An increasing number of customers are turning to the Internet to make their purchases, as a vast array of goods and services are now only a mouse click away. E-tailing clothes is even more challenging, with new e-tailers' hoping to attract and retain satisfied online customers, are constantly creating new opportunities for them, and in order to do that they need to know what evaluative criteria customer's use when selecting an e-tailer as well as what they will purchase online. Past research has provided some insight into what characteristics customers assess whilst making this choice. This report has not been without its limitations. Consequently, the present study utilizes a literature review, qualitative and quantitative research to identify the core customer behavior towards this channel, In addition, results of the analysis show that the type of product on offer and the web attributes (determinants) are predictors of customers' attitude toward online shopping for clothing and their perception hence, providing an understanding of how they are responding to the new online buying opportunities.
This research report is divided into 5 Chapters. Chapter 1 is meant to introduce the background of the research area with aims and objectives and focus of the study providing guidelines into subsequent chapters. This then will be followed with Chapter 2 having literature review of the matter giving an insight of the research area that will be referred, compared with the data collection and analysis will be made in Chapter 4. However, Chapter 3 will be discussed prior to the actual data collection as it is necessary to identify Research Methodology to be used for the research. Finally, Chapter 5 will have conclusions and recommendations with any limitations faced and with the mention of area for further research if any.
The expansion in electronic commerce (E-commerce) has been phenomenal, with most of today's business transactions being conducted through the Internet. The emergence of this electronic retail (E-tail) market has been extraordinary. E-tailing is also a gaining popularity and changing the retail landscape, it is pervasive in what we thought of it six months ago is probably different to what we think of it today and also what we will think of it in six months time.
Customers' decision making process has also altered greatly with the introduction of this medium and more so as an alternative channel for shopping. Online shopping concept has already caused a stir in the retail industry in the UK, as more people are opting to buy online due to various reasons, a vast array of goods and services are increasingly being made available now through a click of the mouse, creating a new experience and culture. Many retailers are already delivering high value, personalised products and services at a fraction of the cost thereby making it more low cost and also appealing to the consumers (Birch et al, 2000). The number of consumers shopping online has increased markedly, according to Jardine (1999) people have increasingly become price sensitive and often compare prices of goods both online and offline before making the final purchase, in turn increasing competition amongst the retailers. This is the general overview of the e-tailing concept, as understood by most of us.
However, the purpose of this study is to concentrate on the online clothing market in the UK specifically London, in order to determine predictors of customers' purchase intentions for clothing products via this channel. E-tailing of clothing items online has always been debatable, especially since clothing are “feel-and-touch” products, and cannot be bought without engaging this sensory aspect, unlike other cognitive products like books, computer software, dvd's and music which do not really require this. Nevertheless, customer's tend to buy more clothing products when they perceive the features of the online store, such as a convenience and secure system of ordering and payment, returns policy, the focus on product display, and the offering of products that have a range of acceptable fits as opposed to a precise fit and most of all choice this are some of the most general attributes a customer considers whilst shopping online for clothes.
The attributes that enhance the online experience can be particularly influential for products such as clothing, which generally require physical interaction and evaluation prior to purchase. Web experience attributes can affect early decision making stages (search and pre-purchase evaluation) and influence purchase intent of the customer. With the current fragmented nature of the subject area and to keep up with the rapidly developing technology as well the customer attitudes, the author aims to build on the current body of knowledge, investigating and drawing together the key aspects which influence online shopping for clothes, so as to understand how the customers are responding to the new buying opportunities presented to them by the e-tailer's in UK then concentrating on London where the survey was conducted by collecting data from a sample of participants, which aided in exploring the capabilities and further to determine consumer behaviour and customer relationship management patterns in relation to E-tailing, thus the research objectives being set as:
1. To explore the impact of e-tailing in London.
2. To determine customers attitude towards shopping online.
3. To investigate customers perception of shopping online for clothing in London.
In order to achieve the results of the set objectives, the author has explored the determinants the customer's consider most important when making a purchase online and to what extent they create an impact on their perceptions. The first hand elements collated from the survey has helped to gain rich insights into customers' behaviour and attitudes towards this channel. The secondary data which is covered in the second chapter under the literature review the author here has studied and explained the general E-tailing concept and picked relevant data to help understand the subject matter and provide a better insight into the field of e-commerce, covering a wider area (UK), then narrowing it down to specific location (London) which in turn has helped to achieve the set objectives and later also support the resultant findings in terms of the primary data collected via the survey by the author.
2. Literature Review
Xing (2001) stresses that “The emergence and explosive growth of e-commerce through online trading have ushered in a new era of retail business”.
2.1 The Commercialisation of the Internet
The Internet, once a tax-sustained and a government-regulated endeavour, is no longer restricted to non-commercial traffic. The early commercialisation of the Internet, in the mid - 1990s gave rise to the e-commerce phenomenon. The Internet population has since grown tremendously, as a result of its opening to the commercial traffic in 1991. Its utilisation has since become remarkably more wide and varied in businesses; the application of internet has grown rapidly over the last several years, due to its contribution of the ever evolving new information technology and its positive gains to the business organisations. Its use apart from being internal its' also employed externally and its used more commonly referred to as E-business (electronic business) derived from such terms as "e-mail" and "e-commerce," which is the conduct of business on the Internet, not only buying and selling but also servicing customers and collaborating with business partners.
IBM was one of the first organisations to use the term E-business (electronic business) when, in October 1997, it launched a thematic campaign built around the term. Today, major corporations have reconsidered their businesses in terms of the Internet and its new culture and capabilities. Companies are utilising the Web to buy parts and supplies from other companies, to collaborate on sales promotions, and to do joint research, exploiting the convenience, availability, and world-wide reach of the Internet, using it successfully.
2.2 The E-tailing Concept
“The emergence and explosive growth of e-commerce through online trading have ushered in a new era of retail business” says Xing (2001). It was seen as a new channel for sale of products and services along with the traditional channels as well as a market penetration strategy for others. E-tail or E-retail the term, came into discussions or rather its origins as early as 1995, it's an addition in the computing subject such as, e-mail, e-business and e-commerce. The business of e-retail has been defined as the sale of goods and services via internet or other electronic channels, for personal or household use by consumers (Harris and Dennis, 2002).
It's more efficiently used as a marketing tool, which is integrated into traditional business strategies, and also being viewed as a new marketplace by existing businesses as well as new business ventures as the market place becomes more competitive and unpredictable, due to this, the growth of the electronic retail market has been rapid, significantly expanding reach in terms of people, location and range being variety of information, the World Wide Web has created benefits for both the marketers as well the consumers. For consumers, the Web can provide access to a wide range of products and services with low cost (Bakos, 1997), extensive and tailored information, at home convenience for product comparisons, enhanced interactivity (Cross and Smith, 1995), hence facilitating the formation of virtual communities for users with common interests.
E-tailing and E-trading operates in all four of the major market segments; business to business, business to consumer, consumer to consumer and consumer to business. Initially, much direct selling (or e-tailing) was taking place on the internet of computer-related equipment and software, one of the first to report successful sales in the millions of dollars directly from the Web was Dell Computer, there after other businesses started employing the concept in various fields from; Travel bookings, Holidays, Books, Clothing and other accessories, this has particularly grown in the Business to Consumer market segment directly or indirectly as a result of the wide usage of the internet. The Internet's greatest commercial advantage is said to be the reduction in transaction cost that directly lowers the prices for consumer (Pavitt, 1997), and therefore E-tailing is said to be a low-cost, efficient way to display merchandise, attract customers, and handle purchase orders (Bellman, 2001).
2.3 Online shopping in the UK
Home shopping in various forms has been available to the consumer market for more than 100 years in the UK, paper catalogue being the first and the oldest form illustrated with Victorian ladies and do-it-yourself house kits a lot has changed since, in terms of improvements and choice, then came the emergence of home shopping television, however none has had the influence or the expected impact of shopping, as much as the World Wide Web. E-commerce has grown steadily in the UK since the early 1990's. According to Exley (2006, cited in Haymarket, 2006) consumers have become comfortable shopping on the internet and e-tailing is clearly a part of retail's future. He adds that e-tail does not have to replace traditional bricks and mortar stores, “all retailers need to do is to provide a good in-store experience” (Exley, 2006, cited in Haymarket, 2006).
“Since 2000, Internet shopping has soared by over 5,000% with UK consumers spending an astounding £200 billion during this period. Internet shopping is clearly the bright spot in the UK retail sector, but this industry is still young and has potential for further growth.” (Tina Spooner, director of information, Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), cited in press release, May 2009). No doubt, online shopping is rising steadily in the UK (from a consumer's perspective) as internet access has become cheaper, high street cyber café's are increasing and Internet service providers (ISPs) have already eliminated subscription fees (Daniel, 2000). Furthermore as technology is set to get even more advanced, hand-held devices have become internet-enabled and nowadays most mobile phones connect to the web (Daniel, 2000). With all the above possible ways of shopping more customers are getting accustomed to the online shopping experience and utilising the new channel. This exceptional growth of Internet shopping is also driven by greater emphasis on customers' efficient use of time, as well as the ever increasing number of computer trained customers, hence giving it a positive outlook and a further opportunity for growth to the existing and perspective e-tailers.
A wide range of products and services are available for the customers in the UK to buy online from a variety of retailers, which also gives them a better choice, so why would they go buy anywhere else? Although one reason may be convenience, sadly another is fraud; fraud poses the biggest threat to online shopping (Economist, 2004) but according to Pavitt (1997) consumer's fear of shopping online is already resolved by the use of encryption technology.
Moreover, the security systems are rapidly improving by the day, further dispelling the notion which is perceived by a majority of people worldwide that online shopping is a risky business. For example, secure digital systems such as encryption tools, digital signatures and the guarantee about security or privacy concern provided by the e-tailers have reduced security inhibitors and thus have increased consumers' willingness to visit or purchase from sites (Ah-Wong et al., 2001; Han and Maclaurin, 2002).
UK is the second largest e-taling market in Europe - like Germany, it combines a large consumer market with internet penetration above the European average (Datamonitor, 2002).
