UK comparison websites

Aims and Objectives:

Overall research aim:

To explore how important, website brand reputation, website interface design and information content factors are, in developing and maintaining the trust held by online consumers, when purchasing travel related products, using UK comparison websites.

Objective 1: To discover the importance and affect of website brand reputation on developing the trust amongst online consumers, when purchasing travel related products using UK travel comparison sites.

Objective 3: To discover the importance of information quality the most effective website interface factors, in developing trust held by consumers, when using UK online travel comparison sites to search for information on Hotels.

Objective 2: To discover the key variables within a website interface, which have the greatest affect on developing the trust held by UK consumer, when using online travel comparison sites to purchase travel related products.

Objective 3: To distinguish which of the three areas is most effective at maintaining long term consumer trust and loyalty, when using UK travel comparison websites.

Dissertation Literature Review:

1. Introduction:

This section will provide an overview of existing literature in the chosen area of academic research. The overview will be divided in to several sections, to clearly show the various academic subjects involved in this dissertation project. First literature on trust will be analysed with definitions of the key terms and concepts.

The overview will then move onwards to critically evaluate the issue of trust in the online environment with specific reference to online branding and web heuristics.

This literature review will aim to highlight a gap in the chosen area of academic study and provide a justification for the proposed research topic.

2. Trust:

The academic area of trust is vast, comprising of several different components. It is therefore difficult to universally define this complex concept, in one definition.

In the interests of this study, this literature review will focus on trust in a business and online consumer context.

One common theme found in the literature is highlighted by Morgan and Hunt 1994, in their commitment - trust relationship theory. They describe trust as, “existing when one party has confidence in an exchange partners reliability and integrity”. (Morgan et al 1994 pg .).

3. Types of trust:

Three types of trust were identified by McKnight (1998), and have been used by academics to clearly highlight the different aspects of this concept. These will now be briefly outlined.

The first is Dispositional, which refers to psychological and personality factors affecting trust, such as culture and social upbringing.

Rotter (1971) and (1967) studied this early form of trust research, which is linked closely with psychology. A more relevant and recent study by Ibrahim (2008) studied the dispositional trust held by Muslim users when searching for information online. The study found that culture, ethics and social factors all have a major effect on the level of trust held when using web mediated environments.

The second type is institutional trust, or sometimes referred to as system based, and takes place when trust is formed structurally in a certain context or system. (Zucker 1986).

Tan and Theon (2000) investigated institutional trust in e-commerce, analysing in particular the transactional process. They argued that “that the two basic components of the level of transaction trust are the trust in the other party and the trust in the control mechanisms” (Tan and Theon 2001 pg9)

The third and final type of trust identified by McKnight (1998) is interpersonal, or sometimes known as cognitive based trust. Tan and Sutherland (2004) claim that interpersonal takes centre stage when an individual trusts another ‘specific party' (Tan and Sutherland 2004, pg 49), and also see's this form of trust as calculative and rational.

This dimension of trust takes into account the competence, benevolence, integrity and predictability of another party, such as the interface of a travel comparison website.

Due to dispositional (personality/culture) trust being largely out of a business's control, (Reference) the focus of this literature review will combine aspects of institutional and interpersonal/cognitive trust, in a business and marketing context.

4. Trust in Business:

Ambler claims that trust is a concept which needs to be fully understood by marketers, who are looking to gain the business of consumers and also work effectively with suppliers, retailers and wholesalers. (Ambler,1997)

This is especially the case in services, such as online comparison sites, as consumers must buy, “before experiencing the purchase”. (Berry and Parsuraman p107 1991)

This literature review will focus on business to consumer trust. Turban (2001) studied trust in the contexts of consumer behaviour and defined it as “a willingness of consumers to rely on an exchange partner for the delivery of certain desired benefits” (Lee et al 2001).

As a result, several authors have studied trust in a business context often focusing on the overall organisation benefits of gaining trust (Morgan and Hunt 1994, Sako 2006, Solomon 2003, Pennington et al 2003).

