The Effects of Web Site Aesthetics and Shopping Task on Consumer Online Purchasing Behavior

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1 The Effects of Web Site Aesthetics and Shopping Task on Consumer Online Purchasing Behavior Cai, Shun The Logistics Institute - Asia Pacific E3A, Level 3, 7 Engineering Drive 1, Singapore Xu, Yunjie National University of Singapore Computing 1, Law Link Singapore Yu, Jie National University of Singapore Computing 1, Law Link Singapore Abstract This research-in-progress investigates the effects of website aesthetics and shopping task type on consumer attitude towards electronic shopping sites. The conceptualization of website aesthetics is based on the two-dimensional structure, namely, classical and expressive aesthetics, proposed by Lavie and Tractinsky (2004). The online shopping tasks are categorized as hedonic versus utilitarian shopping tasks. A pre-test was conducted for selection of utilitarian and hedonic products. Based on the results of the pre-test, a laboratory experiment was designed to capture the effects of website aesthetics on online consumer purchasing behavior across different shopping tasks. Keywords Website aesthetics, classical aesthetics, expressive aesthetics Copyright is held by the author/owner(s). CHI 2008, April 5 10, 2008, Florence, Italy ACM /08/04. ACM Classification Keywords H5.2. User Interfaces: Theory and methods. Introduction The importance of aesthetics has long been demonstrated in modern social science. However, 3477

2 despite its centrality to human thought and practice, aesthetics has largely been ignored in website design. Recent studies on E-business reveal that task-unrelated (aesthetic) qualities such as colour and graphics could play important roles in creating engaging and immersive electronic shopping sites [1], as well as enhancing both usage and enjoyment of information systems [2]. Surprisingly, while consumer reaction to the aesthetic aspects of website is increasingly being recognized as an important determinant of consumer behaviour, there is few researches consider whether the role of aesthetics may vary across different shopping tasks, as if the role of aesthetics in website success is always self-evident and consistent in all situations. In fact, the effects of website aesthetics in electronic shopping could be highly context-dependent because relevant aesthetic elements differ from site to site, depending on the purpose of the site. The objective of this research is to investigate the effects of website aesthetics across different types of shopping tasks. In recent e-commerce literature, some attempts have been made to classify online shopping tasks in terms of the products consumers intend to buy [3]. Our main objective is to study how the two dimensions of website aesthetics, i.e., classical and expressive aesthetics proposed by Lavie and Tractinsky (2004) affect consumer attitude in different shopping tasks. A laboratory experiment is designed to capture this effect. The findings of this study will enhance the current understanding of website aesthetics and provide implications for the electronic shopping sites on how to design aesthetic e-commerce websites to support different shopping tasks. LITERATURE REVIEW Recently, the role of aesthetics has been explored in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Researchers and practitioners began to concern the site s aesthetics which relates to the use of colours, fonts, graphics, images, etc. The aesthetic dimension was labeled variously, such as aesthetic experience [1], e-tail atmospherics [4], etc. Though the terms related to interface aesthetics vary in many aspects, there does seem to be some consensus on what aesthetics is in interface design. That is, aesthetics closely connects to attention, emotion, and understanding. An aesthetic interface not only draws user/consumer s attention and makes them sagaciously engaged and immersed in an activity [1], but also conveys a clear, unique image of the interface [4,5]. Recent research reveals that aesthetic impressions are inherently multi-dimensional. Lavie and Tractinsky (2004) proposed that people identify two high-level aesthetics related dimensions of web pages, namely, classical aesthetics and expressive aesthetics [5]. The first dimension- classical aesthetics refers to orderliness in design, including concepts like clean, pleasant, symmetrical and aesthetic. This factor seems to represent qualities embraced by classical notions of what constitutes aesthetic design. The second dimension, expressive aesthetics, is represented by the following design attributes: creative, using special effects, original, sophisticated and fascinating. This factor seems to capture users perceptions of the creativity and originality of the site s design. 3478