There are six leading online shopping companies that dominate the UK e-tailing market. These are; streetsonline.co.uk, Jungle.com, Amazon.com, Lastminute.com, Thomascook.com and Egg.com, all these providing a variety of products and services. What is the future of high street stores when most analysts agree that in five years time, online shopping could be worth £200billion? This does represent some form of concern to high street stores in the UK as a percentage or it could be of the sales they lose. Nevertheless according to Brewer (2006); cited in Haymarket (2007) the future is brightest for those high street stores that could adopt a multi-channel strategy. However, Murphy (2006); cited in Haymarket (2007) says that “we have the most vibrant, competitive high street in the world and high street shopping is one of our biggest leisure pursuits. Can high street shopping be our biggest leisure pursuits since they boast to sell a variety of diverse products in-store? It is therefore inconceivable that the future of retail would be solely online”, although the number of customers making purchases online is also on the rise in the UK as mentioned earlier in this report.
2.4 The extent to which e-tailing builds relationships
The impact of e-tailing will be felt differently and at different times by various retailers. In the context of buyer behaviour preferences (Daniel, 2000) says that e-tail is a transactional-sales medium rather than a relationship-building medium which means that e-tail cannot substitute personal contact such as customer service advisors, that makes it the most critical differentiation aspect to high street stores today.
This emphasises the need further research on the customer's perception of e-tail, i.e. to what extent does e-tailing build relationships? If empirical research suggests that e-tailing is a transactional sales medium then ultimately there may be an opportunity for e-tail to focus building relationships with customers that will create the need for further research on how e-tail may be able to become a relationship-building medium. Personal contact with highly trained and motivated salespeople, the service factor is still the critical differentiator for such businesses, and on-line experiences have yet to match that or offer a suitable counter value (Quelch, 1999 cited in Maruca, 1999).
As Pavitt (1997) states that the impact of e-tail on high street stores may result in changes on three key fronts; “change in the nature of product offerings, customer buying patterns and its place in the value chain”. The changes in product offering may alter as a result of advances in digital technology. For example media products delivered via the internet or newspapers being published electronically, that would be a direct impact on high street stores (Pavitt, 1997). There is lack of empirical evidence to show what customer's perceive of digital medium against physical goods, as an simple example, would customer's prefer buying a DVD from a high street store, so as to get a feel of the physical aspect of this product as well as more information from the back cover of the DVD case, or from the Internet where information on the product is limited in two dimensional form.
“There will be a great deal of change in the value chain as well due to shrinkage in distribution channels”, (Bellman, 2001). E-tailing eliminates traditional chain of wholesalers, agents, and other intermediaries thus creating a new distribution model focusing on manufacturer to consumer direct that implies a great potential for savings (Bellman, 2001). Today, majority of the manufacturers do not want to take the responsibility of dealing with single customer queries, which is one reason why they sell their products through intermediaries even on the Internet. With lack of evidence it still remains to be investigated as to what extent is the internet an intermediary?
Another common question which arises in this case is; do e-businesses have any storage for products they advertise or do they order them directly from the manufactures or other traders as required? However, this can also be different in the case of businesses which use internet as a secondary channel for sell or distribution of their products, which they also sell in their physical store. Another issue that arises is to investigate potential shopper's perception in relation to price. Smith et al's (1999); cited in Lii and Lee (2005) indicated that online shoppers believe that online stores enjoy a cost advantage over traditional channels in terms of administrative cost, overheads and transaction cost. These features of the online retail channel add to the perception of online shoppers that prices generally tend to be much lower online than that of the high street stores. Considering this then, do customers shop online because they perceive it to be cheaper? If so then how and in what ways is online shopping cheaper compared to the high street stores where lots of products are reduced at competitive prices even at times with offers such as buy one get on free or a second product at half price, are always there. Is price an issue of concern or is it about building relationships? Would customers be willing to pay that extra price in exchange for good service, remains to be investigated? Good service may be classed by online shoppers such as providing a tracking system for their ordered goods, free return policy and delivery of the goods or a full money back guarantee on items that customers return which is in place with most e-businesses today.
With regards to customer's online shopping behaviour, Brown (2000) states that a survey by BT found out that consumer's choose well-known brands when shopping online and those consumer's want to be served immediately, be remembered and treated as individuals. Therefore, in what ways can e-businesses build relationships? According to Kalyanarm and Winer, (1995); Chandrashekaran, (2001); cited in Lii and Lee (2005) prior studies have revealed that in the off line retail channels, customers may use the advertised original price as a frame for reference to assess the accompanying sale price. The resulting price comparison between the original price and the sale price makes the price promotion more appealing (Biswas and Blair, 1991; Grewal et al, 1996; cited in Lii and Lee, 2005). On the other hand on line retailing enables potential customers to have quick and easy access to price and other product attributes and information necessary for price evaluations. An example is amazon.co.uk website. The Internet has empowered on line shoppers to better detect price discrepancies and bargains (Balasubramanian, 1997; Bakos, 1997; Hoffman and Novak, 1997; cited in Lii and Lee, 2005).
Today Majority of e-tailers attract customers through promotion codes normally available through advertisement and marketing media from which customers, can usually claim some money off or some percentage of discount on their online shopping. What remains to be assessed is whether the promotional codes attract new customers and also retain existing customers to shop online? If e-tailers start providing regular promotion codes to new customers as well as regular customers with this, then will it add up to building a relationship?
2.5 Customers general online shopping preferences in the UK
On the basis of the objectives of this research, it's crucial to investigate customers' e-tail shopping preferences in the UK in general first, since ultimately perception leads to action. “When consumers are confronted by new forms of retail channels such as on line shopping, they may decide whether the difference between the on line shopping and off line shopping is significant to them. If the difference is perceived to be insignificant, customers may classify the two retail channels as the same. On the other hand, if the differences are perceived as significant, customers may classify the two shopping channels as different and make their purchase decision differently” (Lii and Lee, 2005).
“Perception involves the process of categorization, and people tend to place new experiences into existing classifications of familiar experiences” (Monroe, 1990; cited in Lii and Lee, 2005).
Late night shopping in the UK is fast becoming a way of life and a new culture, since for many people 24-hour high street shopping is invaluable as it allows them to fit it around their lifestyles, this is very common in the larger cities like London where this sort of service fits in well with the metropolitan lifestyle whereby time is crucial, however having said that, it's also being almost equally favoured by people living in smaller towns or suburbs. The changes occurring in buyer behaviour patterns are alarming to high street retail stores as more and more people are beginning to work partly or wholly from home and they may prefer their goods bought online to be delivered at home, this is also rapidly picking up for supermarkets where the consumers prefer their grocery as well as other items shopped on line to be delivered at their doorstep (Haymarket, 2006).
Whatever may be the case, Cottam (2006, cited in Haymarket, 2006) says that high street retailing is facing stiff competition with on line ‘anytime' culture, meaning that customers are shopping 24/7 and therefore even high streets supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco have also launched 24-hour stores. Customers' perceptions about 24/7 shopping remain to be investigated, since some high street supermarkets that tend to provide 24/7 services are closed on Sunday afternoons due to Sunday trading laws, but this has also changed in recent years. Once more it raises the question, what are customers perception of 24/7 culture in relation to the internet and high street stores, a fair example to portray, the 24/7 concept proved to be costly, in comparison to profitability against cost, for a superstore like Sainsbury's as Sainsbury failed in its attempt, even though it believed it had the winning formula (Haymarket, 2006). The reason behind the failure was that Sainsbury's could not attract enough customers as there is no guarantee that a fair percentage of existing or new customers will change their habits to take advantage of 24-hour shopping (Haymarket, 2006). Indeed this is a lesson for others (organisational learning) and thus most retailers are being cautious in their approach to 24/7 services. Bearing this in mind customers are constantly taking advantage of such facility and are trying or even getting used to shopping around the clock says Gladding (2006, cited in Haymarket, 2006). Analysts argue that 24-hour retailing is less likely to grow beyond its current levels as retailers have raised little awareness of the fact, hence stores such as Asda and IKEA are being cautious about this approach by advertising their long opening hours in the form of outside signage and flyers (Haymarket, 2006). The key question that arises from this scenario is the customers' perception of the availability of 24/7 online shopping versus the high street 24/7 timings. Do customer's really want go to shopping at high street stores and supermarkets at night (freely) compared to doing online shopping at night? Security is another issue that could be a vital sign of failure for high street stores or supermarkets to remain open 24/7 and be able to achieve their budget.
Depending on the type of product, Andrew and Currim,(2004) have highlighted some key characteristics of customers shopping on line, despite the additional aspects. They say that consumers shopping online for products such as groceries differ from those who shop in high street stores claiming that on line grocery shoppers tend to be more frequent, heavy shoppers, less price sensitive, prefer larger sizes and do more screening on the basis of brand names. Alternatively, Morganosky and Cude ,(2000) suggest that convenience is the main motivation for on line shoppers, and according to Keh and Shieh,(2001) on line shopping is ideal for time-starved customers such as couples with two careers, children, and above-average income who want to spend time with their families instead. These suggestions are valid and can be applied to the reasons for consumer's behaviour towards shopping online, however it also differs to the type of market and the products on offer. Hence, for those people, convenience is more of a priority than price stresses, Keh and Shieh, (2001). Also Professionals, working women and single independent hard working individuals are just some of the people who do not have time on their hands and their perceptions of online shopping especially for items such as grocery remains to be determined. Keh & Shieh, (2001) simply claim, with being deficient in practical evidence, that such customers dislike grocery shopping and only those with busy schedules will consider on line purchasing as a viable option. Online shopping may save time and money as the frustration of dealing with children at a store or supermarket that involves pushing carts up and down the aisles, waiting in long lines at checkout counters, and finding parking spaces, could be eliminated, Keh & Shieh,(2001).Whilst on the other hand, as more people today having the opportunity to “surf” from their offices, they are more likely to shop during office hours and thus may prefer to collect their online shopping at ‘convenient' stores on their way back home (Pavitt, 1997). Vaughan (1999); cited in Jardine (1999) head of consulting at Retail Intelligence says that “consumers might do their main shopping on the internet once a week but will still need to stock up on fresh foods locally” and this is the alternative method that supermarkets have taken by opening ‘convenience' stores such as Tesco Express, Sainsbury's Local, and M&S Simply Food, (Jardine, 1999).