5. Online Purchasing Process:

Two differences between the offline and online purchasing processes are identified by Heijden et al (2003). The first involves the use of technology or ‘Information systems'

These stages are relatively abstract and do not consider the medium through which the consumer buys. Hence, the stages can be applied to online consumer behaviour (O'Keefe & McEachern,1998).

6. Risk:

Literature (Briggs, McAllister, French 1995, Harridge March 2006) has also highlighted that online trust cannot exist without a degree of risk held by consumers, and that this risk needs to be overcome in e-commerce.

Two main ways of assessing risk are mentioned in the literature. The first is by taking in the heuristic properties of the website (McAllister, 1995, French, 2007)such as the graphics and usability. The second would be to take a more detailed assessment of the information quality indicators such as reputation, perceived integrity, expertise or experience (Briggs et al, 2004).

7. Online Trust:

Relevant to this study and running closely alongside the literature on consumer risk and trust in business, many academics have studied online trust in the context of consumer behaviour (Briggs 2002, Egger 2000, Coutler and Coultler 2002, Harridge March 2006, Lambe 2000, Wang 2004, Salo and Karjaluoto 2007, Jarvenpaa 1999, Chadwick 2001).

Much of this research was carried out soon after the millennium, when internet shopping saw rapid growth.

The growth in online e commerce has resulted in several businesses and industries moving online however many consumers still believe themselves to be at risk when purchasing on the internet. (Cases 2002, Egger 2006)

Online trust defined by Austin et al (2006): Page Number

“consumer's willingness to engage in an online transactional relationship, despite being vulnerable to the seller as a result of the lack of verifiable and adequate knowledge to the vendor''

In the online environment comparison between websites can be carried out with ease as consumers have become empowered. (Harridge-March 2006) It is therefore important for marketers to provide trustworthy websites, information and online services to retain the custom of visitors and users.

Models of Trust:

Academics have recognised that online trust perceptions have ‘evolved' from being based solely on the security and privacy aspects (Shankar et al; 2002), to more of a multidimensional construct including factors outside of the website itself. (Yoon, 2002) (Reference found in Shankar 2002)

“Today, trust has become much larger than security and privacy on the Web. It is a multidimensional, complex construct that has important antecedents and consequences” (Shankar et al 2002 pg 326)

Two forms of website based trust are identified by Lambe (2000) and Wang et al (2004). These are experience and cue based. (Austin et al 2006). Experienced based takes into consideration the factors before interaction with a stimulus, and cue based accounts for those factors which affect the level of trust during the initial encounter with a stimulus, in this case, a website.

Salo and Karjaluoto (2007) also created a conceptual model for researching trust in the online environment identifying the importance of both internal and external factors. (See Appendix 1)

External factors included consumer characteristics, product/service characteristics, different markets and cultures, perception of risk and past experiences.

Internal factors were website quality, seals of approval, third parties, reputation and perceived ease of use.

These models have grouped the drivers of online trust into two areas, external and internal.

Egger's (2000) model for Electronic Commerce (MoTec) (See Appendix 2) is more descriptive, and can be used by marketers to identify the key areas affecting online trust:

The first factor involves the consumers personal attributes and his/hers disposition to trust.

Next the user's knowledge of the domain name and reputation before the consumer visits the website is taken into consideration.

The third stage in Egger's model takes into account the first impressions made by the interface properties of a website (web design). Included in this component are the factors such as graphics and layout, navigation and usability.

The fourth and final factor included in the model refers to the actual quality of the information presented on the website.

These models and perspectives help simplify the sometimes complex and multi faceted academic area of trust in e-commerce.

The three stages of Egger's 2000 model which can be controlled by an online business (Prior Knowledge of Vendor, Website Interface and Information Content) will be the basis of the proposed study, which will aim to explore which of the final three factors is most effective in developing and maintaining trust.

With several price comparison websites having established brand reputation in recent years (Reference), the literature has highlighted the effect of this on consumer trust, as a reasonably unexplored area.

Luo and Cook (2007) found that reputation had little effect on consumer trust of internet rating services, yet this was before many sites had the chance of brand reputation building.

