All e-Shoppers Are Not Created Equal

Whether we like it or not, most of us know that online marketers are keeping tabs on our online browsing behavior so they can gain insights to increase sales. The standard practice utilizes clickstream data to measure how much time we spend on their website and whether our search leads to retailers’ holy grail: a purchase.

This practice, however, assumes that all shoppers are created equal in terms of their navigational ability.

“That assumption is really difficult to accept, since decades of marketing research has shown consumers to be diverse in virtually all spheres of human activity,” says Amit Bhatnagar, Associate Professor of Marketing.

Bhatngar, together with Atish Sinha, Professor of Information Technology Management, and Arun Sen of Texas A&M University, recently collaborated on research in a previously unstudied facet of online shopping behavior – examining how differences in consumers’ navigational abilities affect purchase likelihood.

“To understand the role of navigational ability in online search, it’s important to realize that most websites contain hundreds of pages with information about products, shipping, order forms, customer service, privacy policies, and so on,” says Bhatnagar. “For any given search, only a subset of the pages at the website carry relevant information, and there can be countless potential paths to get to that information.”

To measure the differences in shoppers’ navigational abilities, the researchers developed a data collection technique that splits the total search duration data into three categories:  time spent on the actual search, time spent navigating through irrelevant pages, and time spent downloading pages.

They subsequently developed a model that uses that categorized data to determine actual search duration and purchase likelihood.

The study showed that consumers who are not very savvy navigators are likely to spend a lot of time and frustration seeking information on the web, and are consequently less likely to purchase.

The managerial implications of these findings for website design are significant. Chief among them is deciding whether to deploy limited resources to improving site attractiveness or towards improving navigability. The study’s findings indicate that ease of use is critically important, suggesting that navigability should be a major factor in website design.

“When a site seems difficult to use, consumers will avoid it,” says Bhatnagar. “If online retailers don’t test whether the target consumers can readily access all the necessary information, they’ll likely be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Their experimental approach to measuring navigational time, he says, is not difficult or prohibitively expensive to apply, and can be employed in usability studies in other settings.

To find relevant information on websites, online retailers have created devices such as menu bars, site-specific search engines, and recommendation agents. Bhatnagar is now exploring whether these devices are as effective in finding online information on mobile devices as they are on desktop computers.

The study was published in European Journal of Marketing, “Role of Navigational Ability in Website Visit Duration,” by Amit Bhatnagar, Atish P. Sinha, and Arun Sen, 2019.

Research@ Lubar

Faculty scholarship in the Lubar School of Business spans the business fields and beyond through both theoretical and applied research that is published in leading journals.  Here are some of our faculty’s most recent publications:

Applying and Advancing Internalization Theory: The Multinational Enterprise in the Twenty-First Century
Journal of International Business Studies
Authors: Rajneesh Narula, Christian Asmussen, Tailan Chi, and Sumit Kundu
Component Procurement for an Assembly Supply Chain with Random Capacities and Random Demand
Decision Sciences
Authors: Xinyan Cao and Xiang Fang
How Information About What is ‘Healthy’ Versus ‘Unhealthy’ Impacts Children’s Consumption of Otherwise Identical Foods
Journal of Experimental Psychology
Authors: Jasmine DeJesus, Katherine Du, Kristin Shutts, and Katherine Kinzler
Does “Being There” Matter?: The Impact of Web-Based and Virtual World Shopping Experiences on Consumer Purchase Attitudes
Information & Management
Authors: Elizabeth Baker, Geoffrey, and Mark Srite
Click here to see more faculty research