and includes the colors, fonts, images and multimedia functions that form the tangible dimension of the website (Wang, Minor and Wei, 2011). Website Content, according to Hausman and Siekpe (2009) is the level of accurate, rich, attractive and reliable information, transaction and entertainment that a company provides for the usefulness of its visitors and customers along with interactive mechanisms. Originality of a website can be determined through the factors: innovation and lateral thinking, creativity, technology, distinctiveness and vision that should reflect in its interactivity, design and personalisation (eg: social media connectivity) according to Solomon, Russell-Bennett and Previte (2013). Meurs (2013) and Goi (2011) refer to Professionalism and Effectiveness of a website as the attitudes and intentions of a company reflected in customer service and client respect, values, focus, advanced components and overall site effectiveness (eg: search engine optimization (SEO) friendly, feedback mechanisms) Privacy and security as a website attribute refers to protection against improper access, monitoring, storage or transfer of confidential consumer information (eg: website hacks, fear of cyber crimes, unsafe payment methods) (Tsai et al., 2011) Online purchasing behaviour (OPB) Customer purchasing behaviour can be defined as the totality of the attitudes and outlook of a consumer throughout the decision making process including the pre-purchase and post-purchase phases (Krishna, 2013). The earlier research in the field emphasised on online purchase behaviour as majorly concerned with functional and utilitarian concerns but with the advent of innovative online features, evidence for the importance of social interactions in online purchase process and recreational motives, online purchasing started to be considered at par with the traditional style of consumer purchasing behaviour (Chiu et al., 2014). Law et al., (2016) defines OPB as a sum total of the interaction, observation, and evaluation by a customer during an online purchase process. They also state that online purchase behaviour is influenced by the direct and indirect experiences like judgments, attitudes, preferences, and purchase intentions of the customer with that retailer/brand. Scholars have argued that consumers’ behavioural response is evoked by emotional attachment with seller (Zarantonello and Schmitt, 2013), intellectual engagement (Pauwels, et. al, 2011), interactivity and multidimensional experiences (Wang et al., 2011). Thus the study of online purchasing behaviour of customers includes three areas; a) why customers purchase, b) what are the influential factors and c) what are the changing factors. According to the observations of Zimmerman and Blythe (2013), the purchasing behaviour of the customers varies drastically as per the changing life styles and amending market conditions. All studies in the field of are based on two widely accepted theories which form the background for research (Cheng and Huang, 2013). The first theory is the Technology acceptance model (TAM) (Davis,1989; cited in Ashraf et al., 2014) which emphasises that perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use (which are the external variables) affected by technological advancements will create an influential attitude, which in turn develops intent to purchase resulting in purchase decision. The second is the Theory of planned behaviour (TPB) which relies on the internal aspects of a consumer and proposes that the actual behaviour of online consumers is determined by both intention and perceived behavioural control. Behavioural intention, in turn, is predicted by attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control as depicted in the figure below. Factors affecting Online purchase behaviour Based on the above mentioned theories, we can see that the major factors affecting online purchase behaviour of customers in the internal as well as the external arena would include the following: a) Perceived usefulness (PU): “PU refers to the extent to which a consumer believes that online purchasing would enhance his or her effectiveness in the purchase of product or services”. This affects the consumer’s attitude and intention to purchase (Velarde, 2012). b) Perceived ease of use (PEOU): This can be defined as the effortlessness and convenience of use that the customer perceives out of using a particular online service/product/. Higher PEOU has been linked to higher tendencies of engaging in online purchases and higher customer satisfaction website (Barkhi et al., 2008). c) Consumer attitude: Consumer attitude directly influences the consumer intention and buying process and is affected by many internal and external factors. External factors include product/service quality, price, packaging, marketing and promotions, website features etc. Internal factors include perceived or prior web experience, intellectual capacity, pleasure, arousal, dominance, trust, satisfaction etc (Yang, 2012). d) Subjective norms: This refers to the influences that family, peers, authority figures, and media create on a customer and how it shapes his/her tendencies, perception and attitude. Subjective norms highly influence a customer’s intention and propensity for purchasing behaviours (Andrews and Bianchi, 2013). e) Perceived behavioural control: This refers to the perception that a customer has regarding his control over his capability of engaging in a particular behaviour. It determines the intention and behaviour of a customer in online purchases (Javadi, et al., 2012). f) Trust: Velarde (2012) states that trust is a belief of getting one’s expectations fulfilled without being exploited and it is the most essential ingredients that determines a customer’s behaviour in online purchasing. It is a multi-dimensional concept wherein competence, benevolence and integrity displayed by a retailer as well as the perceived online technology affects the consumer attitude and willingness towards online purchasing (Ha and Stoel, 2009). The Buying Decision Process Model The five stage theoretical model that elucidates an individual’s buying decision process is depicted in the figure below. This model represents the various phases which customers pass through which engaging in purchase of a product/service. a) Recognition of needs: Customers first identify their own needs for a product or service and sometimes the need is generated through online advertisements and promotions that attract customer attention and stimulate their purchase intention (Katawetawaraks and Cheng, 2011) b) Search of information: Laudon and Traver (2009) state that once the recognition of an online purchase need has been done, the customer will search for ample information by accessing online catalogs, websites, or search engines. c) Evaluation of