3 RESEARCH MODEL In this research, we hypothesize that the two dimensions of website aesthetics, namely, classical aesthetics and expressive aesthetics, will have positive effects on consumer s response towards an electronic shopping site. Consumers responses are captured by three constructs: perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use of the website, and consumer s purchase intention. Further, these effects (aesthetics on consumer response) might be moderated by shopping task type (utilitarian versus hedonic), such that the impacts from expressive aesthetics would be stronger for hedonic shopping task, and impacts from classical aesthetics would be stronger for utilitarian task (as presented in Figure 1). Figure 1. Proposed Research Model The Effects of Website Aesthetics These predictions of the direct effects from Web site aesthetics on consumer response are based on the following two arguments. First, an affective response to the E-commerce website s aesthetics may improve consumers mood and their overall evaluations of the website. In industrial design literature, researches showed that the aesthetic value of a product pertains to the pleasure derived from seeing the product, without consideration of utility [2]. A consumer can value the look of a product purely for its own sake, as looking at something beautiful is rewarding itself. Second, a popular stereotyping which might associate successful design on one dimension (aesthetics) with successful design of other dimensions (e.g. perceived usefulness). Since interface beauty is the most obvious and accessible characteristic accessible to consumers, it is perceived early in the interaction and then tends to affect later perceptions abut other website characteristics. In E-Commerce literature, according to [4], the e- atmospherics of an online store are important cues for consumers to evaluation a website s quality. In HCI literature, it has been suggested that beautiful is usable in website design [5]. Therefore, aesthetic is an important architectural dimension for websites since it enhances a customer s pleasure as they browse and find relevant information, and consumers are likely to return to a website if it provides an interesting and entertaining interface experience. Moderating Effects from Shopping Task Type E-Commerce websites can be clearly considered as a special form of information systems as well as special marketing tools. From an information systems design perspective, how to best design information systems for individual and organizational performance improvement has been a long-standing issue. A commonly agreed principle is that information systems should be in line with task characteristics [14]. On the other hand, from a marketing perspective, shopping task characteristics have long been recognized as 3479

4 important contingent factors influencing consumer behaviour [4]. Recent studies in E-commerce and HCI also confirm the significant role of task type on online consumer behaviour [6]. Therefore, we believe it would be fruitful to include the analysis of shopping task as a contingent factor in this study of website aesthetics. Based on the pervious E-commerce and marketing studies, the product for which a consumer shop is an important determinant of shopping task. Accordingly, we investigate the role of shopping task type (hedonic & utilitarian) by manipulating product type. Prior literature on offline marketing and e-commerce has identified two types shopping tasks: hedonic versus utilitarian. These two types of shopping tasks relate to the benefits consumers expect to obtain from online shopping, namely, utilitarian and/or hedonic benefits. According to the previous E-Commerce literature, it is likely that consumers approach to online shopping as a hedonic and/or utilitarian function will moderate the relative importance of various e-tailing atmospherics components as predictors of shopping outcomes. For example, it is suggested that when online shoppers seek a hedonic shopping experience, website designers should focus on the site elements most conducive to generating an immersive and emotional shopping experience [4]. In contrast, online shoppers motivated by utilitarian needs will focus on efficient and effective delivery of wanted information and/or the completion of desired tasks. In such cases, environmental cues that facilitate positive cognitive appraisals of online experiences may be most important in explaining consumer responses to e-tail atmospherics. As for the classical and expressive aesthetics, although both are integral part of overall website aesthetics, they differ in their roles in shaping consumer attitude and behaviour. Expressive aesthetics would directly influence consumers affect state and closely relate to enjoyment in the shopping process. On the other hand, classical aesthetics would help consumers find the wanted information or complete the desired shopping task with less efforts and time. Therefore, it is highly possible that consumers in hedonic shopping tasks weight expressive aesthetics website more heavily since it is more directly link to sensory experience, whereas consumers in utilitarian shopping tasks give more value to classical aesthetics since it helps them to complete the shopping tasks in an efficient way. In a similar vein, for utilitarian products, underlining the decision process is a strong utilitarian need and the product choice is subject to subsequent cognitive evaluation. Thus, consumers who buy or use a particular product to satisfy their utilitarian needs behave carefully and are efficiently oriented to the problem solving. On the other hand, shopping for a hedonic product is decided subjectively [4]. Accordingly, the experiential responses in the shopping process are more important in shopping for a hedonic product. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY Pre-test: Product Selection The objective of the pre-test is to select appropriate test products. A total of 21 college students from a large university were recruited to participate in the pretest. Subjects were asked to answer the questionnaires regarding product type using think-feel scale [7]. Student s knowledge and involvement on each product were also measured [8]. Nine popular online shopping products (services) were included in the pool for selection, including Digital Camera, Watch, MP3 Player, 3480

