Multichannel Customer Management: Understanding the Research-Shopper Phenomenon
The paper explains the three mechanisms that drive research-shopping. The research-shopper phenomenon is the trend of consumers using one channel to conduct research and then another channel to make the purchase. The three mechanisms that drive this are: (1) Attribute-based decision-making, (2) Lack of channel lock-in, and (3) Cross-channel synergy.
In today’s market there are many platforms provided by companies for consumers to purchase their products, catalogs, brick-and-mortar stores, and most recently the internet. With these different options consumers have become multichannel users, meaning they visit/use many of platforms offered before using their preferred platform to buy. Consumers becoming multichannel users has created multiple challenges for companies. One of these challenges is that a company may lose customers through out the course of the shopping process. This problem has been deemed the “research shopper” phenomenon. The “research shopper” phenomenon refers to the tendency of consumers researching a product through one channel then going through a different channel to buy the product. About half of online shoppers research the product using the internet and then purchase it in a brick-and-mortar store (Kelly 2002). A study conducted by Doubleclick (2004) reported that the most common form of research shopping is Internet Store. The other most common forms of research shopping are Catalog Store and Store Internet. There are three mechanisms that are involved in research shopping that follow this framework: (1) Attribute-driven decision-making, (2) Lack of channel lock-in, and (3) Cross-channel synergy. The goal is to understand the reasoning behind why consumers choose particular channels to conduct research about the product and choose channels to purchase the product. Having said this there is a channel choice decision for research and a channel choice decision for purchasing. These choices are not mutually exclusive, a consumer may choose to conduct research and purchasing using the same channel, or they may choose one channel for research and another channel for purchasing behaviors.
Based on the theory of reasoned action (“TRA” (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Sheppard, Hartwick, & Warshaw, 1988) it is safe to assume that perceptions of attributes for search and purchase channels in the consumers mind translate into search and/or purchase attractiveness of each channel. These perceptions affect which channel is chosen for search and which channel is chosen for purchase. There are differences between exclusively purchase attributes, exclusively search attributes, and attributes that relate to both search and purchase. There are three reasons that not all attributes relate directly to purchase. First, the core thesis of Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) states that the effect of attribute beliefs related to choice are leveled out by general attitudes towards the channel that is being used. Secondly, consistency with other channel studies is key, studies show that the store attributes such as experience, atmosphere, and variety of product can affect the consumers perception of value. This means that the attributes of the store inherently affect the reason for consumers coming to the store (e.g. Baker et al., 2002; Montoya-Weiss et al., 2003). Thirdly, the choice variable is nominally scaled, which means that it holds less information than an attitude variable that is interval-scaled. To sum up the TRA model, perceptions of attributes drive attitudes, these attitudes that stem from the perceptions of attributes determine a consumers behavior. This means that the attitudes toward using Channel A for search (“search attractiveness”) consequently affect the consumers attitude towards using Channel A for purchase (‘purchase attractiveness”), this also works vice versa. This is what is known as “channel lock-in.” Channel lock-in means that greater attitudes related to searching on Channel A transform into greater attitudes related to purchasing on Channel A. The TRA model also says that the search/purchase attitudes related to Channel A affect the search/purchase attitudes related to Channel B, and vice versa. This is known as “cross-channel synergy.” Cross-channel synergy means that greater attitudes related to search/purchase on Channel A transform into greater attitudes related to search/purchase on Channel B because using the two channels for separate functions is perceived by the consumer to have a greater benefit than just using one channel for both functions. The perception is that the use of the two channels for separate functions complement each other to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of using one channel for both search and purchase functions. It must be known that both channel lock-in and cross-channel synergy are described with a positive valence. However, in certain cases the valence could end up being negative. If the valence is negative this means that greater attitudes related to searching on Channel A can transform into lesser attitudes related to purchasing through Channel B. This would be an example of negative cross-channel synergy, which shows that the channels are substitutes for each other rather than complements of each other. This reasoning is used to say that attitudes related to executing one behavior (ex. Searching through Channel A) plays a role in influencing attitudes related to executing a different behavior (ex. Purchasing through Channel A, or searching through Channel B). With that said, the level of search attractiveness of Channel A controls the attractiveness of purchasing through Channel A, and vice versa (this is known as channel lock-in). An example of this reasoning is the attractiveness of searching through Channel A is a factor that improves Channel A’s attractiveness as a purchase platform. Using the same reasoning, the level of the attitude related to using Channel A for searching can sway the attitude related to using Channel B for purchasing, if this happens the channels have cross-channel synergy (can be positive or negative). Cross-channel synergy is also known as complementarity of channels (Teerling & Huizingh, 2005).
Motives for Research Shopping
There are three factors that have been identified to explain “research shopping”: (1) attribute-based decision-making, (2) lack of channel lock-in, and (3) cross-channel synergy.