According to Lii and Lee (2005), their study on examining customers' perception of shopping on line suggests competitive pricing being the main reason. It allows them to compare prices of products more quickly and easily than when shopping in stores. (Korgaonkar and Wolin, 1999; Ernst & Young, 2001; cited in Lii and Lee, 2005). According to the author, Mysupermarket.co.uk is a classic example; The website allows registered shoppers to compare their online shopping from high street supermarkets in the UK which are Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Ocado which is fully online based. Furthermore it allows users to switch at a click if they decide to change their preference to the cheapest supermarket. The problem associated with this is that it may be time consuming going through the tedious process of comparison because consumers may dislike switching from their preferred supermarket. In the authors' view high street supermarkets also offer this service. A good example is that of Sainsbury's supermarket where there is often a price comparison sheet placed next to their own shelf edge price tags showing their prices as compared to Tesco and Asda. If not then Sainsbury's have opened small kiosks often located towards end of an isle where the customer advisor can compare their prices for customers with other competing supermarkets and if their prices are high then they do price match or sell the item even cheaper. This shows that the high street physical stores are also doing their best to match the benefits of on line shopping.
Another factor that may drive away consumers from shopping on line is transportation cost. Bellman (2001), says that growing numbers of e-tailers are eliminating these costs as they find that customers often cancel orders after going through the entire ordering process and then considering the transportation cost being high, and this may be the key factor that drives potential customers away.
The other fear of shopping online is privacy. Most web users refrain giving out their details, especially data in the form of credit card details as they fear exploitation of their privacy (Bellman, 2001). Insufficient product information on screen also contributes to decline of purchase. Apart from this, all secured websites do have a ‘time-out' function where user sessions are based on time limits. If ‘time-out' occurs, customers risk losing their entire shopping basket, which is quite frustrating from a customers' point of view. These are some of the most common factors which may keep away customers from shopping online and reason their preference to shop in high street stores simply because they are well aware of the location, store layout, product selection and return policies as well as the stores reputation (Greenbury, 1999; cites in Maruca, 1999).
Online e-tailing has a great and growing future, but the high street is still an important destination for customers. The limiting factor of e-businesses could be, a simple example, such as one cannot buy a piece of fruit via shopping online but can do so from a store. Furthermore, there is no empirical evidence to justify what drives customers to shop on line instead of high street stores, ultimately questioning what customer's online shopping preferences are?
2.6 The E-tail clothing sector in UK
Fashion is a sensitive and rapidly moving market which is growing at a faster pace in the UK, in comparison to its other European counter parts. Shopping on line for clothing products is also fast gaining popularity in the UK. Although buying over the Internet remains small in comparison with buying through the traditional channels, such as the brick-and-mortar physical stores, it is growing and clothing is a substantial portion of the e-tail sector in the UK.
The online clothing sector caters for almost all segments of the UK market starting from the low cost value clothing to high end designer clothing including bespoke tailoring to couture clothing, the choice is unlimited and the options ever increasing. One can buy a single handkerchief to a full suit online, even clothing and accessories for all age ranges are available, whereby the customer can buy clothes for new born babies to clothes for senior citizens, therefore making this shopping channel even more appealing and convenient hence its growing popularity. However no particular sites do all in one but there are quite a few number of sites which offer all the products, and as competition has stiffened in this sector more and more e-tailer's are enhancing the range of products and services they offer in order to retain their market share as well as secure larger markets.
Focusing on the objectives of this research, after investigating and discussing customers' e-tail shopping preferences in the UK in general, the author now looks into detail the impact the clothing sector has made in the UK market, leading to the customer behaviour and their response to this buying opportunity, in terms of their willingness to buy and patronage of online retail clothing stores.
A study conducted by Changchit and Vokurka (2003), reveals that consumers may averse to shopping on line as it deprives them from the visual experience of seeing what they are interested in purchasing limiting their ability to touch or feel the merchandise until after delivery. However, this may only apply to some goods such as clothing, Reynolds (2004), says that clothing is not an obvious product for e-tailing, as it's normally bought by look, fit and feel, all of which are difficult for the e-shopper to evaluate on the web and also clothing is bought not only for warmth and modesty, but also to express ones' self image. Therefore, any purchase errors for example; in style, could perceive high risk. This is the general opinion regarding the clothing market and e-tail given by many researchers, however clothing is one of the harder things to sell and also buy on line because, even if you know your exact size, you often need to try things on and one cannot also feel the textures of the clothing.
With regards to this research considering the empirical analysis and findings conducted by other researchers, in order to better understand the consumer's attitudes and behaviour towards the online shopping opportunity for clothing, several aspects have to be considered in order to understand the pattern of E- buying. E-tailing as discussed earlier is an emergent area and it's also increasingly being viewed as an attractive alternative to the more organised brick-and-mortar clothing stores, due to the continuous innovation and adaptation of novel technologies by the clothing e-tailer's in turn driving the growth on internet retailing, as the web shoppers are becoming even more discerning and demanding.
The interactive nature of the Internet and web offers opportunities galore to increase the efficiency of Internet shopping behaviour by improving the availability of product information, enabling direct multi-attribute comparisons, and reducing buyer search costs (Alba et al, 1997). The literature review has been done with the aim to identify and further understand the customers' buying behaviour, during the study several determinants which influence this have been focused on in-depth in order to meet the objectives. These determinants include; Convenience, Customer service, Price Perception, Choice, Gender, Web store environment and Trust. Section 4.3 contains the conceptual frame work which includes these determinants and their effects on customers' attitudes and perception of shopping on line for clothing.
2.6.1 The Conceptual Frame work
The conceptual framework derived will be used to analyse the research objectives which form the basis of this research problem as mentioned before. The literature review for this research has considered several parameters, put forward by a number of authors, which result in a number of theories that have been developed from many perspectives (Kumar, 2005). A number of common themes (determinants) emerge in the discussion of on line shopping for clothing by several authors such as.....and these themes will form the basis of the conceptual framework to be used to investigate the research objectives. On the whole, the themes are translated on to a conceptual model as shown above. However, these themes (determinants) have been researched in depth and discussed using the frame work from sections 2.6.2 to 2.6.8 and also used in the similar way to portray the research findings and analysis in chapter 4 so as to fulfil the research objectives accordingly.
2.6.2 Convenience in E-tailing clothing
Convenience is one of the key factors influencing customer behaviour in e-tailing, as we know from earlier discussion that the internet has enabled customers to shop 24/7 should they wish, making this option even more feasible compared to the physical brick-and-mortar retail stores which are unable to offer this level of accessibility, although some supermarkets trade 24 hours a day nearly all year round apart from some public holidays, or even stay open longer than usual during peak periods and festive seasons. However, almost all clothing stores in the UK are only open for normal trading hours and later in certain periods. In this time crunched environment of today with almost all households having multiple earners on line buying in UK is fast becoming a way of life, in order for the channel to blend in well with the busy lifestyle convenience has become of utmost importance.
When it comes to buying clothing items on line, customers visit several sites and compare what's on offer on each website in terms of style, brand, colours, price and sizes. The availability of this option which allows customers to browse multiple store sites in one sitting saving them time, is one of the leading determinants that has encouraged on line buying of clothing, since customers rarely visit multiple physical retail clothing stores prior to making the purchase (Childers et al, 2001) , this interactive browsing allows the customer to acquire more pre-purchase information of the particular item of clothing searched for whilst at the same time increasing the search benefits by providing a broader array of product alternatives, hence saving the potential customer valuable time, making it a very convenient option compared to physical shopping. This convenience of interactive shopping increases search efficiency through the ability to shop from the comfort of one's own home or office, by eliminating the frustrations caused of going to shop in physical stores such as travelling, looking for parking spaces, going through the various rails of clothing searching for the right size and colour which takes up a lot time, and then waiting in long queues at checkout counters, whereby this can be done at a click on clothing stores websites, not only on one site but the customer can view multiple sites and compare the prices of the same item than making the purchase decision and order it on line. The facility to place on line orders reduces the frustration shoppers feel whilst in-store when items are out of stock or part of an expanded assortment not carried by the particular physical store they are at, however when shopping online they can search multiple stores and place orders to be delivered from any location.
The Web also gives the customers access to more in-depth product information and user reviews that help them make purchase decisions. This convenience factor greatly reduces the time pressure the customer may face in store in making decision, hence making interactive shopping especially advantageous to the customers which creates a positive impact on their behaviour towards the willingness to buy the clothing item on line to in store.
After placing the order there comes the question of shipping and handling of the clothing items bought on line. Recent years has seen major improvements in the operational infrastructure of many clothing e-tailers in the UK. This has enhanced customer service, in terms of delivery. It has become much faster, flexible and more personalised with the e-tailer's providing the customers with interface such as parcel tracking service and expected delivery time on the e-tailers own website or the couriers. Due to the nature of goods in this case clothing items, ample attention needs to be put towards customer service in terms of logistics and distribution they should be integrated seamlessly not only with the company's existing website but the company's entire operations, on line and off line so as to serve the customer efficiently. With most of the clothing e-tailers in the UK logistics is given prime importance.
The other convenience feature that online clothing stores provide is free return shipping, which in the case of clothing is absolutely necessary, since many customers will find that the ordered item of clothing may not be a perfect fit or even not what they expected in that case a return or exchange becomes necessary and its' one of the first aspect most customers consider before making a purchase online. Therefore, the convenience aspect of online shopping created due to time and space neutrally has a direct and positive effect on the customer behaviour towards willingness to buy products from clothing e-tail stores.
2.6.3 Customer service on-line
“Customers service generally refers to organisation's ability to meet customers' needs and wants (Howardell, 2003)
Customer service is given a high priority, whether it's on line or off line buying. A range of products sold by on line retailers are the same as off line merchandise, for example; a shirt sold on line is the same shirt sold off line. The prime attraction of on line shopping is the service value perspective, where customers claim to enjoy rich information and convenience as discussed in detail before.
Extensive personal contact between a sales person and a customer is an essential requirement and also the important part of retailing. This interpersonal interaction is very significant, as shopping for clothing can be a frustrating and a difficult experience for some customers without a salesperson's assistance (Levy, 2000), because it may affect the customers perception of quality of service, satisfaction regarding the purchase experience, and also their future purchase intentions. However, a sales person who serves customers at the physical brick-and-mortar retail store is generally not present at the virtual on line store, despite this on line shoppers may expect and also need customer services and assistance similar to what they can receive in store.
The e-tailer's today are continuously being faced with unique set of challenges with regards to the customer service online, as large a portion of the UK population is becoming increasingly used to the online shopping concept and more demanding, thereby also increasing competition amongst various e-tailers. Service components are embedded in the online shopping channel (Kolesar & Galbraith, 2000). These service components are most prominent in information/knowledge and delivery aspects of e-tailing.
