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E-tailoring Online: Customer Views and Impacts on Services

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Abstract

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.

1. Introduction

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.

3.1 Introduction

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 ontologica


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