From Kansas State University
New scale measures customer service quality of Web sites
MANHATTAN -- How does your Web site's customer service measure up against the competition?
With consumers purchasing more than $66 billion worth of online goods each year, this might be a good thing to know. And now, according to marketing experts at Kansas State University, you can.
K-State marketing professors Swinder Janda, Philip Trocchia and Kevin P. Gwinner have developed a five-dimension scale which assesses consumers' perceptions of Internet retail service quality. In a report recently submitted to the American Marketing Association's annual conference, they described their findings and categorize the factors that drive customers to buy online.
"In order to increase demand for their offerings, online retailers need to better understand their current and potential customers," Janda said. "By understanding which factors consumers consider to be most important when assessing online service quality, retailers can be in a position to improve their online marketing performance."
Research shows that less than 2 percent of online visits result in a purchase; meaning that of the 95 million Americans online, very few are willing to release their bank account numbers. According to Janda, incorporating Web-based customer service features that are relevant to consumers could result in significant marketing success for online retailers. With the new scale, online retailers should be able to easily compare what customers want with what their Web site currently offers, then make changes accordingly.
"Even with the money being spent online, we found that most consumers prefer to conduct online research, but then go on to make their purchases at traditional brick-and-mortar stores. These trends indicate that although there is growth in the number of Internet users, there is not a commensurate growth in people buying goods and services directly online," Janda said.
After conducting interviews and surveys, the K-State researchers categorized the major factors contributing to customer satisfaction into the five dimensions: performance, information, security, sensation and access.
Performance, which proved to be the biggest factor in determining whether or not to purchase, deals with how well an online retailer meets the customer's expectation regarding physical fulfillment of the order.
"Physical fulfillment goes beyond the merchandise itself," Janda said. "Consumers view the performance of online retailers in terms of how efficiently and effectively the online order is fulfilled."
Items used to measure performance include easy-to-understand online order forms, prompt e-mail order confirmations, fast-loading Web sites, quickness of delivery, error-free order processing and clearly stated return policies.
The second most important factor, according to consumers, was the quantity and credibility of information available at the Web sites. Janda said providing relevant information can help retailers overcome any concerns or fears they may have about a product, or about the retailer itself. Measuring tools for information include the ability to check if the product is in stock, the trustworthiness and accuracy of product information presented on the Web site and reputation of the online retailer.
"Instead of just 'sound bytes,' consumers want access to complete information that will allow them to make competent and informed decisions about a product, service or purchase," Janda said.
The next factor, security, has long been a concern for consumers, especially when it comes to personal information and financial transactions. Items used to measure customer satisfaction with security include obtaining permission before creating reusable personal accounts (used for future purchases), assurance of being excluded from mass-mailing lists and assurance that online activities will not be shared with other parties or marketing organizations.
The last two dimensions that customers use to measure service quality are access and sensation. Access refers to the ability to purchase a wide variety of products from anywhere in the world, including rare or custom products not sold in the United States. A Web site that supports multiple languages, different currencies and sells products not available in retail stores would be offering the access customers want. Sensation explores the aesthetic value of the Web site, including the shopping experience. Providing customer-salesperson chatrooms, product pictures from multiple angles and offering testimonials from previous purchasers are things that online retailers can do to provide a better sensation of buying.
"Some Internet retailers have incorporated features that enhance sensation," Janda said. "For example, some online clothing stores offer a virtual mannequin so you can see yourself wearing a T-shirt or pair of pants before you purchase. You just enter your measurements and the dummy shows up on the screen."