Website Brand Reputation:

Several early authors of online trust such as, Backhouse (1998) and Sakaguchi (1998) claim that trust is only effected by technical issues such as privacy, security and ease of use. However, Kania (2001) proposes that if a potential customer is familiar with the brand, then trust is more likely to be achieved than if the brand is unknown. This is also supported by Tadelis (1999) who claim's that the reputation of a company is carried by the brand name and that this construct is formed by past interactions with the subject. (Page Number)

Krauter-Grabner and Kaluscha (2002) suggest further research avenues regarding online trust should look at the inter relationship between brand reputation and trust. Several studies ( e.g. Jarvenpaa et al 1999, Kania 2001 Chadwick 2001, Ballester and Espallardo 2008,) have identified the effect of brand reputation on trust, however, “none of the 11 studies explicitly investigated the interrelationship between online trust and branding” (Krauter-Grabner and Kaluscha 2002 pg 809)

Lindstorm (2002) argues in his book ‘Click Bricks and Brands' that

“The more anonymous a brand is, the slower its trust building will be. The more distinctive the brand, the quicker its trust building will be.” (Lindstorm, 2002 pg 85)

Jarvenpaa et al. (1999) also concluded that perceived size and reputation had a major effect on the trust held by consumers using online bookstores and travel websites. This study however fails to compare and contrast this driver of trust against competing factors.

Branding and a website familiarity was also the focus of a study carried out in 2004 by Hong-Youl Ha and was predicted to result in higher levels of trust, in the third of five hypotheses. The empirical primary research was gathered through online questionnaires posted on the South Korean ‘internet marketing research' homepage, for two weeks.

The study proved that brand name of a web store has a strong relationship with the amount of brand trust held by consumers. It is claimed that marketers should invest in traditional offline promotional media advertising to improve website reputation. (Quote +Page Number)

However, again the study does not provide a comparison between factors effecting online trust which would be useful to marketers. Instead it simply identifies those factors which effect brand trust in the online environment.

More specific to the proposed research area, Ballester and Espallardo (2008), studied the effect of brand associations and reputation on consumer trust when searching for travel package holidays. The 265 participants in primary research proved that familiar sites increased consumer trust compared with those which were unfamiliar. (Ballester and Espallardo 2008).

Develop

Austin et al (2006) identified six factors effecting trust in the Singapore online travel market, one of which was ‘Prior knowledge of vendor'. Even though this factor did not score highly when in quantitative research, during interviews it was discovered that:

“Singaporean consumers appear to feel comfortable dealing with reputable organizations with strong brands, even if online” (Austin et al, 2006 pg 34)

In spite of these interesting findings, little qualitative research has been carried out identifying whether websites brand reputation is key in developing trust or maintaining (Austin 2006).

It is also worth noting that industry reports point towards brand reputation as a future worthwhile marketing strategy to build up trust.

A recent report was carried out in August 2009 called “Future comparisons: What's next for price comparison websites?” .The report was carried out by internet user research company Webcredible. It highlighted the need for comparison sites to consider building the brand reputation offline as trust is becoming more of an issue.

Website interface:

Website interface and design (Eggers second stage of trust development) is a broad area, which is consistently mentioned by the majority of academics researching the factors driving online trust.

A cognitive heuristic evaluation of the website interface is undertaken when evaluating the trustworthiness of information online (Briggs, 2002).

Website interface contains several variables and has been the primary focus of many online trust research projects (e.g. Cheskin and Saipent, 1999; Sillence et al, 2004; Kim and Eom, 2002 ; Loshe and Spiller, 1999) (See Appendix 2).

Studies on this key area of trust were carried out as early as 1998, by Kim and Moon who looked at the graphics used on cyber-banking websites. Their study however was purely empirical and based on no past academic research. Four main dimensions were seen as important in gaining trust including title, menu, main clipart and colour schemes.

The Cheskin and Sapient 1999 ‘ecommerce trust study' (See Appendix 4) was a pioneering report focusing on trust on the internet. It identified six website interface based factors affecting user trust. These were, branding, seals of approval, navigation, fulfilment, presentation and technology.

Specific to this study and objective 2, Austin et al (2006) highlighted the importance of website presentation and navigation on the effect of trust scoring second highest in priority with 12.68 % in the primary research questionnaire. This factor included five items: style and size of font, presentation of products, levels of animation, tutorial and user guides and colours and image's.