Some customer service issues such as facilitating information flow, dealing with automated process and providing shopping support, are exceptionally important in internet retailing, as this to some extent satisfies the need of having a sales person to answer all the customers' queries. However, according to Hermes (2000), 72 percent of on line shoppers responded that customer service is a critical factor in shopping satisfaction, in addition to this Datamonitor also reported that 7.8 percent of on line transactions initiated by customers are abandoned due to lack of or poor customer service, this further stresses on the requirement and importance of customer service on line. The E-tailers are also faced with the challenge to design usable and useful web storefronts to facilitate customer navigation. Many e-tailers feature a large portfolio of products, requiring powerful search tools/methods to tailor to the diversity of customer information requirements, all this adds to the service factor.
The Web also encourages after-sales service by facilitating access to rich information and customer interaction about its availability. This is more common in the case of electrical goods which require after-sales service, and not really for the clothing sector. However, Customer relationship management (CRM) systems have become popular tools to support these relational interactions. The CRM systems automatically records detailed customer activities and this is then used to build individual customers' profile, from various tangible and intangible activities. By understanding their customer's better, marketers can make use of relationship marketing techniques in the retail market to provide them with more personalised services.
In the recent years, several European companies have considered and are still investing in customer relationship management (CRM) strategies in order to increase sales and to provide the intangible benefits of better customer service to their customers (Gillies et al., 2002). Therefore, these interactive attributes can help by having a beneficial impact on e-satisfaction and enhanced customer relationships thus assuring them of support and building a non-verbal relationship whilst enhancing their experience of shopping on line. This technique of ‘Customer relationship' also enhances the product value, prompting to make the purchase (Reynolds, 2004). This ‘web experience' and communication method through the web is called eCRM. The Internet is advancing eCRM by providing features that are attractive to both customers and the retailers. (Chandra and Strickland, 2004)
Whilst enjoying personalisation and enhanced service, most customers view the misuse of market information as a violation (Head & Yuan 2001). The E-tailer's should therefore solicit the respective customers' permission to use their data, and must not compromise consumer privacy concerns. The value added from service components must outweigh the perceived risk of shopping on line. In this way they can also maintain the customers' e-loyalty or patronage (Lewis and Cockrill, 2002) through making customer interaction easier via service.
2.6.4 Customer Price Perception
In the regular markets, due to the lack of information, many customers are not informed or even aware about the lowest prices in the market. In comparison, to on line markets whereby price comparison engines such as Mysupermarket.co.uk and confused.com are examples of such popular search engines in the UK from where customers can easily facilitate and process information regarding the prices of the products they looking to buy and thus locate the lowest price available on the net, which means that for the customers, the competitors are just a click away, allowing them easy comparison of product offerings from the comfort of their home or wherever they browse the internet, rather than physically going to various stores to in order to compare prices before making the purchase.
Many clothing e-tailers in the UK are now using price as key aspect in order to capture the attention of as many on line browsers as possible in the anticipation of gaining a positive customer perception and prompting them to make a purchase from their web site. As the clothing e-market is gaining popularity in the UK the number of e-tailer's are also rapidly on the rise, therefore creating competition amongst the existing e-tailers as well as the new entrants. Most of the e-tailer's today offer huge discounts on clothing items bought on line, this marketing initiative is advertised not only on the web but through various advertising channels such as newspapers, leaflets, television as well promotions held in physical stores, this effort not only retains existing on line customers but also attracts new customers to try the on line service. Most of the top UK clothing e-tailer's offer customers starting from 5 percent to 25 percent discount on their total purchases, and if the customer makes a repeat purchase their loyalty will earn them as much as 50 percent discount. Apart from this customers can also obtain discount coupons and codes from search engines which can give them discounts offered by several stores, the most popular site with such discounts codes coupons and vouchers is feedmedeals.co.uk, whereby customers can register with them and they have a list of participating stores where they can claim their discounts.
According to Taylor and Cosenza (2000), when shopping on line for clothing, consumers rated that one of the most important functional attribute is price. "The Internet can also be seen as a bargain-shopper's paradise," since there are numerous search engines and shopping sites dedicated to the discount and money off codes, where customers can compare and obtain best deals before making the purchase. The on line companies in this way also convert browsers into on line buyers by also including other then the discounts much more intriguing incentives such as free postage, “buy one get one free”, points/miles rewards as well as free returns policy on clothing items if they are not appropriate. The various on line e-taliers cater for all segments of the market, there are those offering value clothing which are cheap and affordable by all, to sites dedicated to expensive designer clothing. From the above discussions and findings its more clear that customers in the UK are inclined to have more positive price perceptions toward the on line stores compared to their perception of shopping at physical stores, therefore confirming that the price is a major determinant when it comes to making decision of purchasing clothing on line. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte consulting firm UK, say that more than one in five on line shoppers. Today shop primarily on line to find special offers, with more than 40 percent of the shoppers expecting to use the discount codes and coupons they obtain on line.
2.6.5 Choice as a
With expanding clothing e-tailer's and also buyers, many researchers have studied important attributes and attitudes toward online shopping for clothing items, For example, Kunz (1997) reported that online apparel consumers valued merchandise quality, merchandise variety and customer service. From this it's ascertained that choice plays an important role whilst purchasing clothing items on line or even just browsing before making a purchase.
The suitability of online retailing is due to the customer's perception of availability of a wide variety and varied products online, or also due to either the uniqueness of the product itself. Many customers in the UK, prefer shopping online for clothing because of the availability of variety hence making the choice option wider, compared to physical stores which only hold limited designs and styles as well as sizes. The wide range of choice and alternatives makes this channel even more attractive, in fact it's one of the core attribute why e-atiler's have to keep their online stores running.
Fashion innovativeness online also appears as being a positive attribute. Regarding choice the e-tailer's cater for all segments as mentioned earlier, customers can buy usual value clothing, high street fashion to branded designer clothing. ASOS.com is the UK's market leader in online fashion clothing retailing. It offers own-label branded fashion and designer clothing due to its collaboration with designer labels, from customers' point of view this site gives them the best option of all and, in terms of choice it stocks over 400 brands.
The internet store can also provide a larger inventory of products and sizes, and virtually guarantee the availability of any type and size of the clothing items. Today in the UK customers have numerous sites and options available to make a purchase from, there are e-tailer's now who specifically cater only for customers' who require specific clothing items, such as Petite sizes, extra large to tall. Which are not readily available on every high street stores or even if they are the choice it very limited.
2.6.6 Gender in e-tailing
Researchers have long realised the importance of understanding demographic differences for segmenting the population and developing effective targeted strategies for attracting customers. Gender has always been an important demographic variable, therefore examining and understanding gender differences with regards to internet usage and purchasing clothing online, has to be considered in order to better achieve the authors objectives, since gender also provides the link to customer behaviour.
The initial conception of various research studies, which examined the gender based differences in internet usage generally found that males were more likely to use the internet than females. However, Sexton, Johnson and Hignite (2002) concluded that this was probably due to “a long history of cultural bias in areas of science technology”, nevertheless the gap in the gender issue is almost nonexistent now as more and more females are edging closer with their male counterparts, both work wise and in general lifestyles. Even the internet usage and online shopping gap is virtually nonexistent now.
With regards to the types of products purchased online, gender matters to some extent. Generally, men are more inclined towards the purchase of computers, electronics and DVD's whilst women tend to purchase more clothes, health and beauty products and toys for children. Age and income also affects this attribute and does create an impact on the customers' willingness to buy on line.
Both men and women in the UK demonstrate similar behaviour as online shoppers. Some variations appear between different age groups and life stages, however employed adults, for example; are more likely to buy on the internet than students and retired seniors. Although, gender is considered as one of the crucial aspects when assessing customer's online behaviour its does not really influence an individuals' behaviour. As more and more e-tailers are now catering for a wider population, more men have become fashion conscious especially in one of the Fashion capitals like London, men today also spend as much time shopping for clothing items in store as well as online, so as to stay up to date with the trend. Other aspect of online sales which is eroding the gender issue is, the deals which e-tailer's are giving online and also prompting in store shoppers, like deep discounts, free gifts, free shipping and returns policy if they purchase certain clothing items online. This wave of marketing technique has also pulled in several customers regardless of their age and gender, as in this time of recession every penny counts.
2.6.7 Web store environment
Shopping is considered a social activity in the main, mostly for the women who enjoy shopping for recreation, whilst men consider it a necessity and often feel duty bound to accompanying their partners on shopping trips, however this depends on the type of shopping they are going for and goods they are intending to purchase. It is also often regarded as an experience, this generally means that customers want to be entertained and have fun, but whilst this may only be possible in larger shopping places such as malls, whereby there are several other sources of entertainment apart from retail stores, the term experience when applied to more basic principles of retailing takes into account the customer service as well as the physical environment of the brick-and-mortar store itself, in terms of the interior, display and atmosphere.
Retail store environment plays a major role in influencing customer behaviour. Online retail stores have significantly evolved in the recent years in order to satisfy the increasing needs of today's demanding and smart shoppers. It is observed from previous research studies that positive and pleasing store environment enhances a shoppers' engagement in the shopping activity (Kim et al, 2007). The connection between store environment and customers' affective states of pleasure and arousal has been also empirically supported (Sherman et al, 2007).
Atmospherics has attracted a lot of interest, and several researchers have tried to understand its impact on customer behaviour in the conventional stores. The transition from brick-and-mortar retailing to click-and-mortar environments has raised various considerations about the dynamics of this new business approach, which has prompted several researches in order to also further examine the impact of atmospheric cues on customer behaviour online. Just like traditional retailers who provide important information through atmospherics in conventional stores, online retailers also provide an atmosphere via their web site, which can affect shoppers' image of and experience with the online store (Eroglu et al., 2000).
Web atmospherics is “the conscious designing of web environments to create positive effects on users in order to increase favourable consumer responses” (Dailey, 2004, p. 796). The research about atmospherics is still ongoing, but there is empirical evidence of the impact of online atmosphere on various aspects of customer behaviour which will aid the authors' objectives about customer's behaviour towards shopping for clothing online. Since shopping is still a “touch-feel-hear experience”, especially when it comes to shopping for clothing items this becomes a absolute necessity. E-tailer's therefore need to create such an environment as a physical brick-and-mortar store by creating novel web designs and portals, and live interaction over the internet.