alternatives: After collecting required information, customers evaluate the product/service through comparisons, product review and customer comments. At this stage the website attributes play a crucial role in persuading customer attitudes and trust and influencing their purchase intention (Zimmerman and Blythe, 2013). d) Purchase decision: Comegys et al., (2009) state that external factors like product variety, during and after-sale services, quality of available information and internal factors like perceived behavioural control, ease of use and usefulness create the highest effect in the purchase decision phase. e) Post-purchase behaviour: Post purchase behaviour is characterised by customer experience with product issues, service follow-up, returns and exchanges and this stage lays the foundation for repeat purchase and creation of loyal customers (Prasad and Aryasri, 2009). Impact of website attributes on online purchasing behaviour in UK retail industry Burgess, Sellitto, and Karanasios (2009) signify that online buying process has increased drastically in the recent era. The changing life styles, high work pressures and ease in accessing the products are major reasons for the increased online sales, as determined by Roy Dholakia and Zhao (2010). Comprehending this changing phase of purchase attitudes, UK retail industry has shown considerably significant growth in its online services.UK is the leading online market in Europe with around 77% of the population making at the least one online purchase in 2015 which again went up to more than 82% in 2016 (Gemma, 2016). The most competitive among the various sectors is the retail sector with grocery and foods; and there are significant changes in consumer behaviour wherein convenient online shopping, click and collect or home delivery are the most preferred options. In such a scenario, big market players like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and Morrisons are re-evaluating their expansion strategies to be re-designed from bricks and mortar stores to the virtual world (Retail Think Tank, 2014). In her study of the “Importance of website’s attributes in apparel online shopping” in the UK market, Garg (2015) identified that along with utilitarian attributes like price, product guarantee and so, attractiveness of the website, ease of use, value factors, adequate information etc are constructive attributes in virtual retailing that persuade online customer purchase behaviour. Katawetawaraks and Cheng (2011), in their study “Online Shopper Behavior: Influences of Online Shopping Decision” emphasise on the importance of a trustable, secure and user-friendly website in positively influencing online purchase behaviour of customers. When Javadi, et. al., (2012) state that website attributes like innovativeness directly influence buying behaviour, Hausman and Siekpe (2009) mention that website design and visual aids, content and attractiveness highly motivate customer intention in purchase behaviour. Innovative firms introduce attractive and customer engaging website attributes (Al-Qeisi et al., 2014). According to the observation of Winterman (2013) the improved website attributes have provided considerable recognition for supermarket retailers in the UK and this increased dominance signifies the improved online purchasing behaviour of customers. Search engine optimization (SEO) of Tesco and the positive impact it reflected through its improved online performance clearly signifies the role of perceived usefulness in influencing customer behaviour (Silverwood-Cope, 2014). Increase of sales by £1bn at Sainsbury’s by enhanced website and improved online performance also signifies the relationship between the research variables (Baldwin, 2014). Thus it is evident that website attributes have a direct influence on the online purchasing behaviour of customers in the UK retail industry. Effectiveness in its online services and attractive website features has attracted many of the UK customers to the food retailer, Waitrose (Neate and Veljovic, 2012) but several issues have also been identified in its web operations including poor SEO, website glitches, etc. (Brown and Montague-Jones, 2011). Hence this study evaluates the association between research variables with regards to the scenario of Waitrose. Link between existing literature and present research Many research scholars have conducted empirical research to attain in-depth knowledge about the concepts of website, its attributes, consumer behaviour, online purchase behaviour etc and drawn out research based findings of the impact of website attributes on various elements related to business, customers and prospects. Studies by Chang et al., (2005) emphasised on the direct impact that website attributes have on online shopping experience while studies by Chen, Hsu and Lin (2010) and Kim and Niehm (2009) revealed that website attributes play a vital role in enhancing purchase intention of customers. Another study by Garg (2015) concentrated on the importance of website attributes in online apparel shopping, Roy Dholakia and Zhao (2010) through their study revealed the relationship between website attributes and customer satisfaction while Goi (2011) studied the impact of web site attributes on internet users’ online behaviour. There has been very limited research on the relationship between website attributes and online purchasing behaviour of customers. This underlines the gap in existing literature which the present study intends to cover. Conceptual framework The above illustrated conceptual framework proposes that the six attributes of a website namely Functionality, Design, Content, Originality, Professionalism & Effectiveness and Privacy and Security influence the online purchase behaviour of customers by casting impact on the six factors determining purchase behaviour namely, perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, consumer attitude, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control and trust throughout the various phases of the buying decision process. Thus the relationship between website attributes and the online purchase behaviour of customers can be proved by evaluating these factors. Summary From the above review of literature and discussions pertaining to the variables of this research, it can be summarised that website attributes play a major role in influencing the perception, trust and credibility that a customer relates to a brand/retailer across industries and thereby play an imperative role in determining online purchase behaviour which in turn is critical for the growth and progress of a business enterprise. This chapter detailed the theoretical basis of research variables using substantial literature support. Further the association between research variables was also established through this section.