Authors: Keßenbrock, Andreas
Title: Three essays on In-store information search in a digital world: effects of different Information sources on customers’ path to purchase
Language (ISO): en
Abstract: The main focus of this doctoral dissertation is to compare the interaction between customers and frontline employees with the use of online product reviews as the two most frequently consulted information sources at brick-and-mortar stores. Against this contextual background, the presented essays intend to answer relevant questions about the influence of communication channels and information sources in different stages of customers’ decision-making processes. Using a mixed-methods approach, Essay I addresses the question whether personal interaction with a frontline employee affects customers’ purchase channel choice compared to mobile online search at the point of sale. The results show that the used communication channel steers consumers to purchase in the same channel. Consumers who interact with a frontline employee, therefore, prefer to purchase offline, and mobile Internet search has a positive effect on switching to a competitor’s online channel. Furthermore, the identified channel lock-in effect demonstrates robustness when controlling for several channel characteristics such as price differences, delivery time, and travel time to the brick-and-mortar store. Essay II provides insights into the second research question of this thesis; how customer- employee interaction and mobile online reviews influence consumers’ purchase decision- making. First, rich qualitative data from 350 participants, captured directly after an in-store shopping experience, reveal differences between the two information sources regarding their potential to create choice confidence. In particular, frontline employee interaction was linked to collaborative decision-making, whereas purchase decisions based on reading online product reviews in-store were perceived to be less collaborative. Second, based on these exploratory findings, a field experiment with 585 participants supports the assumption that frontline employee interaction leads to more collaborative decision-making, less choice overload, and, in consequence, more choice confidence. Thus, the investigation suggests that customers process information differently, depending on the used information source. Focusing on the last research question of this doctoral dissertation, Essay III offers an initial attempt to understand how mobile devices, as a new communication channel, affect customers’ perceptions of persuasiveness, and the central role of customers’ perception of control over the communication process, while searching for information at the point of sale. In this light, potential effects of information sources and communication channels have been considered separately. The results suggest that customers who use their mobile devices to search for product advice instead of personal interaction are more likely to adopt recommendations from frontline employees, even though this information source is presumed to act opportunistically. In this respect, perceived control over the communication process, which is triggered by digital communication channels, was found to explain the diminishing effect between perceived opportunism and persuasiveness of the information source. While answering these central research questions, this thesis also provides a variety of managerial implications and raises questions for future research. Consistently, Essay I and Essay II contribute to the future role of frontline employee management and demonstrate the importance of frontline employees for both, retailers and customers. Since the investigations have shown that mobile online search steers customers to purchase at competitive online shops, brick-and-mortar retailers are encouraged to provide proactive consumer advice by their frontline employees. In this context, retailers should compare prices with online competitors and avoid substantial price differences. In addition, brick-and-mortar retailers should strongly communicate advantages such as customer service, and online disadvantages such as longer delivery times. However, it is necessary to rely on well-trained frontline employees with a focus on personal characteristics such as credibility, expertise, and persuasiveness. Furthermore, frontline employees should rely on personal skills to give customers the feeling of unselfish support with the intention to simplify customers’ product choice. Although some customers prefer to avoid a personal interaction with a frontline employee, retailers have the opportunity to provide specially created digital content by means of frontline employees’ expertise. Considered together with the findings obtained in Essay III, digital- mediated communication leads to higher source persuasiveness and recommendation adoption. In this manner, retailers can decrease customers’ unfavorable perceptions of frontline employees by providing another communication channel. As retailers think about reducing or even replacing frontline employees as an information source, future research is supposed to extend the findings of this thesis with the intention to examine further consequences of this radical change. However, customers’ intention to use several information sources while searching in-store, future research should also examine the effects of multichannel usage in the context of information search. While the focus of this dissertation is to compare different communication channels and examine their effects separately, the knowledge about the effect of multiple communication channel searches on customers’ decision-making processes is limited. In sum, this dissertation provides detailed insights into several aspects of customers’ information search processing and purchase decisions against the background of comparing traditional offline and arising online information sources. Finally, the findings in this dissertation yield further interesting questions that need to be considered in future research.
Subject Headings: Mobile Internet search
Frontline employee interaction
In-store information search
Purchase channel choice
Subject Headings (RSWK): Produktbewertung
Issue Date: 2019
Appears in Collections:Lehrstuhl Marketing

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