Online Stores: System Goals

The increasing significance of online retailing has motivated a number of studies to look for factors that facilitate the success of the online stores. These factors, or constructs, are in fact system goals that can generally be found in relatively established literature in areas such as online consumer behavior, store image composition, technology acceptance model, Internet retail quality, website success determinants, website evaluations, and so on. Research [1,35,18], for instance, in these areas commonly employs theoretical or empirical models consisting of multi-dimensional constructs that incorporate the functional aspects of the service process as well as the technical aspects of the service outcome.

Without a unified view, it would be very difficult to reconcile such a considerable number and variety of system goals employed in these models. This paper uses Delone and Maclean's [8,9] model of IS success as the base framework to synthesize and organize these various success metrics. The Delone and Maclean's model proposes that Information Quality, System Quality, and Service Quality are the three key dimensions that would affect e-commerce success. The Information Quality dimension measures the e-commerce content; the System Quality dimension measures the desired characteristics of an e-commerce system; the Service Quality dimension measures e-commerce services. Using such a unified view, the following sub-sections present a high-level synthesis and summary of the system goals identified and researched in the related literature.  The Delone and Maclean's model has been largely applied and satisfactorily validated over the years.

Information Quality

  • Information Availability: While availability is not a new attribute of information, the importance of information availability as a system goal has grown tremendously due to the criticality of systems that are now operating in the distributed computing environment.  This is evidenced by the fact that the dynamic nature of digital shopping interfaces has enabled online retailers to provide consumer information in a directly and timely manner. The information availability of an online store plays a vital role in influencing the attitudinal and behavioral intentions of a consumer. For example, studies [4,16] have indicated that one of the most important advantages of Internet-based electronic shopping environments relative to the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail settings is the availability of product and market information that can significantly reduce the consumer's cost of search.  Another study [35] suggests that consumers who visit a website containing up-to-date information matching their needs were found to be more willing to revisit the site. In a recent laboratory experiment [30] it was revealed that the providing access to competitor price information may result in enhanced long-term preference.
  • Organization of Information: The organization of information, corresponding to the effective structuring and display of the website content, is another system goal in this dimension.  Online store content should be structured using effective and intuitive taxonomy, naming and labeling. Well-defined categories always make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. Research [25,35] has shown that the better the website content is organized and presented, the more likely the consumer will experience a positive association with the website.
  • Quality of Information: The viewpoints towards the quality of information are somehow diversified in the literature. Delone and Maclean [9] indicate that the information quality measures that have been used in recent ecommerce studies include accuracy, relevance, understandability, completeness, currency, dynamism, personalization, and variety. In their own model, however, Delone and Maclean suggest that the quality of the information can be measured in terms of accuracy, timeliness, completeness, relevance, and consistency. Still In another study, for example, [29] argue that information presented on an online store captures the perceptions of consumer regarding the characteristics of the website content as accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, relevance, and usefulness. In fact, these measures represent different aspects of the quality of the information.

