ServiceFriday: Not What I Paid For – How Trustworthy are Online Sellers

Online retail has taken over the service industry and with new technology being consistently developed, it is not going anywhere anytime soon. One issue common among online retailers is customers’ perceived quality (PQ) decreasing upon receiving and interacting with the physical product. This ultimately leads to lower customer satisfaction and often causes financial woes for the seller (e.g. full refunds). How then can customers know if internet based quality signals are trustworthy or not?

Prior research has identified the interactive qualities of online signals as “influential in shaping customers’ perceptions of products through internet-based signals.” Therefore, interactivity is a helpful perspective to evaluate the trustworthiness of internet-based signals for online sellers. Research has shown that interactivity can influence customers’ attitudes and cognitive processes as well purchase behavior.   

A recent study published in the Journal of Services Marketing examined the trustworthiness of internet based quality signals with a focus on interactivity. Researchers centered their study on webpages and before-sale services (BSS). “Webpages constitute the environment of an on-line shop. BSS refer to the provision of product or transaction information through internet-enabled media, such as live-chat or instant-messaging applications, before an on-line purchase.” the researchers wrote.

Researchers collected data from 261 female university students in Hangzhou, China, a leading city for e-business development, between April and June 2014. There are two reasons for this: a) women’s dresses was the product being observed due to the general simplicity of being able to clarify the quality of the product offline and b) an online shopping report in China indicated university students were one of the largest groups of buyers for online clothing. Participants were asked to fill out two questionnaires; one concerning the quality of webpages and BSS they submitted when they bought a dress, and one involving offline PQ and customer satisfaction they submitted seven days after receiving the dress (seven days is the typical quality-assurance period for Chinese online shops).

“In summary, our results show that webpage quality is positively associated with off-line PQ, that the quality of BSS is positively associated with off-line PQ and customer satisfaction, and that PQ has a large positive effect on customer satisfaction. The findings indicate that BSS is a more trustworthy quality signal than webpages. The factor of interactivity explains this difference.”

Managerial implications

This study has a few pivotal implications for online sellers. Interactivity plays a crucial role in the online shopping process as it has direct effects on offline PQ and purchase behavior. When online buyers are more involved in gaining new and customized information on a product, it reflects positively on the online seller.

Researchers suggested that online retail managers:

  • Pay close attention to how interactivity influences buyers’ perceptions, “especially in terms of the reciprocity and controllability of communications with the buyers.”.
  • Invest in using live-chat and instant-messaging applications for BSS.
  • Improve the design of their webpages to provide more and better customized information.

To read the full article, go to the Journal of Services Marketing. (A fee may apply.)

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