The limitations of this study are highlighted by the authors themselves. The primary research is based on Singaporean travel consumers only and therefore results will vary in different segments (Austin et al 2006).

Comparison websites are also not the focus of the study, but are increasingly being used by consumers in the travel marketplace (References). Due to the supposed impartiality as well as the rapid and recent growth in popularity for these companies, consumers may have different views on trust affecting factors which this study does not include.

Sillence et al (2004) also carried out research with more of an emphasis on website interface and design. Primary data was gathered from female internet users searching for health advice online. They found that the “rapid screening of sites based on heuristic analysis” (Sillence 2004, pg 669) was believed to as having the greatest effect on gaining initial trust.

The perceived usability of a website interface was also found to have a direct impact on consumer trust when studied by Flavian et al (2005). Usability, or sometimes referred to as ease of use, is argued by Kim and Eom (2002) as being a key factor when designing the website interface.

The usability of a website was also highlighted by the Web Credible report, “Future comparisons: What's next for price comparison websites?” The report claimed that these websites need to improve the usability and the presentation of information if they are to gaining the long term loyalty of online consumers.

The factors within Website Interface:

Objective 2 therefore seeks to discover which of these factors within the website interface of travel comparison websites, are most effective in developing trust. For the purposes of this research and based on past academic studies, three commonly cited variables will be summarized and classed as:

Graphics (Kim & Moon 1998)

Ease of Use/ Usability ( Flavian et al 2005)

Seals of Approval (Cheskin and Sapient 1999)

Information Quality:

The best website designs should consider how their users process information (Chaffey 2002) with the aim of gaining trust.

Information quality is defined by McDowell and Karriker as being the degree to which information provided by a company is accurate, timely, adequate, complete and credible.(McDowell and Karriker)

This dimension of e-commerce has been the focus of several studies (Aladwani and Palvia 2002; Barnes and Vidgen 2000; Liu and Arnett 2000; Kim et al 2002).Find references in: The antecedents of customer satisfaction with online travel services: a conceptual model.

Nusair and Kandampully (2006) sampled six popular travel websites evaluating each with six dimensions, one of which was information quality. Considerable room for improvement was discovered by the primary research, with this dimension scoring 53%.

Included in the information quality dimension were aspects such as company and supplier information, travellers reviews, investor relations, customer support and hotel features.

Antecedent of online trust can also be found in the Egger MOTEC model (see 1).

Egger describes this area as ‘information content' and claims that it is the third stage of trust development for online consumers. (Egger 2000)

Developing and maintaining trust:

Three subject areas affecting online consumer trust have been highlighted in this literature review. The first is the website's reputation including the brand, familiarity and associations consumers have with a online vendor.

The second includes the website interface including factors such as the usability, graphics, layout and reliability.

The third involves the perceived quality of information found on websites.

Several studies mentioned in this review of literature have identified the various factors affecting online trust.

In spite of this, few have clearly highlighted the best method of maintaining or developing trust of consumers. ( Harridge-March 2006, Austin 2006, Ha 2004, Ribbink et al 2004,Briggs, Egger 2002, Lambe, 2000; Wang 2004 ; Salo and Karjaluoto 2007 ; Jarvenpaa, 1999; Chadwick, 2001, Cheskin and Sapient 1999).

Instead Morgan and Hunt studied identified the strong correlation between commitment and trust in and its importance in the marketing context.

This study however is dated, with e commerce being unaccounted for. Instead the study looks at other aspects of relationship marketing such as B2B and customer relationship management (CRM) (Morgan and Hunt 1994).

Due to the competitive nature of e-commerce, developing and maintaining trust requires internet marketers to focus on website based factors, which is the only tangible aspect of purchasing online.

(Reference)

No known research projects have carried out work on the three main areas of website based trust formation highlighted in the literature, and neither have they discovered which is more affective at developing initial trust or maintain it.

Future research regarding online trust should seek fill this gap in the literature and that primary research should be carried in different industry contexts. (Austin 2006 pg)

As a result the primary research of this study will seek to discover if either a website's reputation or interface design has a greater effect on developing trust or maintaining it.

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