The Internet offers modern consumers the opportunity to compare products and prices. The result is that consumers are more deliberate in their purchases and visit shops more efficiently. This is a positive development for consumers but not for retailers, concludes PhD student Marije Teerling from her research. She discovered that an informative website set up for consumers has a negative impact on purchasing behaviour.
Teerling will be awarded a PhD in economics on 15 March (1.15 pm).
Many retailers have websites. With good reason, says Teerling, since consumers not only appreciate this but have also come to expect it. A good, informative website improves the customers’ perception of the shop. But the downside of an appealing website is that it decreases the need for consumers to visit the shop in person. Teerling found that around eighty per cent of the customers visit the shop less often. This leads to a decline in impulse buying, despite the fact that these customers appreciate both the website and the shop itself.
Teerling also discovered that consumers who did visit the shop in person spent less money per product or product category. This is caused by two factors. On the one hand, the visit to the website had helped these consumers to make up their minds on what to buy. On the other hand, they sometimes chose to purchase the products in other shops because the Internet made it much easier for them to compare the shop’s assortment and prices with those of others.
Contrary to previous researchers, Teerling focused her research not on websites that enable customers to buy products or services but on informative websites. Such a site provides information about the company and its products, projects the corporate image and promotes long-term relationships with customers, for example by providing information about special offers and lifestyle topics such as fashion and holidays. The Dutch website of Ikea is a good case in point.
Survey and other data collection
Teerling conducted her research in collaboration with a Dutch company that owns 58 retail department stores in the major Dutch cities. Three months after the company had launched its informative website, Teerling conducted a survey among visitors to the site. This survey was repeated a year later. Customer information, for example concerning purchases in the shop, perceptions of the shop and visits to the website, was also collected.
Use of the Internet
Despite the negative impact on purchasing behaviour, retailers can no longer afford not to have a website, says Teerling. “The Internet is a fact of life. The question is not so much whether a company should use the Internet, but how it can use the Internet to its best advantage. It is crucial that organizations reflect on what makes them unique and how they should use their website to convey this unique selling point.”
Reducing the negative effects
Teerling believes that a tighter integration between the retail channel and the website may reduce the negative impact of the website. “Hema, for example, has a website that enables visitors to buy products. However, as soon as you place an order, the first option you are presented with is that you come to the shop to collect the product and pay for it. That is one way to still draw customers to your shop after a website visit.”
Marije L Teerling (Groningen, 1976) studied Economics in Groningen. She conducted her PhD research at the department of Marketing under the supervision of Prof. P.S.H. Leeflang and Dr K.R.E. Huizingh. The title of her thesis is Determining the Cross-Channel Effects of Informational Web Sites (Labyrinth Publications, ISBN 978-90-5335-106-2). Teerling is currently working as a researcher at the Telematica Instituut, Enschede.
Notes for the press
Further information: M.L. Teerling, tel. (053)485 04 80, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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