Abstract: The Internet is changing the way consumers shop for and purchase goods and services, and has rapidly been adopted globally. Since online shopping is a new phenomenon that has recently experienced rapid growth, research on the formation of consumer loyalty online remains scarce. This investigation of the characteristics of online shopping interactions (for example, online ordering of goods) has adopted information quality, online communities, and online consumer trust to discuss the effect of these factors on online consumer loyalty. An online survey conducted in Taiwan obtained 250 valid responses (online shoppers). SEM analysis indicated acceptable goodness-of-fit for the proposed model. This study confirmed two antecedents: information quality and online communities via online consumer trust to increase online loyalty in online shopping web site.
Keywords: Information quality, online community, consumer trust, consumer loyalty
Interactivity is one of the key advantages of the Internet over other mass media (Hoffman and Novak 1996) focused on a key issue for all web sites in their relationships with consumers (Dou and Krishnamurthy, 2007). Several types of interaction can occur on the Internet (c.f., Ghose and Dou, 1998) and this study focuses on online ordering of goods (In the remainder of this study, interaction describes the ability of consumers to order goods via a website). Given its focus, this study thus uses interaction to express the narrow meaning of consumers ordering goods. These interactions frequently take the form of multiple transactions between consumers and marketers that eventually lead to the creation of loyal online consumers (Chiagouris and Wansley, 2000; Reinartz and Kumar, 2002; Olson, and Boyer, 2005; Pitta et al., 2006). Online loyalty, an important relationship outcome is a key fundamental to success in e-commerce (Reichheld and Schefter, 2000). Previous studies have hypothesized that loyal consumers help businesses to grow by providing patronage and revenues (Reichheld, 1996), therefore, the nature and drivers of online loyalty require further discussion (Reichheld et al., 2000; Harris and Goode, 2004). However, in online shopping, since it is relatively new but rapidly growing, little is known regarding the mechanisms through which websites generate consumer loyalty (Thatcher and George, 2004).
Since online consumers are likely to value the quality of information provided by websites (Mithas et al., 2006), information quality also believed to influence consumer behaviours and positive attitudes (Kim et al., 2003) on the web site, and moreover to attract repeat visits. Furthermore, consumers can ask questions or search for related information in online forums, chat rooms, and discussion boards that are organized or supported by an online firm (Srinivasan et al., 2002) before making purchase decisions, such activities enhance relationship building and loyalty between a web site and consumers (Hagel and Armstrong, 1997; Kardaras et al., 2003). However, if firms with an Internet presence support online communities, it is necessary to investigate how online communities develop loyalty towards sponsoring firms (Srinivasan et al., 2002). Previous studies have focused on the direct relationship between information quality or online communities and consumer loyalty (for example, Liu and Arnett, 2000; Mathwick, 2002), but have failed to consider important factors influencing this relationship, a shortcoming that this study aims to rectify.
Information quality influences online trustworthiness (Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002) and online community interactions reduce uncertainty (Thorbjørnsen et al. 2002). Uncertainty is associated with consumer inability to check the quality of products provided by sellers, or ensure the safe and secure transfer of their personal information (i.e. payment with credit cards), and trust is believed to be an important mechanism for reducing this uncertainty (Anderson and Srinivasan, 2003; Ribbink et al., 2004). Additionally, consumer trust of a web site has become an important issue in managing consumer loyalty (Mcknight and Chercany, 2002), and studies have confirmed its antecedent role influence on loyalty (e.g., Reichheld et al., 2000). This study proposed trust as an intermediary in the context of online shopping, because trust is believed to play an important role in the relationship between web site interaction and consumer loyalty.
The main purpose of this study is to develop a model explaining the antecedents of loyalty in on line web site shopping behaviour that incorporates factors which take into account the unique characteristics of the medium (that is, interaction). This study examines the question of how information quality, and online community influence website consumer loyalty via consumer trust. This study makes two contributions to the current research. First, based on the characteristics of web site interaction this study determines that two antecedents, information and online community, influence consumer loyalty via trust in the online shopping website. Second, this study confirms the intermediary role of trust in the online shopping context, a finding that we believe helps improve understanding of how interaction between website users and online firms increases consumer loyalty.
The remainder of this paper comprises five parts. The first and second part reviews the related literature and develops a conceptual model and research hypotheses. The third part develops measures and performs data collection. The fourth and fifth parts conduct hypotheses testing, and address conclusions and implications.