Clothing e-tailers' are continually enhancing their e-stores in order to improve the online shopping experience of their customer's by using innovative technologies such as 3D images and virtual shopping mannequins. This advancement creates a sense of personalisation, which is the key to the drawbacks for customers' like not shopping online, a good example; is the developments by clothing e-tailer's such as the ‘virtual closet', whereby consumers can match up items with a ‘style builder' and also with the virtual model (virtual model, 2008) one of the hundred best websites, the customer can create a 3-D virtual model of oneself and dress it with clothing from top suppliers, so as to ascertain before making the purchase (Dennis et al, 2004), nevertheless clothing represents one of the major categories of e-tail market in the United Kingdom, but worldwide its one of the slowest growing categories.
Hence, personalised shopping experience via various incentives and virtual image technology is more important to encourage customers to shop online for clothing.
Almost all transactional clothing websites in UK today are well advanced and the e-tailer's are continuously developing them further as competition online stiffens from within the UK as well as outside. “Boo.com”, was one of the first UK online clothing company to introduce an offline shopping experience in their virtual online store, with easy to use site and the best available service in terms of the reality 3D experience, also complete with a virtual salesperson for assistance online. However, since the company was too optimistic and the technology far too advanced for every customer in the market, the company didn't survive due to various management issues, but it opened the doors for other e-tailer's for a chance to survive and ways to make their online stores more appealing to the customers. Today almost every high street clothing retail store in the UK, has a fully developed operational transactional website as this channel gains its popularity. Customers can now click on the images of the clothing item they are viewing and make them spin and view them from various angles. They can also zoom in to see more details on the item, and further zoom in so that even the stitching can be observed.
The sites also have an option of a step-by-step guide to a measuring, so as to help the customer get the right fit. Many of the UK's traditional retailers have now considered setting up extensive online services due to the rapid developments in the clothing e-tail sector.
The common conception that designer and luxury clothing will never sell on line, quite possibly due to the importance of fit and feel, and the personal input of a salesperson, which can't be offset by even the best electronic service, is proving to fade away as many high end store's such as Charles Tyrwhitt, located on London's prestigious high end Jermyn street, now claims to be “England's largest maker of quality shirts through the internet and mail order”, and is successfully running its on line store at www.ctshirts.co.uk
There are several online clothing stores in the UK all selling a variety of clothing items, and today nearly all the websites have their own special features which attract the target customers with the continuous development in the web technology. ASOS one of the leading clothing e-tailer in the UK, it also offers a ‘catwalk feature' for women's wear, in order to enhance the customers shopping experience. From the above discussion its evident that web store environment positively affects customers' behaviour on willingness to make a purchase online or be patronage of online retail stores.
2.6.8 Trust in e-tailing
Majority of customers often view online shopping as being more risky than traditional shopping channels. Trust, online is one of the key issues e-tailer's and researchers frequently associate with either the failure or success of the online venture in observation. Although there may not be any fundamental variances between the buying behaviour of a traditional and an online customer, its' often argued by several researchers that a new step has been added to the online buying process, the step of building trust and confidence (Lieberman and Stashevsky, 2002; McKnight et al, 2002)
Safety of personal information, transaction security and the fear of misuse of private customer data is what almost all online customers are always concerned about, due to the rate of hacking, spam, fraud and online scams taking place every day. This raises the concern about security with scepticism and mistrust. However, e-tailer's have tried to resolve this issue with the introduction of the encryption technology, which has to some degree satisfied customers concerns about the trust and security of their data, especially with the usage of bank credit or debit cards used during making payments online. But, transaction security and customer data safety still remains as a principle concern of the online customer whilst they are making a purchase online, therefore trust does have a positive effect on the customers' behaviour towards the willingness to buy from online retail stores.
3. Research Methodology
The chapter will attempt to illustrate, analyse and justify how the research is carried out.
The importance of research methodology is to enable the researcher to decide how to go about achieving the research objectives in specific ways. Furthermore it helps to justify the choice of method/s used that will enable individual learning (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2003, p. 83). The following sections attempt to illustrate, analyse and justify how the research is carried out.
3.2 Research Philosophy
The research philosophy is about how and in what ways the data to be gathered for this research will be analysed and interpreted. Factors such as reliability and validity encompass the credibility of the research approach. With regards to research philosophy, Ontology deals with matching the basic beliefs to the research questions in a productive way as opposed to epistemology which deals with the personal theory of knowing, that counts as evidence of proof. The above terminology is adhered to understanding that the research is dependant crucially on people's beliefs about what forms an appropriate investigation to make sense of experience (Jankowicz, 2005). Therefore the author aims to take an ontological view for this piece of research in order to determine the objectives of what the customer's perceptions are.
The research aims to take an ontological view in order to determine, how customers are responding to new online buying opportunities for clothing items and what they perceive of e-tail as opposed to the high street clothing stores. As all the research objectives are aimed at finding the customers perceptions of e-tail with regards to clothing.
The research philosophy adopted by the author defines the further path he would follow. Two different views have been suggested by Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill (2003, p.83) and Jankowicz (2005, p.110) which represent the way in which knowledge is developed and judged as being acceptable. Firstly, Positivism which comprises several beliefs as to how one could make sense to others and the second being Interpretivism which avoids scepticism leading to constructivism and works with ontology as well. The purpose of research is to gain sufficient knowledge in order to better understand the behaviour of the customer's and also their attitudes and perceptions towards the subject. Thus the research philosophy will be Interpretive as Saunders et al (2003) explain it “involves understanding, exploring the subjective reality and meaning of participants” and will allow testing the theory with the reality. Furthermore this method allows comparing and contrasting the theory (literature review) with the real situation at a given time together with exploring the issues and their situational determinants.
3.3 Research Approach
This enables the researcher to clarify the design of the research project. Saunders et al, (2007) and Trochim (2006) suggests two main approaches each consisting of four stages. The Deduction approach (testing theory) informally known as the top-down approach owes much to a scientific research approach. This begins by taking the theory and narrowing it down to a more specific hypotheses for testing, the observation is further narrowed down to address the hypotheses which ultimately leads to test with specific data coming to the last stage known as confirmation (or not) of the original theories (Trochim, 2006). One may attempt to verify the revised theory by going back to the first step and repeating the whole cycle. The characteristics of the deductive approach explain the causal relationships between variables which are mainly based upon quantitative data, although qualitative data may also be used. The other research approach is inductive also known as the bottom-up approach where theory would follow data rather than vice versa as in the deductive approach. It takes a view of moving from specific observations to broader generalisations and theories. Trochim (2006) explains the basic difference between the two research approaches stating that the inductive approach is more open-ended and exploratory where as the deductive approach is narrower in nature and is concerned with testing or confirming hypotheses.
As the objectives of this research is to gain a close understanding and to investigate the customer's perceptions and attitudes towards shopping online for clothing in the UK. Secondly, the literature review is based upon qualitative data which takes a view of analysis via conceptualisation. Therefore to achieve the research objectives the research approach used would be Inductive as suggested by Saunders et al (2007, pp . 119) “this method will allow a more flexible structure to permit changes of research emphasis as the research progresses”.
The purpose of this research is more of exploratory study and a bit of explanatory study. (Saunders et. al., 2007, pp. 133)
To determine customer's perceptions of shopping on line for clothing in the UK and to understand their attitudes towards this shopping channel.
3.5 Research Strategy
The research questions(s) form the basis of the research strategy demonstrating how the set of research questions would be answered. It includes the process of data collection and constraints such as time, location, money and ethical issues. There are a lot of ‘gaps to be filled' as seen from the questions raised in the literature review thus creating a need for more information. As Robson (2002:178) defines the case study research as “a strategy for doing research which involves an empirical investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real life context using multiple sources of evidence.” (Cited in Saunders et. al. 2007, p139). This research would be based upon a multi-method strategy that will be a combination of exploratory study and a survey forming a triangulation, allowing verification of data collected. The following sub sections critically analyse the chosen research strategy and the research methods which will allow the author to accomplish the research objectives.
3.5.1 The Chosen Research Strategy
The exploratory study had already been carried out (literature review) which was then contributed to the existing body of knowledge (secondary data) collected via observation and distributing questionnaires and conducting semi-structured interviews (primary data). The result was used for verification through data collection via observation and from the other important method of data collection, survey. Survey strategy was most suitable as observed evidence is required (lacking in the literature review) for validity of this research.
3.6 Sources and Acquisition of data
As claimed in Section 3.5.1 both quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative methods (observation, semi-structured interviews) were used as a research method for data collection as this produced a better insight to the data gathered for analysis and interpretation purposes.
3.6.1 Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Quantitative data unlike qualitative data deals with analysing data through techniques such as graphs, charts and statistics thus allowing exploring, presenting, describing and examining relationships and trends within data. Therefore it is fair to say that quantifiable data “are those whose values are measured numerically as quantities” (Saunders et al, 2007).
Based upon some of the results from data collated via qualitative methods, the research used categorical data as part of quantitative data (also known as numerical data) because the values will not be measured numerically but classified into sets (categories) according to the characteristics of the research question as opposed to quantifiable data where each data value is assigned to a position on a numerical scale. Charts, tables and diagrams are all part of quantitative data and these methods of illustration will give a clearer picture of the observation when analysing the data. A simple example of how the quantitative data is used is by analysing customers' (by customer segments) preference of online shopping for clothing in the UK (segment London) (Saunders et al, 2003).
Observation is another important “purposeful, systematic and selective way of watching and listening to an interaction or phenomenon as it takes place” (Kumar, 2005). There are several methods for recording observation: narrative, scales, categorical recording and recording on mechanical devices (Kumar, 2005). Furthermore, Kumar (2005) suggests that observation is categorised by two types: participant observation; where the researcher participates in the activities of the group being observed, and non-participant observation; where the researcher does not get involved in the activities of the group but remains a passive observer. The problems associated with using observation as a data collection method would be changes in the behaviour of the persons or group being observed when they realise they are being observed (Hawthorne effect) and secondly observer bias which can lead to biased results. There is also a threat posed to the reliability of the research as it is possible, the interpretations drawn from observations may vary from observer to observer (Saunders et al, 2007).
To be able to achieve the first and second objectives successfully, one of the primary data collection methods used was participant observation. The reason for selecting participant observation as opposed to non-participant observation was because the author wanted to be part of the primary data collection; fascinated to learn more from what existed in reality. The best possible method to achieve the first objective successfully was through narrative observation in a natural environment (as opposed to controlled environment) as it allowed the researcher to record the description of the interaction in his own words and draw conclusion based upon the secondary data (literature review) and questionnaire. The observation was solely based upon the questions that were raised from the literature review thus allowing reaching a suitable conclusion to the problem. It is also noted that each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In the case of observation, the observer may be biased in his observation. Therefore, the interpretations and conclusions drawn from the observation may also be biased (Kumar, 2005, pp. 121).