Attribute-based Decision Making
Attribute-based decision making is rooted on the consumers perception that one channel has more beneficial search attributes, while another channel has attributes that better lend themselves to purchasing. An example of this would be the internet. The internet is often regarded as a convenient platform for gathering information, but it is also widely regarded as a risky platform for purchasing because of security risks and the inability to tangibly touch, see, or feel the product (e.g. Alba et al., 1997; McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar, 2002). On the opposite side of this, consumers may fin it labor intensive to search for information in brick-and-mortar stores, but not risky to make a purchase inside the store. With this in mind consumers may find it more beneficial to conduct research on the internet and then purchase in the brick-and-mortar store.
High channel lock-in discourages research shopping because searching and purchasing through one channel are extremely interconnected or related. Lack of channel lock-in is a key driving force for researching through one channel and purchasing through another. If a channel has low lock-in, meaning that the attitudes related to searching do not obviously translate to purchasing, causes research shopping because there is a high level of cross-channel synergy. The internet may be an example of a channel with relatively low channel lock-in, this may be because many consumers use the internet as an information source and have labeled it as a “source of information” rather than “a place of purchase” in their minds. Another reason internet sites may have low channel lock-in is because logging off of a certain website is equivalent to walking out of store, this makes it easy for consumers to move from searching on one channel to purchasing on another.
Cross-channel synergy is another key factor that drives research shopping, because cross-channel synergy means searching on Channel A and purchasing on Channel B boosts the overall shopping experience of the consumer. One reason cross-channel synergy my boost the overall shopping experience is that shopping on one channel then purchasing through another channel may provide economic benefits. An example of this would be conducting research on internet, and then using the information you gathered to get a better deal through a certain store, or using the information found as bargaining power. A second reason cross-channel synergy may encourage research shopping is because it may induce the psychological feeling of being a smart consumer or smart shopper (Balasubramanian et al., 2005; Chandon, Wansink, & Laurent, 2000). These feelings may be created because the consumer perceives the information found when searching one channel gives them the knowledge to make a more beneficial purchase decision through another channel, which is due to their own actions. Cross-channel synergy mainly refers to positive collaboration between search and purchase in two different channels. When searching through one channel makes purchasing through another channel less attractive negative cross-channel synergy is in effect. An example of negative cross-channel synergy could be differences in a retail stores labeling. The website for the retail store may have products organized by shirts – shoes – pants, while the store itself has product separated by mens clothing – womens clothing, this makes it confusing to conduct search activities on the internet and then purchase in store.
Common Forms of Research Shopping
The most common form of research shopping is using the internet to search then purchasing through the store. In terms of search and purchase attributes, the internet has a search advantage and a purchase disadvantage when compared to a brick-and-mortar store. The advantages the internet has for searching do not clearly translate to making a purchase on the internet, this means that the internet has low channel lock-in. As for cross-channel synergy, the internet and brick-and-mortar store have positive synergy, meaning its easier to search on the internet and then purchase in store. The effects of these three factors together produce substantial research shopping from internet to store.
Catalog to store research shopping is the next most prevalent form of research shopping. This is mainly due to the attributes held by the catalog and the attributes held by the store. The catalog has a very high level of channel lock-in, but its’s not able to overcome the significant disadvantage of the catalog’s purchase attributes.
The least common way consumers conduct research shopping is catalog to internet. This is not due to the attributes held by each channel, the catalog and internet are nearly equal on their purchase attributes. The main reason consumers choose to do research shopping this way is because of the high level of cross-channel synergy. Consumers find it natural to use the catalog to search for what they want, and then purchase the product through the internet.
There are many other channel pairs, but research shopping is combated in these channel pairs either by high channel lock-in, lack of cross-channel synergy, or by attributes.
Overall there are three mechanisms that are involved in research shopping that follow this framework: (1) Attribute-driven decision-making, (2) Lack of channel lock-in, and (3) Cross-channel synergy. Having said this there is a channel choice decision for research and a channel choice decision for purchasing. These choices are not mutually exclusive, a consumer may choose to conduct research and purchasing using the same channel, or they may choose one channel for research and another channel for purchasing behaviors. Companies must find a way to manipulate the three mechanisms that drive research shopping in order to minimize loss of customers and have them use the same channel for both research and purchase.
I would suggest that research on understanding the research shopper phenomenon should be executed again. We know that the world is an ever-changing place, and so are the people who live in it. Having said that, it may be possible that the way consumers conduct research shopping has changed. With the expansion of the internet and sites like Amazon it may not be farfetched to say that the research shopping phenomenon has increased, or even flipped from internet store to store internet.
- Burke, R. R. “Technology and the Customer Interface: What Consumers Want in the Physical and Virtual Store.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 30, no. 4, Jan. 2002, pp. 411–432., doi:10.1177/009207002236914.
- Montoya-Weiss, Mitzi M., et al. “Determinants of Online Channel Use and Overall Satisfaction with a Relational, Multichannel Service Provider.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 31, no. 4, 2003, pp. 448–458., doi:10.1177/0092070303254408.
- Verhoef, Peter C., et al. “Multichannel Customer Management: Understanding the Research-Shopper Phenomenon.” International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 24, no. 2, June 2007, pp. 129–148., doi:10.1016/j.ijresmar.2006.11.002.