This exploratory study expands the knowledge concerning service quality dimensions in the context of Internet commerce, from the differing perspectives of two groups: Internet purchasers and Internet non-purchasers. Six primary service quality dimensions perceived by Internet purchasers were uncovered: reliability, access, ease of use, personalization, security, and credibility while seven dimensions were discovered for Internet non-purchasers: security, responsiveness, ease of use, reliability, availability, personalization, and access. When examining the relative importance of each dimension affecting overall service quality assessment, the "reliability" factor was found to be the most important dimension for Internet purchasers while Internet non-purchasers consider "security" as their most critical concern.
The Internet commerce industry has gone through an initial period of focusing on new customers to the present stage of both retaining and attracting customers. Instant price comparisons on the Web, brought by powerful search engines, make non-price competitive advantages, such as service quality, ever more critical in retaining and attracting customers (Griff & Palmer 1999; Jarvenpaa & Todd 1997; Liu & Arnett 2000). What brings online customers back, primarily, is a sense of loyalty that comes from an Internet company (1) offering better service than anyone else (Hoff, McWilliams & Saveri 1998).
To offer better services, it is necessary for Internet companies to investigate what existing and potential customers expect for service quality. In the context of Internet commerce, existing customers are those who have utilized the Internet as a channel to purchase products and services. Potential customers, for Internet commerce industry as a whole, are generally those who have utilized the Internet as a source to search for information about desired products and services but have never purchased through the Internet (i.e., they prefer to purchase through traditional channels). For purposes of this study, these two types of consumers are coined "Internet purchasers" and "Internet non-purchasers", respectively.
The ideal action for Internet companies is to improve and maintain all service quality attributes that satisfy both existing and potential customers' needs and wants. However, given that both large and small online companies have limited resources, priorities must be set among alternative service attributes in making investment decisions based on a company's business strategies. If online companies can understand the similarities and differences of key service quality dimensions perceived by Internet purchasers and Internet non-purchasers, different service offering strategies can be applied to retain existing Internet customers and attract potential customers. Therefore, it is necessary to understand both Internet purchasers' and non-purchasers' perceptions of service quality attributes related to Internet purchasing.
Nevertheless, no empirical attention has been given to examining the service quality attributes in the context of Internet commerce from the perspectives of Internet purchasers and Internet non-purchasers. This article, therefore, intends to expand the body of knowledge relating to the service quality construct within the Internet commerce context. Three specific research questions are investigated:
* What are the key underlying dimensions of service quality within the framework of Internet commerce as perceived by Internet purchasers and nonpurchasers?
* Are there any differences between the two groups' perceptions of service quality dimensions? If any, what are they?
* Which service quality attributes most significantly impact the overall service quality as assessed by Internet purchasers and non-purchasers?
Internet Purchasers Versus Internet Non-Purchasers
Internet purchasers and non-purchasers are somewhat interchangeable. An Internet non-purchaser tends to be an Internet purchaser if s/he feels purchasing through the Internet is the best option. Meanwhile, an Internet purchaser can be `transformed' into an Internet non-purchaser after unhappy or even painful experiences. For instance, many online consumers were adversely impacted due to poor order fulfillment and delivery (Gray 2000; Jedd 2000). Consequently, they may keep searching for information through the Internet but may stop online purchasing. As Mittal and Katrichis (2000) argued, the service quality attributes important to new customers might not be the ones that are important to loyal customers; the same rule may apply to Internet purchasers' and Internet non-purchasers' different perceptions of service quality dimensions.
With competition only a click away, Internet companies strive to retain their customers and are struggling to convert their Web site visitors to online purchasers. Although hybrid companies (traditional companies with a transactional Web site option) can influence Internet non-purchasers to visit their stores physically, they still would like their customers to complete purchasing transactions through their Web sites to ensure that orders are placed. Therefore, for both Internet-only companies and hybrid companies, the key issues are: (1) how to retain these relatively disloyal Internet purchasers; and (2) how to turn Internet non-purchasers into Internet purchasers.
Perceived Service Quality Dimensions
Perceived service quality can be defined as "a global judgment or attitude relating to the superiority of a service." (Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry 1988) Over the past three decades, researchers have attempted to discover the global or standard attributes of a service that are important to the customer and that contribute significantly to customers' quality assessment. Sasser, Olsen, and Wyckoff (1978) reported seven major attributes in the context of the service industry: security, consistency, attitude, completeness, conditions, availability, and training. Later, ten dimensions were revealed in an exploratory study conducted by Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry (1985): tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, communication, credibility, security, competence, courtesy, understanding the customer, and access. Based on these ten dimensions, Parasuraman et al. (1988) further purified and distilled these ten dimensions of service quality to five: tangibles, reliability, responsibility, assurance, and empathy. These five service quality attributes constitute the basis for global measurement of service quality, namely, SERVQUAL.
Since that time, SERVQUAL has been applied to various service industries, although it has received some criticism (for a comprehensive review, see Cronin and Taylor 1994; Dabholkar, Thorpe & Rentz 1996). The primary concerns raised by many scholars are that: (1) there is difficulty in measuring different types of expectations (Cronin & Taylor 1994) and (2) service quality dimensions tend to be context-bounded and service-type-dependent (Bienstock 1997; Van Dyke, Kappelman & Prybutok 1997). Alternatively, Cronin and Taylor (1994) have argued that perceived service performance (SERVPERF) would be a better indicator of service quality.
During the past several years, a number of conceptual and empirical studies have attempted to address key attributes of service quality directly or indirectly related to Internet Commerce. Rice (1997) examined what made users revisit a Web site and discovered that the most important variables are design features, such as content, layout, ease of finding information, navigability, and emotional experience, such as enjoyable visits. Hoffman and Novak (1997) pointed out that personalization is the essence by which Internet firms valorize the Internet as a unique consumer market.
When investigating the Web sites of the top 100 U.S. retailers, Griffith and Krampf (1998) mentioned that the lack of prompt responsiveness, especially to email inquires, was the most common phenomenon in cyberspace. They pointed out that customer service access through the Web sites needed enough staff support to satisfy their customers. Balfour, Farquhar, and Langmann (1998) put emphasis on transaction security and personal information privacy when examining consumer needs in global electronics. Dellaert and Kahn (1999) conducted four computer-based experiments to understand how waiting time of information download negatively affects consumers' perception of the performance of the Web site.
Liu and Arnett (2000) identified information quality, system use, system design quality, and playfulness as four major determinants for the success of Web sites in the context of Internet commerce. Based on the survey of 250 online banking and securities brokerage users, Sohn (2000) found that trust, interactiveness, ease of use, content/functionality of Web sites, reliability, and speed of delivery were the six significantly important service quality dimensions perceived by customers. Kaynama (2000) assesses the service quality of online travel agencies in terms of attributes such as content, access, navigation, design, response, background, and personalization and customization
The aforementioned service attributes, however, were discovered either within a narrowly defined domain or on the basis of Internet purchaser perspective only. No empirical study has been conducted to date to systematically and extensively uncover the underlying key dimensions of service quality in the Internet commerce setting, at least not from the perspectives of both Internet purchasers and non-purchasers.
Relative Importance of Service Quality Attributes …