Questionnaires are one of the most extensively used data collection techniques within the survey strategy. They provide an efficient way (each respondent is asked the same set of questions) of collecting responses from a large or small sample prior to analysis. They can be used for both exploratory and descriptive studies (Dillman, 2000). However Saunders et al (2007) take a different view stating that questionnaires are not particularly good for exploratory or other research that requires large numbers of open-ended questions. Saunders et al (2007) emphasise two types of questionnaires: Self-administered questionnaires; usually completed by respondents administered electronically, delivered by hand or posted (mail questionnaires), and interviewer-administered questionnaires; which acts more like an interview where the interviewer records responses on the basis of each respondents answers. (Kumar, 2005).
A self-respondent questionnaire was designed to collect primary data using both multiple choice options, as well as open-ended questions, thus allowing flexibility to the respondent in terms of responses. In total 100 questionnaires were distributed and electronically mailed to participants, randomly within Central London and also emailed to participants living in various other parts of London, but only 95 were taken into account as some of questionnaires were simply not returned on time. In respect of how representative these questionnaires are, the data gathered from the questionnaires would definitely differ if information from the remaining or even more questionnaires were to be collected, but unfortunately constraints such as time restricted this research.
However, those respondents who were aimed as potential customers who returned questionnaires and stated their age as below 18 were excluded simply because online shopping can only be carried out by people over the age of 18, having said this, this age group wasn't the majority and therefore not a large number of questionnaires were excluded. Those over the age of 50 were included although they are counted in the grey market and ignored in several researches but their opinions were included in this research since this segment is also quite active on when it comes to home shopping. Furthermore, information from the literature (Key findings) together with observation and questionnaires not only validated information from the Literature review but were also useful when comparing and contrasting the differences with theory and the real world (current scenario). The survey validated the knowledge gained from the literature review and as new information gained, acts as empirical evidence to this research. (Saunders et al, 2007)
Interviewing is a commonly used term used for collecting information from people. Interviews help to gather reliable and valid data in terms of research questions and objectives. Therefore In reality, research interview is a general term used for several types of interview such as: structured, unstructured (in-depth, focus group, narrative, oral histories) and semi-structured (Saunders et al, 2007).Furthermore, (Saunders et al, 2007) add that semi-structured and unstructured interviews are used in exploratory studies where as structured interviews are associated with descriptive studies.
The most practical way of conducting interviews in relation to this research was through semi-structured interviews as this allowed the use of the loose structure from literature review findings to develop a set of interview themes and the fact that this research was carried out as part of an exploratory study (Kumar, 2005). This method, being informal also contributed to exploring aspects relating to the questions that required to be answered (in the literature review). More so, it allowed flexibility of approach towards customers. There were 10 participants interviewed randomly (age group 18 - 50 years) that included participants from different consumer segments such as working parents, students, working women and men, and professionals, this allows the gathering of a variety of information from different perspectives. It is acknowledged that more participants would have increased the reliability of this research but due to lack of time, this was not possible. Considering the nature of the research intent, the information gathered from the interview may not be generalisable (to the whole population, London) and may impact the validity of the research (regarding the interview) due to the small number of interviewees.
3.6.5 Primary and Secondary data
Both primary and secondary data were used throughout the process of this research. The secondary data will be the ‘raw data' that is already considered in the literature review collected via books and journals where as the primary data will be new data specifically collected for this research from the survey. The key of secondary data is its value says Saunders et al (2003). It will be great saving in terms of resources and time required for collection of data, nevertheless it has got some limitations. The secondary data may not be appropriate in the form it has been collected. Another limitation of secondary data is that it represents ‘mono causality' i.e. one view or one author's view of consumer's perception or impacts of online shopping, as an example, therefore may prove to be unreliable. Whatever may be the case; secondary data and other primary data contributed to comparing and contrasting the data collected from the survey, thus contributing to measuring the validity of secondary data.
The matrix, in the context of this research, is a simple representation of how data was collected for each objective; it forms the basis for the credibility (reliability and validity) of this research. X represents the data collection method used.
To explore the impact of e-tailing in London
To determine customers attitude towards shopping on line
To investigate customers perception of shopping on line for clothing in London
Table A: Cross-mapping matrix
“The use of different research approaches, methods and techniques in the same study is known as triangulation” Hussey and Hussey (1997).
This research consisted of various methods of data collection. Firstly secondary data (raw data) was collated via the literature review following primary data (questionnaires and observation). By using observation and questionnaire for the first objective not only allowed the author to compare and contrast the two sources of data, but also validate the secondary data hence forming data triangulation. data collection for the second objective also used observation as the primary method and therefore data triangulation was certain as the results from both the methods together with the results of secondary data analysis was compared. Furthermore, as the questionnaire collected both quantitative and qualitative data, methodological triangulation also took place (Saunders et al, 2007).
It is therefore clear that the combination of various primary data collection methods together with secondary data not only allowed triangulation to take place but also increased the reliability and validity of this research. Furthermore, triangulation encouraged productive research and enhanced qualitative methods allowing complementary use of quantitative methods. However, Saunders et al (2007) highlight that replication is exceedingly difficult to perform when using a mixed method approach as data collection and analysis is time consuming and expensive.
3.9 Reliability and Validity
Reliability is concerned with the findings of this research, if the same research was to be carried out again would it obtain the same results? Repetition is used to test the reliability of any research (Hussey and Hussey, 1997).
The concept of reliability with this research leads to consistency, predictability and accuracy. A great deal of attention has been paid to achieving consistency by designing the questionnaire to achieve the same results on every occasion (predictable). However, it is anticipated that the same results may not be achieved on different occasions because participants cannot be the same, hence different answers would be obtained. There was a particular problem with the questionnaires which could impact on the reliability of the questionnaire itself. As online shopping is not used by all the people, only 90 out of 100 questionnaires were fully completed, limiting the data collected for this research. In relation to accuracy, the same results cannot be achieved on another occasion due to constraints such as the time taken for the research and the different perceptions of different people limits the validity of this research. Furthermore observer error or participant errors may yield different results if the same observation or survey was to be carried out. However, it is anticipated that similar observations may be reached by other observers and there is some transparency shown in the raw data collected.
Validity on the other hand is “concerned with the extent to which the research findings accurately represent what is happening in the situation” (Hussey and Hussey, 1997). In terms of the validity of this research, some of the threats posed to this research have been overcome, as this research includes the latest information (primary data gathered from a recent survey). The proof of the survey itself will prove data validity of the research as it includes current data obtained from customers and business intelligence organisations in London, but the results may not be valid due to participant bias. In contrast to the external validity (generalisability) the research will not produce a theory that will be generalisable to all populations due to the differences in the nature of key findings and the fact that this research has only been carried out in one city in the UK, i.e. London. If more questionnaires were raised it would definitely have a positive impact on the reliability and validity of this research, but unfortunately time constrains this research.
4. Data Analysis and Findings
The findings and analysis of this research is based upon the practical research carried out to satisfy the research objectives. It includes a discussion of the findings and analysis from the various data collection methods namely, secondary and primary (observation and questionnaires) data. The data collated from these methods is analysed based on the integration of the data gathered and the research from the literature review. The discussion is carried out under the subheadings based on the conceptual framework derived from the study of various research carried out by a number of authors. The framework consists of the determinants which aid in evaluating the problems and issues relating to the objectives. However, these determinants are also part of the feedback received from the customers in terms of the reasons of why customers prefer to shop online for clothing items, hence fulfilling the objectives raised by the author. Concluding remarks and recommendations for the same is mentioned in the following chapter.
The analysis of the data collected from the semi-structured interviews and questionnaires are based upon following respondents, shown in tables covering the second and third questions of the questionnaire respectively, this is followed by their overall perception of the new buying opportunity presented to them and how they are responding to it, using the determinants as the main factors which have come up as their responses from the survey conducted by the researcher inform of questions from question four onwards. The presentation of this data is in the form of a pie chart plotted according to the feedback received from the survey. However the first two charts show the preference by the two genders separately and the third chart portrays the general attitude and perception of both the genders collectively, in order to draw a balanced conclusion.
Table B: Customers by age group
Table C: Customers by Segment
As can be observed from charts A and B, which show the importance of the determinants by gender. In comparison there is not much significant difference of what each gender perceives of online shopping as well the importance they give to each of the determinant. Convenience is rated as the most concerned attribute in balance with price perception by both genders, however men prefer convenience (35%) as a more attractive aspect compared to women (30%).Customer service which is fast gaining popularity on this channel is rated equally by both. Choice which is what attracts more customers to buy online, women tend to rate it better than men as was gathered from the survey followed by web store environment where men give it more priority. Trust however which is the crucial aspect of all the attributes, as it is what builds customer loyalty. Trust (security) is what more women are concerned about when making the final purchase.
The results of the survey cannot be generalised to all customer segments and areas as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data. Nevertheless, there is some similarity when compared with secondary data where the overall result does agree with what other researchers have gathered about the subject in general. This has been further studied and analysed by the researcher in the sub sections of this chapter which will aid in fulfilling the objectives of the study.
4.4 The E-tail clothing sector in UK
The fashion market is unpredictable and rapidly evolving. Since its' a highly competitive sector of the industry, analysing it as such makes it even more difficult. However, London being one of the worlds fashion capitals, the clothing market is very sensitive as the trend awareness increases in the market. Due to this there is more choice available in the UK's clothing market overall, as the customer base is also varied from the customer's being innovators to middle majority as well as a fair portion of laggards.
The UK retail clothing sector is highly competitive, and its extension into the online arena has seen positive gains in the recent years as shopping online has become a common practice in the UK. Clothing represents one of the major categories of e-tail market in the UK, in comparison to its other European counter parts. Shopping online for clothing products is also fast gaining in popularity in the UK as discussed before in the report since, the online clothing sector caters for almost all segments of the UK market.