Loyalty can be separated either attitudinal or behavioural (Oliver, 1999; Zeithaml, 2000). Attitudinal loyalty describes the desire of consumers to continue a relationship with online firms. Meanwhile, behaviour loyalty describes repeat patronage that is, repurchasing the same product or service (Yang and Peterson, 2004). When consumers make frequent and large purchases via a website, they will be more likely to express loyalty towards that website. Accordingly, Oliver (1999) defined loyalty as "a deep commitment to re-buy or re-patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same brand-set purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behaviour". This study adopted this definition because we believe it appears to apply to consumer on line loyalty as well.
From the perspective of a seller, developing and managing consumer loyalty is very strongly related to profitability. Studies have confirmed that 35 to 40 percent of the revenue of e-commerce sites comes from repeat visitors (Rosen, 2001). Loyal consumers are typically willing to pay a higher price, more understanding when something goes wrong, and are easier to satisfy because the vendor better understands their expectations (Gefen, 2002). Consequently, it is not surprising that consumer online loyalty has been identified as a critical influence in online shopping patterns.
Given the significant and rapidly increasing amount of business that consumers and firms are conducting online (Hoffman and Novak, 1996), information is becoming a necessary prerequisite for the setting-up of an active partnership between sellers and consumers (Salaün and Flores, 2001). Interactive web sites are making the communication of information a key aspect of websites (Kim et al., 2003). In the context of e-commerce, information quality significantly influences the success of online firms (DeLone and McLean, 2004) because it influences consumer decisions regarding online shopping, including varieties content and design (Huizingh, 2000). Content refers to information, features or services offered in websites, while design is the way manner in which the content is presented to consumers (Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002). Recent research has confirmed the role of information quality influences consumer trust and loyalty, particularly the manner in which website content and design affects consumer trust and loyalty (Floh and Treiblmaier, 2006; Mithas et al., 2006).
Furthermore, when consumers actively search for information they establish direct connections with others, and with specific online shopping websites. These connections then form the basis of online communities. Online communities cultivate vigorous environments which typically enable members to access expert advice and comments from experienced users. Consumer participation in online communication reduces uncertainty (Thorbjørnsen et al. 2002) and promotes an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding. Regular participation online communities thus reinforces trust and generates long-term relationships (Hagel and Armstrong, 1997).
To reap the benefits of a loyal consumer base, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the antecedents of online shopper loyalty (Srinivasan et al. 2002). However, previous studies have generally failed to consider the characteristics of online interaction, despite their importance to online shopping, it is needed to further investigate its influence to consumer loyalty. Consequently, this study proposes that information quality, online communities and trust all influence consumer loyalty to websites.
Conceptual framework and Hypotheses
Consumer purchasing online can be considered an active behaviour, in which consumers search for information and canvas firm-sponsored online communities for opinions, develop a belief in the trustworthiness of firm products, and ultimately develop increased loyalty towards a website. This study proposed a framework illustrating the relationships between information quality and online communities as the antecedents via consumer trust affect consumer loyalty toward B2C web site. Figure 1 shows the research framework.
In e-commerce context, trust is defined as "belief in the ability, reliability and security under the possibility of risk" (Kini and Choobineh, 1998), lack of trust means consumers are reluctant to adopt e-commerce (Jarvenpaa et al., 2000). In the marketing literature, trust appears to serve as a key dimension of loyalty because it creates valuable exchange relationships (Morgan and Hunt, 1994).
This study adopted the definition of Doney and Cannon (1997), who defined trust as "the perceived credibility and benevolence of a target of trust." In the online shopping context, credibility refers to consumer expectations that information provided on a website is reliable, while benevolence means that the web site genuinely seeks to promote consumer interests. Previous studies have argued that information quality should be an important trust-building mechanism in online interactions (Keen et al., 2000; Kim et al., 2003), because information on websites represents trust cues that convey to consumers (Corritore et al., 2003). For example, complete product or firm information provides consumers with easy access product descriptions (Srinivasan, 2004) and improve their understanding of the company online. Navigational architecture (Corritore et al., 2003) and searching techniques (Siddiqui et al., 2003) make it easier for consumers to find the information they are seeking, and also provide an impression of reliability. Recent research has confirmed that website information quality is positively related with consumer trust (Floh and Treiblmaier, 2006), especially that website content and design which makes online consumer become trustworthiness (e.g., Bliemel and Hassanein, 2007; Wang and Emurian, 2005; Gummerus et al., 2004). Therefore, it can be inferred that the provision of high quality information on a website is important to creating consumer trust.
H1a: Information quality positively influences consumer trust.
