Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

The Effect of Positive and Negative Signals on Perceived Deceptiveness of Websites in Online Markets

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

The Effect of Positive and Negative Signals on Perceived Deceptiveness of Websites in Online Markets

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

When physical stores increase their investments in property, personnel and inventory, they send a signal of quality and longevity to consumers. Unlike physical stores, online stores cannot provide such complete information about their quality and the quality of their offerings. Instead, they communicate this information virtually via their website's design, content, and experience. In other words, online sellers choose what information to provide to consumers via an online storefront and online buyers interpret this information and make their purchase decisions.

In order to better understand this process, we conducted a study using signaling theory, which is used in situations when two parties have access to different information. The signaler has a choice of how and when to communicate information using signals, while the receiver has a choice of how to interpret these signals [52].

Signals are rarely seen in isolation. Usually, signals are embedded in the environment surrounding them. Environmental distortion takes place when the medium for spreading the signal changes the ability to observe the signal. Therefore, receivers may or may not notice certain signals, or may have a different opinion regarding signals when some other signals are present. While previous studies on signaling evaluated the effect of isolated signals, there is a gap in the literature regarding how receivers group signals to form their opinions and decisions [15]. The contribution of this study is to focus on the receivers' perceptions of groups of signals in the online environment.

Signaling theory is used as a framework in this study to understand the way users interpret signals. The general assumption of signaling is that signalers focus on the deliberate communication of positive information to signal receivers. Signalers do not intend to send negative signals but occasionally negative signals can be an unintended consequence of the signaler's actions. Signals that are not intentional have been ignored in the literature. When signalers send signals without being aware of them, these signals could conflict with intentional signals or could communicate negative information about the signaler. As of now, there is little empirical research on negative signals and how they are different from other signals [15]. This study attempts to close this gap in IS research. We are using signaling theory to investigate which type of signals can reveal the true nature of a seller. While evaluating a website, users process multiple signals together. Some signals can lead to a positive perception of a website and some signals can lead to a negative perception. Thus, a significant contribution of this study is the consideration of negative signals in addition to positive ones.

Signals can be truthful or false. False signaling can lead to opportunistic behavior that motivates deceptive strategies initiated by unscrupulous sellers. In online markets, deception opportunities arise because of the geographic distances between sellers and buyers, their low level of familiarity with each other, and the limited number of interactions [54]. While trust [23], [30], [32], [33] and distrust [5] were discussed in e-commerce research, there is a lack of studies discussing signaling and deception. This study addresses this issue by evaluating the effect of signals on perceived deceptiveness of websites.

The study reported in this paper focuses on how website signals impact the buyers' perceptions of website deceptiveness and their purchase intentions. The study is centered on the pre-purchase phase of the shopping experience and on signals that appear during this phase. Hypotheses about buyer perceptions and purchase intentions are empirically tested with actual websites in which the users' perceptions of signals are evaluated.

With this research, we provide several theoretical and practical contributions to the literature on website signaling and we attempt to shed light on the issue of buyers' perceptions of website signals. …

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