Using the conceptual framework as a guide to discuss and in order to be able to successfully achieve the mentioned objectives, data collection was through observation and questionnaire together with secondary data. The various issues regarding the customer's behaviour to the new shopping opportunities being available online, the author has further discussed and analysed this using the same determinants put forward by various other researchers as well as from the observation carried out based upon the experiment involving a random selection of participants specifically concentrating in London. The results are summarised and studied under these determinants;
4.5 Convenience in E-tailing clothing
According to Hofacker (2001), the adaptation of online retail stores by customer's is purely influenced by their perception on convenience as manifested by the opportunity to shop at home 24/7 a week. The survey result also shows convenience as one of the main motivation. In this time crunched environment customer's hardly go to multiple stores to acquire pre-purchase information regarding the intended item of purchase, therefore the convenience of browsing several online stores in order to get sufficient pre purchase information in terms of the clothing items; style, brand, colours, price and sizes and most of all locate special offers which are available online making this shopping channel even more appealing. The result of the survey shows a striking balance between the various factors which fall under convenience (ie; Time saving, Choice, Delivery and Returns policy) making it a main motivation for some customers' where its' a more important determinant compared to the other determinants in the various customer segments, as seen in graph A.
The results in graph A, implies that customers online shopping preference is greatly driven by convenience and the only differences being customer segmentation, gender and the type of convenience as put forward by them. As can be seen from the graph men consider the time saving aspect as more important compared to women who prefer the convenience of choice and returns policy available online. However, the results cannot be generalised to all customer segments as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data. Nevertheless, there is some similarity when compared with secondary data where (Childers et al, 2001) claimed that convenience is the main motivation for time starved consumers (ie; working parents, professionals). This makes it certain that convenience plays an important role in the decision making of the customers', either to shop online or be a patronage, as seen in the conceptual framework
4.6 Customer service on line
The ability to meet customers' needs and wants is what all e-tailer's are concentrating on today, as the online market is becoming more competitive. Customer service, online may not be the same as service received in physical stores, nevertheless customer's today are looking for similar services online so as to feel more secure and confident whilst making the purchase decision. However, the result of the survey shows that the online service provided by the e-tailer's in various forms such as; in depth product information, suggestions, feedback, after sales support is what draws them towards shopping online. This determinant has varied opinions as can be seen in graph B, from the perspective of various customer segments.
The results in graph B, implies that customers online shopping preference is also greatly affected by the type of customer service provided by a particular e-tailer however, when compared among the various segments each segment rates its importance differently. Nevertheless, there is some similarity when compared with secondary data where (Hermes, 2000) claimed that 72 percent of online shoppers feel that customer service online is a critical factor in shopping satisfaction. However, the results cannot be generalised to all customer segments as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data.
4.7 Customer price perception
One of the most attractive attributes of online shopping compared to traditional shopping is price, with of course convenience balancing it equally. According to the survey almost all customer's said that the ability to screen prices of various items online and also to be able to compare them against other sites, using the search engines such as mysupermarket.com, is what drives their intention of purchasing online. With the recession taking is course many customers' today want to use their money cautiously and most of all make the most of what they exchange it for, therefore creating value for the product is of utmost importance for the e-tailer's in order to survive online today. Most of the clothing bought online now is a result of great price cuts in terms of discounts offered by the e-tailers. Many customers shop online with discount and money off codes and coupons, as well as due to other incentives such as free postage, points/miles reward schemes and loyalty discounts. The result of the survey also confirms that price is an equally balancing determinant when it comes to purchasing online, however it may be viewed in different forms such as, discounts coupons/codes, cheaper, credit options, value offers, these are some of the main reasons accumulated from the survey and their importance as rated by the various customer segments as shown in graph C below
Graph C, implies that customers online shopping preference is equally driven by price as much as convenience and only difference being customer segmentation and the type of price attribute as put forward by them. However, the results cannot be generalised to all customer segments as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data. However, there is some similarity when compared with secondary data where (Taylor and Cosenza, 2000) confirm that customers rated price as an important functional attribute to online buying. Nevertheless, there is a difference of perception amongst the various segments for example: students tend to be looking out more often for discounts and deals online compared to professionals. This may be due to income levels.
The availability of variety and quality are the two key aspects of clothing, which customer's tend to give more priority to whilst deciding on whether to buy the particular item or not, or even if just browsing online like window shopping for clothes. Therefore choice as an attribute does play an important part towards the customers' perception of the particular clothing item they intend to purchase online. Most of the online clothing retailer's surviving today is due this determinant, as more and more customers are opting to online buying as the quality and variety displayed on this channel is far wider then what a brick-and-mortar store could stock. There are very few stores on the high street which cater for special sizes like petite to extra large, but these are readily available from online stores specifically dedicated to serve this segment of the market. The survey results also indicate that choice is also considered as a more important determinant by the customer's, this included factors such as Sizes, Quality, Variety and Latest trends as shown in graph D below.
The results in Graph D, implies that customers online shopping preference is partly driven by choice, being available in various forms satisfying customer needs in various ways. When the results are compared to the secondary data where Kunz (1997) reported that online clothing customers valued quality and variety as a priority when deciding on making a potential purchase online. However, there is a difference in customer segments in terms of its importance as the much younger professionals and students are more trendy and would prefer to buy the latest clothing, whilst the greying market which is more mature may look for quality. As can be seen from the survey that women are concerned more about sizes and variety than men. These results cannot be generalised to all customer segments as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions in different locations and their lifestyles.
4.9 Gender in e-tailing
With regard to the types of products purchased online, this can be more appropriately classified and differentiated under gender, evidence from the research as well as the secondary data suggests that Gender matters. Initially it was considered that men tend to purchase more clothing items online more readily than women as they are more confident with the size and fit, but today this difference is minimal as there is an array of online stores which provide perfect fit clothing to free alterations, which has now drawn more women to buy their clothing online confidently. The internet usage among the gender is almost equal now therefore eliminating the chances of one gender being more used to the channel then the other, as can be seen from the graph E, below.
The survey results gathered portray that, there exists some difference in what both genders purchase online more often. Graph E, above shows some of the most common products both genders usually buy on line as analysed from question 7 and 15 of the questionnaire. The overall results from the graph show that both men and women from the survey show similar behaviour as online shoppers in terms of how often they make a purchase and the products they buy. Some variations do appear between different age groups and life stages, however employed adults, for example; are more likely to buy online, but the products bought may vary. However, the results cannot be generalised to all customer segments as they may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people living in different areas or their interests may also vary greatly, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data.
4.10 Web store environment
The store environment plays a major role in influencing customer behaviour, be it a physical brick-and-mortar clothing store or a virtual online clothing store. Customers today expect much more than just rails of clothing hung from a hanger and shelves full of clothes. Customers seek for a pleasing and inviting in store environments which psychologically affects their state of mind to switch off from the outside world and engross in the new environment which in turn increases their perception to make a purchase. This same principle also applies to online clothing stores, with the help of computer software and hi-tech computer graphics e-tailers have created web atmospherics whereby virtual stores have resulted, these have in turn created positive impacts on the customers minds matching their online experience almost to that of the real in store environment hence prompting the purchase, as explained in detail in the secondary data.
Web store environment is an important determinant as gathered from the survey. Customers do pay attention to the web graphics and the quality of web site especially for the clothing items whereby detailing on the clothing such as cut, stitch and colour is very important to be viewed before making the purchase. This determinant includes various aspects that constitute to its function. However, the most common factors which came up from the survey are colour, image quality, navigation extra services which the customers look for whilst browsing the clothing websites.
The results in graph F, suggest that customers online shopping preference is to a certain extent driven by the web store environment as various customer's give it more importance than others depending on their requirements. However, the survey results are supported by the secondary data where Dailey, (2004) says that Web atmospherics is “the conscious designing of web environments to create positive effects in users in order to increase favourable consumer responses”. The customers interviewed also suggested that the web graphics do create an impact. The results cannot be generalised to all customer base as a later survey may produce variable results due to different perceptions by customers as technology advances rapidly. What one website offers today may not be as amusing a week later as e-tailer's are constantly updating their websites in order to attract more customers.
4.11 Trust in e-tailing
Web safety is a major obstacle when it comes to making a purchase online. Almost all shoppers fear safety of their personal information being used falsely online, by others. Such information includes financial details like bank card numbers and other personal information. Therefore, e-tailer's need to create the trust in the customers that their information will not be passed on to third party or misused in any other way. With the introduction of new encryption technology many customers feel safe passing their details online. The survey results include the various aspects of trust which are questioned by the customers
The results in graph G shows that trust plays a vital part in customers perception of shopping online as its' the final stage to securing a real sale, online. Once the trust is established the customer will become more confident and also come for a repeat purchase. Therefore, in order to create a lasting relation and keep the existing customers the e-tailer must create a secure image, as it positively affects the customers' behaviour towards making a purchase online. However, the survey findings are supported by the secondary data where Lieberman and Stashevsky, 2002; McKnight et al, 2002, have argued that building of trust and confidence is a new step that has to be added to the online buying process, as most of the customer rate this as a crucial aspect. This was also evident from the results gathered from question 13 of the questionnaire.
4.12 Total survey results
After considering all the determinants and analysing each one by gender preference according to the response from the questionnaire the author has combined both the totals of the respondents and arrived to an average result in order to get an overall unbiased customer preference of shopping online. Chart C below portrays the results from where the author can get more appropriate results, so as to fulfil the set objectives and conclude accordingly from the response received from the questionnaires and interviews carried out.
There have been several consensuses regarding the attractive determinants of internet shopping compared to the traditional shopping. The most common ones which came across include time and money saving. However, the ones used by the author and which have been discussed in depth in the literature review were also consistent in the responses given by the participants of the survey, and therefore all comparisons were made under these determinants which also form the conceptual frame work. Nevertheless, as can be observed from the pie chart C in general customers find convenience as the most appealing attribute about this channel which has the majority of share followed by the price perception which is nearly in a balance with convenience. Then comes the availability of choice and customer service which are almost equal and also prioritised, although trust and web store environment have a modest share they also do make an impact on customers purchase decision overall. The chart shows the seven main determinants, but these have other factors under them which have been discussed and focused on, in order to get a more practical result.
4.13 Semi-Structured interviews
As part of the research, in order to achieve an impartial view of the e-tail market semi-structured interviews were also conducted, here three retail clothing store managers, one e-store manager and also one of the e-retail market intelligence consultant, were interviewed in order to get a better view of the customers, which would further aid the author to better understand the customer behaviour which in turn help in achieving the objectives efficiently. All five managers interviewed had a similar view of the e-market in general. Although the retail stores are not purely virtual company, they use the internet as another distribution channel. Their decision to employ this channel is part of the business strategy that has been designed to suit the UK market given the circumstances and the clothing market in general. Initially it was used as a marketing tool, which was integrated into the traditional business strategy, but with time they realised that it is a potential market place and concentrated evenly on this channel, as it has gained popularity in the UK.