Information presented on websites can either attract or retain consumers (Liu and Arnett, 2000) and thus influences consumer buying behaviour and attitude (Page and LepKowska-White, 2002). Previous studies have argued that online loyalty derives from consumer satisfaction with the information presented on a website (Floh and Treiblmaier, 2006). When a website provides accurate and easily searchable information, online consumers will feel satisfied with that website and become more likely to patronize it. For example, a web site with regularly updated, fresh, and relevant content is more likely to attract users. Furthermore, a website that is easy to navigate and search for information makes consumer easily to find out their desire information is likely to have high user satisfaction. Previous studies have found that winning consumer loyalty necessitates providing information (Lee et al., 2000), particularly that website content and design thus strongly affect online consumer loyalty intention (e.g., Mithas et al., 2006; Wolfinbarger and Gilly, 2003). Therefore, it can be inferred that the provision of high quality information on a website is important to creating consumer loyalty.
H1b: Information quality positively influences consumer loyalty.
Online communities describe groups of individuals who communicate with one another via electronic media, such as the internet, and who are brought together by common interests, overcoming barriers of geographical location or culture to do so" (Romm, Pliskin, and Clarke, 1997; Hagel and Armstrong, 1997). This study followed the definition of Srinivasan et al. (2002), who defined online communities as consumers are provided with the opportunity and ability to share opinions among themselves through comment links, buying circles, and chat rooms sponsored by the online firms.
The sponsoring of online communities by online firms can link e-marketers and consumers, yield robust relationships (Pitta and Fowler, 2005) and provide online shoppers with positive opinions regarding the sponsoring firms (Evans et al., 2001). When e-markets provide expert product information for specific communities through mutual knowledge sharing members become more confident in their purchase and also more trusting (Pitta and Fowler, 2005). For example, a web site selling classic CDs can provide abundant information introducing composers and their music to an online classical music community, creating the impression among community members that the website is credible.
H2a: Firms support online communities is positively related to consumer trust to a website.
When sharing interests and expertise within a consumer community, some community members value the input of other community members, while others enjoy providing input to the community (Srinivasan et al., 2002). This information exchange process leads consumers to accelerate information accumulation, which stimulating user interest in accessing the online community (Kardaras et al., 2003). Furthermore, this interdependency activity (that is, information exchange process) makes member in the community feels satisfy due to they can received abundant, believable information.
Satisfied members of online communities would be more likely to visit the community more frequently, promoting increased site stickiness (Mathwick, 2002; Valck et al., 2007). Studies have confirmed that this social exchange (i.e., interest sharing) in virtual communities increases consumer loyalty (Hagel and Armstrong, 1997; Kardaras et al., 2003). When online firms support or invest in an online community, their actions are believed to influence online consumer loyalty. For example, a web site promoting classical CDs can sponsor a community focused on enjoying classic music. Members of this community are then likely to have increased loyalty to the sponsoring firm because they value the social interaction provided through the community and because the online community enables them to see an alignment between their personal values and the approach of the firm to doing business. Mathwick (2002) presented a detailed explanation of how investment in chat rooms or bulletin boards can positively influence consumer future loyalty intention.
H2b: Firms support online communities is positively related to consumer loyalty to a website.
Research on online exchange has argued that establishing online loyalty depends on first generating consumer trust in the procedural rigor and operational abilities of the online B2C web site, because the establishment of such a trust mechanism can reduce the "lack of touch" inherent in online exchange (e.g., Reichheld and Schefter, 2000; Stewart, 2003; Harris and Goode, 2004). Interaction with an online firm via a website provides consumers with evidence upon which to base a belief that the firm will deliver on its promises, and repeated interactions between consumers and shopping web site help consumers assess the credibility and benevolence of an online firm (Donney and Cannon 1997). Consumers thus develop trust in the web site and believe this is a necessary ingredient for long-term relationship because it shifts the focus to future conditions (Donney and Cannon 1997). Trust and loyalty thus should be associated because trust is important in relational exchange and such a relationship is a prerequisite for loyalty (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001). The important antecedent role of trust in the creation of loyalty has been recognized in e-commerce research (Lee et al., 2000; Anderson and Srinivasan, 2003; Ribbink et al., 2004; Floh and Treiblmaier, 2006).
H3: Consume trust positively influences consumer loyalty.
To test the above hypotheses, a set of scales is developed for measuring the constructs, either derived from the literature or adopted developed scales from the literature. The five items of information quality were derived from the ideas of Huizingh (2000) and Ranganathan and Ganapathy (2002), which included website content and design. The items related to website content and design include "The information provides to compare across alternatives", "The website provides complete and accurate information about the product and company", "The website can find out specific merchants that other web sites do not identify" "The website provides visual presentation aids", "To navigate this website only cost me short time to find out what I want".