System Quality

System quality, in the Internet environment, measures the desired characteristics of an e-commerce system. For online stores such desired characteristics are system goals exhibited through the design features of the store website. While the information is an indispensable element of a successful online store, it is the design features and their quality that deliver the information efficiently and effectively.
  • Usability: The most common measure for design of ecommerce systems is usability. With the emergence of the Internet there has been additional pressure for the design to be usable, because often there is no opportunity to train customers to use the software. Abundant research has already focused on finding and defining the optimal set of attributes that compose usability, but different viewpoints have led to different definitions and standards [13]. This paper does not intend to differentiate what constitutes usability, but rather to identify and discuss individual key usability attributes for online stores.
  • Layout: The layout of an online store refers to the underlying website structure which has been found to be a critical factor that would drive consumer elaboration and response in retailing and significantly impact a retailer's overall performance [33].  Griffith [14], for instance, indicates that consumers exposed to a tree structured online store layout perceived the store to be easier to use, experienced greater elaboration of product related information, and had higher levels of product and brand recall, greater purchase intentions and a more positive attitude toward the retailer than those exposed to a tunnel structure online store layout. For this reason many large commercial websites such as Yahoo and MSN have altered their layouts at one time to give it a new and better look. 
  • Navigability: In the browsing task the customer is assumed to have incomplete, imperfect knowledge of the contents and its organization, and the browsing process is therefore fundamentally uncertain and iterative. To solve the problem, a successful online store should employ an efficient and effective scheme of navigability to enable consumers to find information or products in a way that is meaningful to them.  Rosenfeld [28] suggests that superior navigation can be achieved by placing various navigation components, such as global navigation, local navigation, unity navigation, contextual navigation, information links, page numbering, and site map, throughout the site.
  • Usefulness and Ease of Use: Attitude toward the use of an information system is a function of two beliefs: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.  Perceived usefulness refers to the degree to which a person believes that a particular information system would enhance his or her job performance by reducing the time to accomplish a task or providing timely information, while perceived ease of use refers to the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would be free of effort. In other words, the perceived usefulness pertains to the effectiveness aspect of the system use, while the perceived ease of use pertains to the efficiency aspect of the system use. Both attributes have been largely researched and proved to be two major system goals for the success of online stores [20,22].
  • Experience: As Internet shopping grows, online retailers will need to explore ways to adjust, manage and manipulate a variety of cues to deliver consumers satisfactory shopping experience. Now more than ever, the action of online shopping has become an experience more than a task. A research [19] discovered that the customers' attitudes and beliefs regarding convenience have significant effects on their intention to purchase online. A survey [5] has identified convenience one of the top reasons consumers like to shop on the Web.
  • Playfulness: Another important success factor of online shopping is playfulness (i.e. pleasure or enjoyment). Empirical studies have shown that a satisfied customer not only comes from an extrinsic reward of purchasing products or services but also from personal and emotional reward from purchasing-derived pleasure or enjoyment [35]. An e-commerce study [Ma, 2006] provides  evidence that embedding background music properly in the online shopping cart may generate a positive attitude toward the website.
  • Interactivity: Today's ecommerce activity is basically a function of interactivity between customers and business enterprises. Interactive tools might have favorable effects on the quality and the efficiency of purchase decision [16]. Interactivity also promotes involvement. Chiagouris and Long [6] indicate that low-involvement shoppers and high-involvement shoppers don't react the same way, and the online retailer cannot treat them the same way in terms of tactics. For instance, low-involvement shoppers who rated a website entertaining were also likely to rate it favorably.
  • Search capability: In a physical retail store there is a salesperson to guide the customer during the search process and helps him find the best product that suits his needs. In online stores such sales personnel are not available, thus making the mechanisms to search an essential system goal. A successful online store should incorporate friendly and powerful search capability that enables consumers to locate the product they want more efficiently and effectively. Parra and Ruiz [2009] reported that search tools can transform the way online shoppers form and refine their consideration sets to be smaller, more stable, and more homogeneous. Lin et al. [21] suggest that the design of online store should include both keyword search and browse search. By combining both searches we allow full search coverage and more maneuver space for the customer to search for an item in the best way he thinks or accustomed to.
  • Personalization: Personalization has become one of the central focuses of attention for web-based systems. Lin et al [21] argue that a personalized search facility can be integrated into the store design to increase long-term relationship with the consumers and the store's long-term benefits. Ardissono et al. [3] developed a B2C system to personalized the presentation of the catalog and elicit information about the user's needs in order to actively suggest alternative products for the consumers.
  • Decision Support: The ability to compare may increase variety-seeking behavior and motive in the online context [27].  Kohli et al. [19] argue that decision support can be effective for the design and choice phases of online consumers' decision-making process. Thus, understanding the online consumers' decision-making process plays a central role in an online retailer's ability to design and deploy systems that cater to the consumers' needs. An online shopping store can provide decision support capabilities for searching, comparing, and finally recommending a product to the customers.
  • Technology: While previous studies have predominantly focused on information and system features, relatively less attention has been devoted to the technical aspects of websites [35]. The technology of e-commerce decides what can be offered to customers, but only customers determine which of those technologies will be accepted [17].  De Wulf et al. [35] also argue that the extent to which the technology simplifies the site and makes the visit successful can be evaluated on both reliability and progressiveness.  Reliability refers to the end user's perception of the adequate technical functioning of the web site; progressiveness means that a website employs state-of-the-art technologies. According to media richness theory, interactive multimedia applications provide capabilities richer than text and photographs of traditional brochures or catalogs.

Service Quality

Service quality refers to the overall support and performance delivered by the online retailers through the online stores.  System goals in this dimension are related to the online store's responsiveness in terms of the quality of its pre- and post-sales services, and related technical support and the trust issues including confidentiality and privacy.
  • Responsiveness: Online store responsiveness means prompt delivery and response to the concerns or inquiries of its customers. Studies [6] have found that consumers tend to be dissatisfied if an online store doesn't deliver responsiveness. By allowing customers to track delivery of parcels in real time, online retailers can offer customers greater satisfaction and better sense of control.  Publishing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) on a website saves customers time and money waiting on the phone for a response.
  • Trust: Trust has been studied frequently as an outcome variable in online environments and was found to be a key to the effective functioning of ecommerce applications [35]. Tsai et al. [32] discovered that providing accessible privacy information reduces the information asymmetry gap between merchants and consumers and leads consumers to purchase from online retailers who better protect their privacy. The same study also revealed that consumers tend to be willing to pay a premium to purchase from more privacy protective websites. Confidentiality has been the primary goal of information assurance, because there has been and continues to be a desire for systems to be trusted. By controlling access to information and preventing unauthorized disclosure, a system has achieved confidentiality [35].