When asked about the customer behaviour online and their perception of the services provided by the e-tailer' they said that, the customers were slowly gaining trust and becoming loyal, as they get used to the medium which had been a big hurdle in their success. The common attributes which they saw from their view were almost all similar to the ones the author had researched, which were explained in depth in former chapters. However, they said that the shopping patterns had differed in recent years in terms of the number of transactions they did online before and what they have done recently. The other factor that came up in the discussion was that there even are seasonal shoppers who only shop online for certain things on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays, in fact the festive period of November 2009 in the run up to Christmas was the best for almost all e-tailer's as many people resulted in buying gifts as well as doing some personal shopping online. Nevertheless, their opinions regarding the customer behaviour and the clothing market do align with the survey analysis conducted by the researcher. However, the results cannot be generalised for all e-tailer's as their opinions and findings may produce variable results due to different perceptions of different people and the products they offer online, this is a threat to the validity and reliability of this data.
4.14 Reliability and Validity of the results
Besides the issues raised regarding the reliability and validity of this research (section 3.9), there were more problems uncovered after the survey had been carried out as outlined below.
Although a great deal of attention had been paid throughout this research, when designing the questionnaire and the semi-structured interview, to achieving the consistency of results on every occasion, whilst using different research methods, it was later found that the results may pose some threat to the reliability of this research. In other words only some of the questions asked on the questionnaire matched those asked in the interview, ultimately yielding different results thus posing a threat to the achievement of triangulation.
Secondly, as the questionnaire was comprised of some open ended questions, it resulted in several different answers/views of the respondents therefore in some cases there was less similarity to the answers obtained. This issue made it difficult to present the results as the answers could not be generalised easily. The same problem was also encountered with the semi-structured interview therefore thereby this research may not be reliable although every effort had been made such as the achievement of triangulation.
There was also a great deal of effort put in to ensure the validity of the results by piloting the questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews to validate the questions to get the right results from the respondents. Even by doing so, it was found that there was still some bias with some of the responses. Furthermore, as mentioned in section 3.9, there is a problem with the generalisability of this research. Due to the fact that the research was carried out over a short span of time and other unforeseen problems encountered whilst the research was in progress resulted in the sample size being smaller than anticipated.
It is therefore acknowledged that more time to implement the research and proper design of the survey would have promoted greater validity and reliability of this research.
5. Conclusion and Recommendations
E-tailing has had a substantial effect in the UK, as seen in the main body of this report, impacting both the retailers and customers. The issues arising in this study have not been generalised but pinpointed to some of the key issues surrounding those impacts arising from the literature review from which the conceptual framework was derived. The research findings provide a number of major issues discussed below.
One of the main issues under investigation was the impact of e-tailing in UK. How the customers are responding to the new buying opportunities being made available to them. The empirical research supports that the customer's behaviour towards this medium has been positive in terms of their willingness to buy products from the internet retail stores. As the majority of the UK high street clothing retailers shift their focus towards the rapidly growing online marketplace, it is becoming clear that an online presence is not just desirable but essential for the survival of the 21st-century clothing retailer. This being the cause of the rise of internet, as a sales channel continues to grow at pace that shows no signs of slowing in the near future in the UK. Online shopping is a natural way to buy goods and services for millions of people now not only in the UK, but world over. It is no longer a new phenomenon. In the UK increased internet access and broadband use, as well as investment in online activities by high street clothing stores has had a considerable impact on the customers which have exceeded the growth level expectations. The web is now an integral part of the retailing landscape in the UK. This has made other traditional high street retailers take notice, which has been the cause of the recent rise in the number of online stores as the battle for the online customers intensify, which has given rise to the cause of the second and third objectives of this study concentrating on the customer attitudes towards shopping online and their preferences of shopping online for clothing in London.
For the clothing e-tailer's it is necessary to study the customer's attitudes towards this channel and hence create a community online that potential shoppers will seek out for and engage with, returning again and again, with multiple opportunities to convert these visits into sales, by influencing their attitudes towards online shopping. This can be achieved by the e-tailer' providing customer reviews and on site chatting services for customers so as to create more awareness of the products and to better understand their attitude towards the service as a whole, hence making it more interactive. Customer's attitude towards this channel has been positive so far as gathered from the survey results, however the e-tailer's need to understand their customer base and the channels they use. During the survey of the customer's and from the research into various studies, suggests that a more general pattern of behaviour was seen consistently, which was directly influenced by their attitudes, this has been put in a simple diagram below (Fig 2), which has aided in understanding their attitudes better, in the way they respond to this channel.
The customer journey as seen in 2, is made up of several phases and often starts long before any purchase has taken place. A customer must be aware of a need before they will even begin to research a product and move on to buy it. This is the common chain of behaviour be it online or offline buying, or even whilst intending to buy any type of product. E-tailer's need to understand the channels their customers are using at each phase. Customer segments are also relevant in understanding this process as gathered from the survey, for example; a 18-25 year old in London now spends more time online than watching television, therefore if that segment is their target, then they should emphasise more on offering what they require. Understanding their attitude towards this channel and their general behaviour is of prime importance to the e-tailer, as this eventually leads to the perception of the customer. If the customer attitude is well studied then it would be fairly easy to convince the customer, which would lead to a potential purchase and even future loyalty if their perceptions are positive.
Various researches have focused on understanding the important attributes/determinants of online retailing, having studied in depth the author found several attributes most of them similar in one way or other but none led to affirmative conclusion as to what determinants contribute to the customers' perception towards online shopping. For clothing, scarce is known about the demographics of online customers and even less about the determinants influencing their decision to purchase. Therefore, by examining what determinants are important to online shoppers and predicting their purchase intentions, through the survey carried out the author has based the discussions and findings on the determinants which came across from the results of the survey which were also consistent in the literature review and aided in the formation of the conceptual framework on which the discussions where based, hence supporting the findings in order to fulfil the last objective of understanding the customers perception of shopping online for clothing in London. There have been several views regarding the attractive determinants of internet shopping. The most common determinants include time and money saving; convenience or easy accessibility; the shopper's ability to screen and select a wide range of alternatives; and the availability of information for making purchasing or ordering decisions, however what makes this channel more popular is when is compared to traditional shopping. If these common determinants are well understood, they lead to the comprehensive knowledge of the customer's attitudes and perception of this channel. The determinants discussed in this report comprise of all the aspects mentioned before which are factors or sub divisions of them and were further broken down and grouped according to the customer feedback which has enabled the author to understand how these determinants affect the customer's perception, hence fulfilling the final objective.
A number of recommendations have been derived from this research and are summarised below.
It's no secret clothing retailers in the UK, have embraced the web as a lucrative sales or distribution channel. Selling online has not only boost sales substantially, but for some it has also increased their presence in the retail sector as well as strengthened their market position. However, internet shopping in the area of clothing products is still unpredictable, since the fashion industry is ever evolving at a faster pace than any other sectors of the industry and understanding the customer's behaviour not only to buying but also to the changing fashion trends is of utmost importance for the e-tailer's. Therefore, the conclusions may not hold for long, given the rapid development of this industry and e-commerce technologies and the increasing number of computer-trained customer's as well as new entrants in the form of other retailers taking up this channel. The e-tailer's should therefore continually keep on assessing the customer's perceptions of the important online shopping determinants they consider as they may change over time and also what other variables predict customers' purchase intentions concerning clothing.
Since, now that a vast number UK customers have taken to the web, where once online shopping was solely seen as the province of the cash-rich and time-poor society, the convenience and value that it delivers is now part of everyday life as was gathered from the customer survey. This has increased the demand, which in turn has created surplus supply in the form of countless e-tailer's taking up this channel, creating stiff competition for existing e-tailers as well as the new entrants, in order to be able to keep up the e-tailer's should move beyond providing value alone and try to create immersive experiences through their websites.
The sample of customers who took part in the survey, also suggested that although buying online can never replace real offline buying, due to customer services and interaction especially when it comes to buying clothing that is available in physical stores. However, the e-tailer's can create a community that potential shoppers will seek out and engage with, returning again and again, with multiple opportunities to convert these visits into sales with the help of customer reviews and chats on the e-tailers' web site. With the help of new technology the interactive qualities of the web can be achieved and the possibilities are endless for using their products as the catalyst for a “must visit” internet experience. For example; ASOS which is highly successful online clothing web site, provides its customers with best possible service, it has a style blog which is updated daily with the latest trends and also has a catwalk option whereby the clothing on sale can be seen on moving models, more of a virtual 3D store. E-tailer's who can apply such internet trends stand the best possible chance of creating a really successful and profitable e-commerce website, as such enhanced and targeted interactivity is what helps in creating a positive impact on the customers perceptions and innovativeness is what makes the online shopping experience even more appealing to a wider customer market.
From the semi-structured interviews it was gathered that although most of the online e-tailer's interviewd have been successful in creating new levels of engagement with the potential customer's as discussed before, the basics should not be ignored and also be covered simultaneously in order to gain positive results, as with the rapidly changing fashion market more and more people now choosing to browse virtual store rails and buy online. Nevertheless, as the general opinion of various customer's as well as traditional retailers is that with the tactile nature of clothing it is not viable to be sold successfully online as much as it would sell in a physical store, despite this and considering the social aspect of shopping on high street stores the author feels that both the offline channels and the online channel can work hand in hand if strategically planned, to attract high volumes of new and existing customers and convert into real and significant sales s for the organisation.
The feasibility of implementing these recommendations would depend upon the strength (cost) and market conditions where these stores are based and are operating from. Furthermore, it may be a costly exercise, as advertising costs increase but it is essential for e-tailer's to survive in this competitive business. Besides multi-channel retailing and expanding the range of products in-store on the high streets as well as online, they will have to seek innovative means such as these recommendations which is clearly feasible in terms of their practicality and the resultant success as can be seen from other successful clothing e-tailer's such as ASOS. Who understand the customers attitude and how they responding to the services they offer and in turn learning what their perceptions are so as to serve them better.
The analysis and findings are limited by the sample and measures used, which might be small compared to studies of other populations of customer's using this channel, other measures should be done to confirm and expand these results. However, the findings do contribute to the understanding of the online buying opportunities in the clothing market and how customers are responding to them. Future studies can build on these results to complete this picture.