This study measured online community using five items derived from Hagel and Armstrong (1997) and Dholakia et al. (2004). The five measurement items were "The community sponsored by the firm contributes to a pool of information", "The community sponsored by the firm provides a message board forum for consumer-to-consumer or consumer-to-company communications", "There has something to do with others in this community (e.g., specific issue voting or play game)", "The community sponsored by the firm provides solutions to problems" "In this community I can get someone to do something for me".
The conception of trust developed by Doney and Cannon (1997) was modified to yield three measurement items, "The website is genuinely concerned that consumer's benefits", "This website is trustworthy", "We believe the information that this website provides us". Loyalty was modified from Zeithaml et al. (1996) and Macintosh et al. (1997) to produce three measurement items, "I am committed to maintaining my purchasing at this my favourite web site", "I will encourage friends and relatives to patronize this web site", "I will consider this web site my first choice to buy product I need".
All Likert scale measures used a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (=strongly disagree) to 5 (=strongly agree).
Data collection procedure
This study deals with online purchasing, and thus adopted an online survey. This approach was adopted because certain portal websites, such as Yahoo! Taiwan and Pchome.com.tw have conducted online shopping investigations via online surveys. Since consumer e-mail addresses are confidential and inaccessible, as well as being difficult to obtain, this study designed questionnaires using Front page and posted on Yahoo! Taiwan's free website. Information was then posted on the BBS of domestic notable universities and users were permitted to directly access the questionnaires via hyperlinks placed in free website in Yahoo! Taiwan. Consumers who had purchased books, CDs, computer accessories and communication products via these two web sites comprised the study population. To prevent duplication, respondents were requested to complete their e-mail address. A total of 250 valid questionnaires were obtained.
The full-sample structural equation model used in this study included all survey respondents in Taiwan, and was used to test H1-H3, respectively. The models were run using LISREL 8.54 (Jöreskog and Sörbom, 1996). This study adopted the goodness-of-fit of the models with chi-square tests, Goodness of fit index (GFI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), non-normed fit index (NNFI), and comparative fit index (CFI). Researches have already discussed about these indexes (cf., Benteler, 1990, Browne and Cudeck, 1993, and Marsh et al., 1996). Acceptable model fit is indicated by GFI?.90 RMSEA values? .08, and NNFI and CFI values?.90. All analyses were performed using covariance matrix.
The initial measurement model included five latent constructs measuring information quality (5 items), online communities (5 items), trust (3 items), loyalty (3 items), respectively. The measurement model produced Chi-Square values of 354.07 (d.f.= 98), and the fit indexes indicated an acceptable fit (GFI= .85; CFI= .89; NNFI = .87; and RMSEA= .1). The model was improved by deleting items with poor loadings (below .50), which left 13 measurement items for five constructs. The final measurement model produced a Chi-Square value of 142.06 (d.f.= 59), and the fit indexes indicated an acceptable fit (GFI= .92; CFI= .95; NNFI = .93; and RMSEA= .075).
Next, the reliability of the measurement was assessed. Composite reliability (CR) was calculated using the measure developed by Fornell and Larcker (1981, Eq.10), which is analogous to coefficient a. Estimates of the CR ranged from .741 to .85 (see Table 1), all CR exceeded 0.6 (Bagozzi and Yi, 1988). This study also assessed the average variance extracted (AVE) following the process of Fornell and Larcker (1981, Eq.11). The average variance extracted ranged from 41.9% to 65.9% (see Table 1), and all the AVE exceeded or approached 0.5 (Bagozzi and Yi, 1988). The estimates of CR and AVE demonstrated that the measurement model had acceptable internal consistency.
Convergent validity is indicated when the path coefficients (loadings) between each latent-trait factor and its manifest indicators are statistically significant. All factor loadings in the CFA were significant, and moreover exceeded .45, supporting the convergent validity of the scale items (Table 1).
This study assessed the discriminate validity following the approach of Anderson and Gerbing (1988, p.416) and adopted pairs of scales in a series of two-factor confirmatory models using LISREL. The two-factor models were respecified by restricting the factor intercorrelations to unity and chi-square difference tests (with 1 degree of freedom) were performed on the values obtained for the constrained and unconstrained models. The results are listed in Table 2. In comparison with the baseline model, the chi-square difference was statistically significant in all cases, thus providing evidence of discriminate validity. For example, the statistic for examining discriminant validity between information quality and online communities is significant (??2=41.67, ?d.f.=1, p<0.001). All ?2 differences were significant at the 0.001 level, supporting the discriminant validity of the construct.
SEM Analyses and hypotheses testing
As shown in Fig. 1, the hypothesized model was estimated. Regarding the fit statistics for the full model (see Table 3), all the other statistics are within the acceptable ranges, which indicates a good model fit in (?2=142.10, d.f.=60; GFI=0.92; CFI=0.95; NNFI=0.93; RMSEA=0.075).
