Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Exploring Relationships between Products Characteristics and B2C Interaction in Electronic Commerce

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Exploring Relationships between Products Characteristics and B2C Interaction in Electronic Commerce

Article excerpt

Abstract

The main purpose of the paper is to explore and discuss the influence of product type on customer interaction in electronic commerce. We have conducted two qualitative case studies in distance selling companies to inductively explore how the product characteristics of garments and music-CDs influence customer interaction. We apply a product classification scheme built on product theory to characterize and classify these products. By classifying product types according to this scheme we focus certain aspects; e.g., in which situation the customer uses the product and, thus, experiences potential satisfaction. By applying product theory to the electronic commerce context we are expanding this theory into a new area. Knowledge about product characteristics' influence on customer interaction in various phases of electronic commerce enriches and specifies the existing product theory. In order to put this theory contribution into practice, a set of focal questions with the aim to increase product understanding in an electronic commerce setting is formulated. The questions highlight product related issues that are important to consider when deciding communication media in electronic commerce.

Key words: Product classification, Product theory, Customer communication media, B2C interaction, Distance selling, Electronic commerce

1 Introduction

Imagine this scenario; a customer wants to order a blue velvet skirt on Internet but she is not sure whether the colour is exactly the nuance she is looking for. And how about the fabric, is the textile really as smooth as it looks on the screen? Will "medium" be the right size or should she order "large" instead? A couple of blocks away, another customer is about to order a music-CD on Internet. He has found a CD of his favourite singer, which he has been searching for a long time. Now he just has to place the order and wait for the delivery.

In this simple example of two distance selling (i.e., electronic commerce) settings there are of course several similarities between the customers' situations. Both might be wondering how long the delivery will take, how to return the product, if the product is kept in stock, etc. Nevertheless, the example also illustrates important differences between the two situations depending on what type of product the customer wants to buy. In this case, it is obvious that the "skirt customer" has to find answers to more product related questions before ordering compared to the "CD customer". When a company offers its products on distance from the customers, the traditional face-to-face communication has to be replaced by other ways of communicating. The company has to decide through which communication media the customer interaction should be conducted. Such decisions might be made with several purposes; e.g., to be cost-effective and offer automated communication media, or to compete with a high degree of customer service and, thus, offer many manually handled communication media that allow personal customer contact.

Several studies indicate that satisfied customers tend to become loyal to the company, which render long-term profitability, e.g., [3], [16], [37]. Providing customer service of high quality is even more important in distance selling than in physical business settings (face-to-face), according to some studies [34]. In order to establish long-term customer relationships, companies have to communicate with their customers. For distance selling companies this means that they have to offer communication media that the customers appreciate, in order for them to become satisfied [4]. Before the Internet era, customer communication in distance selling companies was mainly performed by telephone or mail. Nowadays, these companies have much more alternatives for their customer interaction, which implies more opportunities to establish long-term relationships [19], [40]. This new situation also means that the choices of communication media has become an important issue for distance selling companies. …

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