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Electronic commerce is becoming increasingly important to both corporations and individuals as a result of the dramatic development of technology and the emergency of a global economy. The expansion of the usage of the Internet by organisations and people is one of the main contributors to the development of e-commerce in terms of e-shopping, electronic business and internet commerce. Studies have shown that by the middle of the 1990s internet based services had rapidly emerged in usage and coverage leading to their application and deployment in the creation of a new method of shopping, (Wiggins, 1995). Thus online marketing has become vital to new e-commerce and traditional 'offline' companies in order to take advantage of these new technologies. However the essential ingredient of marketing and business generally is the satisfaction of customer's needs hence a full understanding of consumer behaviour in terms of internet shopping is a critical success factor for any company making use of it as a form of doing business.
Consumer behaviour is complex and can be described as a dynamic interaction between affect and cognition, behaviour, and environmental events, (Blythe, 1997). Due to the new characteristics of the global economy it has been contended that customers value immediate responses to their demands in terms of goods and information. A demand which technology based e-commerce is arguably able to meet. Therefore it is useful to explore the main determining factors on customer's choice of e-retail site. Additionally research has revealed that consumer acceptance of e-shopping in the UK is much higher than in many other European countries (Forrester Research, 2000). Literature also suggests as do previous studies that young educated people constitute a principal demographic engaging in online shopping. This research focuses on university students following other studies in arguing that they represent the principal demographic of online shoppers but also includes a sample representing other demographics in order to comparatively analyse behavioural patterns for shopping online between different groups.
Due to the nature of internet there are critically problems related to shopping online the major ones suggested as being security and privacy problems. These originate and are due not only to the deficiencies inherent within Internet and e-commerce security but also as a result of customer distrust of such measures as a result of perceived inadequacies with procedures, (Panko, 2001). Yet even with these problems online shopping has grown exponentially therefore an interesting interaction must be occurring between consumer behaviour and these factors, an interaction this research proposes to examine and analyse.
Research suggests that online sellers have made successful efforts to increase customer's confidence and usage of shopping online through the improvement of security performance and privacy protection. Companies like eBay and Amazon.com illustrate successful examples of e-shopping which are argued benefit from a successful brand building strategy increasing customer loyalty. As a result it is suggested that online shopping has become and will continue to become a full and effective business model, (Black, 2005). However this depends to a large extent on the development of technology as well as effective marketing. This research then aims to examine consumer perceptions of business innovations and the nature of business innovations in terms of technology and marketing to altering these perceptions and behaviour resulting out of these perceptions.
This project makes use of both qualitative and quantitative methods aiming at triangulating the research factors involved to provide useful data for analysis of relevance to the objectives listed above, (Gummeson, 2000). The research is divided into four phases. The first element is a literature review and analysis of secondary data forms dealing with both theory as it applies to online shopping, various business practices in terms of the environmental conditions of online shopping and general theories dealing with consumer behaviour, (Ghauri, 2005). The aim of this section in furtherance to reviewing literature in the area is to establish patterns of congruence within theoretical literature not directly concerned with online shopping.
An initial questionnaire will be conducted with a sample of 300, 250 of whom will be randomly selected from a university campus and 50 from local city centre. The questionnaire is aimed at gathering descriptive data of use in modelling behavioural patterns while shopping online. An initial control question identifying those person's who have bought goods online will help identify a representative sample of consumers who are of relevance to the objectives of the research. The data from this will be analysed for recurring themes, issues of differences and similarities in behavioural patterns between students and other demographic groups and some common behavioural indicators for shopping online which in turn form the base of the investigation to be carried out in the ensuing qualitative research.
In terms of qualitative data collection three focus groups will be held, each with 8 participants. The first two focus groups will be sampled from the 250 university student participants in the questionnaire who expressed willingness towards further participation in research. The third focus group will be drawn from the 50 non-student demographic and if necessary the sample will be supplemented through advertisements in local media and outlets. From the 24 participants in the focus group it is hoped that six participants two from each focus group will accept an invitation to participate in an interview to explore in more detail the issues arising from the questionnaire and the issues raised in the focus group sessions. It is obvious that the research may take up a certain amount of participants' time and thus a flexible schedule for the interviews as well as inducements in the form of online shopping vouchers will be used to assist in increasing the response rate to these parts of the research. The primary focus of the semi-structured interviews is to follow up on specific themes highlighted in the previous forms of research and also allow time for the respondents to discuss freely and offer their insights into the relevant issues raised by the research so far, (Silverman, 2004).
To conclude it is expected that this combination of research methods will yield fruitful and insightful data relevant to the objectives of the research. In particular the triangulation achieved through the supplementing of descriptive quantitative data with exploratory qualitative data will it is hoped illuminate specific interactions between theories from the literature and practice in day-to-day patterns of behaviour for online consumers and further explain specific and general elements particular to UK consumers.
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