Hypotheses 1a and 1b examine the effect of information quality on consumer trust and loyalty with regard to online shopping web sites. H1a posited the existence of a positive relationship between information quality and consumer trust in online shopping web sites and was supported (?11=.35, t=3.73, p<.01). The proposed relationship between information quality and trust (H1b) was also supported (?21=0.28, t=2.72, p<.01).
Hypothesis 2a and 2b related to the relationships between online community building and consumer trust and loyalty for online shopping web sites. Hypothesis 2a, predicting a positive relationship between online community building and consumer trust, was supported (?12=0.22, t=2.07, p<.01). Moreover, Hypothesis 2b, predicting positive relationships between online community building and consumer loyalty, was not statistically supported (?22=0.00, t=0.03).
Hypotheses3 examined the relationship between consumer trust and consumer loyalty and was statistically supported (ß21=0.71, t=6.10, p<.01).
Discussion and conclusion
This study focuses on shopping web sites selling books, computers, communication accessories, and CDs. Consumer trust is an intermediary variable, and is simultaneously influenced by both online activity and in turn influences consumer loyalty to a website. The main purpose of this study is from web site interactive characteristics to identify two antecedents, information quality and online community, that influence consumer loyalty in online shopping sites via online trust. The proposed model combines information quality, online community, consumer trust, and consumer loyalty. Five hypotheses were formulated and tested via a questionnaire survey. Structural Equation Modeling analysis was adopted to examine the goodness-of-fit of the proposed model. The results indicated acceptable model fit, and four of the hypotheses were supported.
Information quality provided on websites positively influences consumer trust and loyalty, consistent with the findings of previous studies such as Corritore et al. (2003), Lee et al. (2000) and Floh and Treiblmaier (2006). This finding also supported the argument of a previous study that information quality is an important trust-building mechanism in online interactions (Keen et al., 2000). This study proposed that online shopping websites used interaction with consumers to enhance their trust in firms, because good web site content and design makes consumers believe in the messages delivered by websites. Some strategies such as providing complete and accurate information on online shopping sites, making web sites easier for consumers to navigate, or making useful information easier to access, can easily improve the confidence of online consumers in website offerings.
Online community, another antecedent in this relationship, was found to be positively related to consumer trust, with no direct effect identified on consumer loyalty. Pitta and Fowler (2005) used qualitative research identify this relationship, current research specifically conducting a survey focused on the relationship. Based on this finding, this study suggests that online firms can support online communities and provide expertise to consumers, thus facilitating interaction with those consumers and deepening the relationships with them (Dou and Krishnamurthy, 2007). As this interaction intensifies, web site shoppers can revisit and make repeat purchases from online merchants that are also sponsors of favourite online communities. Interestingly, online community do not direct influence consumer loyalty, possibly because online consumers generally search for desired information before making purchase decisions, and visit other online communities when they are interested in purchasing other types of products.
Additionally, the results of this study indicate that loyalty to a web site depends heavily on consumer trust in that website, consistent with the findings of Lee et al. (2000) and Reichheld et al. (2000). From a relationship marketing perspective, the findings of this study confirm that in the context of online shopping, trust is essential to maintaining loyal relationships (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001). Since consumer online trust is based on online interaction, including information quality and online community which is the basis value creates consumer online loyalty. As consumers use these two interactive methods to develop trust in online websites, this value could help develop long-term consumer loyalty towards websites.
Based on the above results, this study confirmed the intermediary role of online consumer trust in the context of online shopping. Information quality and online community both influence loyalty via trust. This finding suggests online interaction helps develop consumer trust, consumers gradually develop loyalty towards particular websites based on the website information quality and participating in online communities. Online firms interested in attracting consumers to revisit and repurchase via their websites should not only focus on improving website content and design to make their sites and products attractive to consumers, but should also support online communities of people with an interested in their products.
This study provides a starting point for following several important research directions. Several important future research directions can be followed based on this study. First, current research on website loyalty has focused only on web sites selling books, computers, communication accessories, and CDs. However, given the enormous diversity of websites, research on other types of websites is necessary. Second, numerous factors influence web site consumer loyalty, and unlike previous studies, this study adopted interaction characteristics to identify the intermediary role of trust in influencing the loyalty of online consumers. Future studies could consider other factors which also influence web site loyalty to help establish a model for obtaining an in depth understanding of what factors influence loyalty in online shoppers. To summarize, web site shopper loyalty is important to success in e-commerce, and further research is necessary to investigate the mechanisms involved.
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