Why all clicks are not created equal: Consumer information search in the Web-based marketspace

Kuan-Pin Chiang, University of Rhode Island


With a few simple clicks, consumers can navigate the World Wide Web, move from site to site, access and examine vast amounts of information unconstrained by time and place which have traditionally restricted consumer behavior in the physical marketplace. At least, that is according to theory. Information search on the Internet should, therefore, increase since search costs are reduced. But empirical evidence seems to suggest otherwise. Why aren't consumers clicking for more information? Although the Internet reduces the cost of physical effort in moving from store to store, it may not reduce the cognitive cost of moving from site to site. Further, if consumers' motivation to shop online is to reduce effort and save time, why should one expect consumers to search for more information even if the search costs are relatively lower? This dissertation addresses these critical issues, both theoretical and practical, that provide an explanation of consumers' online search behaviors. ^ The study synthesizes relevant theoretical perspectives from the economics of information, psychology of information processing, and the wayfinding paradigm to propose a theoretical framework of information search in the Web-based marketspace. The focus is on external information search directed by a specific purchase under consideration. Two major factors affecting the human-computer interaction are included in the framework. Variables representing these two factors—domain and system expertise (personal) and interruptions and information load (system)—were examined for their effects on consumers' search behaviors. ^ Results from the pre-experimental survey show two different perceptions of search costs between the physical and online environments. Perceived external search cost is lower in the physical environment whereas perceived cognitive search cost is higher in an online environment. In the four 2 x 2 online experiments, using a custom-designed Web browser, domain expertise was found to be negatively related to perceived cognitive search cost, thus affecting information search between and within sites. In addition, subjects with a lower level of domain expertise search for more information among brick-and-click retailers. System expertise was found to significantly affect information search between sites only in the interruption experimental condition. No significant main effect of system variables—information load and interruptions—on information search was found. ^ Overall, these findings suggest that although physical efforts have been reduced to finger clicks, the cognitive challenge of interacting with computers and online information limits consumer information search in the Web-based marketspace. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Marketing|Psychology, Behavioral|Economics, Theory|Information Science

Recommended Citation

Kuan-Pin Chiang, "Why all clicks are not created equal: Consumer information search in the Web-based marketspace" (2002). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3077994.