College Students' Perceived Attributes of Internet Websites and Online Shopping

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine perceptions of attributes of clothing retailers' Internet websites in relation to previous and intended future purchase from the websites. Survey data from 414 U.S. college students, non-married and aged 18-22 with online clothing shopping experience and favorite clothing websites were used. Five clothing website attributes were identified by factor analysis (i.e., product information, customer service, privacy/security, navigation, auditory experience/comparison shopping). Multiple regression results showed positive relationships between frequency of previous purchase from websites and perceived product-information, customer-service, and privacy-and-security attributes of the websites, and between future intended purchase from websites and perceived customer-service attributes of the websites. Implications were discussed for effective website design by clothing marketers and for consumer education of college students.

**********

A growing percentage of U.S. consumers' shopping and purchasing over recent years have been taking place through the Internet. A related trend has been rapid expansion of retailers' direct marketing to consumers via the Internet, with sales growth outpacing traditional retailing (Burns, 2005; Levy & Weitz, 2001). The U.S. Census Bureau estimated online retail spending at $47.8 billion in 2002 and projected $130 billion by 2006 (as cited in Case & King, 2003). Online sales accounted for 6.5% of total retail sales in 2004, up from 5.4% in 2003, and were expected to account for 7.7% in 2005 (Burns, 2005). With the consumers' increased use of retailers' Internet Websites for searching out product information and purchasing, the websites have become key tools for retailers to communicate with current and prospective customers and the attributes of a retailer's website are crucial for attracting shoppers to the site and convincing them to become or remain customers.

Consumers across the age spectrum shop online, but college students aged 18 to 22 have been identified as the Internet's "hottest" market and a prime source of future growth in online sales (Silverman, 2000). College students' yearly expenditures reach near $200 billion (as cited in PROMO Xtra, 2003). They are heavy users of the Internet and have more access to this medium than most other population segments (Jasper & Lan, 1992; Kim & LaRose, 2004; U.S. Department of State, 2002). According to Harris Interactive (2002), 92% of college students own a computer and 93% access the Internet. Their online spending exceeds that of any other demographic group in the U.S. (O'Donnell & Associates, LLC, 2004). Roemer (2003) noted that U.S. college students' online purchases came to $1.4 billion in 2002 following a 17% increase over the previous three years. In this vein, it is important for retailers and consumer educators to better understand college students' online shopping behavior.

Despite e-tailing's rapid growth, conversion rates, the proportion of consumers who buy from websites out of all who visit them, remain low at only 4.9% (Kerner, 2005). According to the survey by Shop.org (2001), although 72% of Internet users search online for products at least once a month, this high level of search activity does not translate into similarly high purchase levels. A BizRate.com survey of 9,500 online shoppers revealed that as many as 55% abandoned their "shopping carts" before checkout and 32% did so at the point of sale (as cited in Shop.org., 2001). Recent studies also have shown that increasing numbers of consumers use the Internet for collecting product information while still relying on offline stores (e.g., department stores) for purchasing products (Doyle, 2003; Gray, 2005). Elliot and Fowell (2000) reported evidence of Internet shoppers' frustration with Websites, particularly in regard to navigability, customer service, checkout processes, and the privacy and security of personal information provided online. …