5 Flower & Gift, Laptop Computer, Perfume, Sun Glasses, Hotel Booking, and Books & Magazines. Two objectives were used as a guideline in selecting suitable products: First, the product should mark high on either utilitarian (think) or hedonic (feel) values, but low on the other value. Second, for the products selected based on rule 1, utilitarian products and hedonic products should not be significantly different in terms of product knowledge and involvement. Data analysis for pre-test was carried out in three steps. First, a factor analysis with Varimax rotation was conducted to test the validity and reliability of multi-item constructs. Second, digital camera and laptop were identified as utilitarian products and flower and perfume were identified as hedonic products based on the calculated think-feel scale. Third, results from several ANOVA tests indicated that two types of products were significantly different in terms of think-feel scale and there was no evidence that product knowledge and involvement were different between these utilitarian products and hedonic products. Laboratory Experiment Design A 2 X 2 X 2 factorial between-subject experiment was designed to test the research model. The three between-subject factors were classical aesthetics of website interface (high vs. low), expressive aesthetics of website interface (high vs. low), and shopping task (hedonic vs. utilitarian). A proxy program was developed for this experiment. The defining feature of this program was to transform and relocated elements on web pages by certain rules predefined. In particular, when respondents visit real world websites through our server where the proxy program was stored, the program will attain information from real world websites, analyze them, and re-allocate the information on the computer screen to which respondents are exposed. Through this program, we can easily manipulate the design of web pages and, at the same time, controlling the web page content. Four popular online vendors were selected, which sell digital cameras, laptop computers, flowers & gifts, and perfumes, respectively. In sum, we designed 16 (4 products X 4 interfaces) website interfaces for this experiment. Three independent variables are classical aesthetics, expressive aesthetics and shopping task. Expressive aesthetics was manipulated by varying the background colour, table colour, and font colour of the website. We carefully selected colour and colour combination which would strongly affect expressive aesthetics of the website but not affect the ease of reading of the website content. Classical aesthetics was manipulated by varying the functional layout of several important web pages of a website, including homepage, the product listing page, and the detailed product information page. Shopping task was varied by guiding respondents to shop for different types of products. Our manipulations of classical and expressive aesthetics are in line with 1) the concepts of these two constructs, and 2) manipulations of aesthetics in previous studies in experimental settings. Based on the concepts of two dimensions of aesthetics, expressive aesthetics relates to the degree of which the website interface is pleasing to look at, or is visually attractive. Although there are many design features could possibly lead to visual appeal, the color is one of the most significant determinants of expressive aesthetics because 1) color is ubiquitous on websites, 2) color has been shown to elicit feelings of relaxation, and 3) varying color on web page is simple and flexible. Moreover, classical 3481

6 aesthetics is significantly affected by web page s functional layout. For E-Commerce websites, there are some basic standards of layouts which are accepted by most of the online vendors and consumers. Designing websites in accordance with those standards will reduce consumers efforts in learning. Changes on the generally accepted layout will result in consumer confusions and increase consumer s efforts and time in completing the shopping tasks. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH This study focuses on one specific aspect of website design aesthetics. Building upon previous research, a research model is proposed to investigate the effects of two dimensions of website aesthetics on consumer behaviour across two types of shopping tasks. This research could make several significant contributions. First, this study provides a set of subjective measures of website aesthetics. Though providing validated instrument for aesthetics is not the main focus, the measurement can be used for various kinds of websites in future if their reliability and validity were consistently high across four different types of websites. Second, this study is one of the earliest attempts to manipulate different dimensions of website aesthetics in experimental settings. Although it is still exploratory in nature, it provides some insights in how to relate design attributes with aesthetics dimensions and shed light on the how to investigate website aesthetics in a strictly controlled experiment setting. Third, this study would provide insights on how the effects from two dimensions of website aesthetics vary across different shopping tasks. We believe that these results shed new light on the role of aesthetics in HCI design and online atmospherics studies. References: [1] Jennings, M. Theory and models for creating engaging and immersive commerce Websites. In Proc. Of SIGCPR 2000, ACM Press (2000), [2] Hassenzahl, M., Beu, A., and Burmeister, M. Engineering Joy. IEEE Software 18, 1 (2001), [3] Childers, T. L., Carr, C. L., Peck, J., and Carson, S. Hedonic and Utilitarian Motivations for Online Retail Shopping Behavior. Journal of Retailing 77, 4 (2001), [4] Sautter, P., Hyman, M. R., and Lukosius, V. E-Tail Atmospherics: A Critique of the Literature and Model Extension. Journal of Electronic Commerce Research 5, 1 (2004), [5] Lavie, T., and Tractinsky, N. Assessing Dimensions of Perceived Visual Aesthetics of Web Sites. International journal of human-computer studies 60, 3 (2004), [6] Hong, W., Thong, J. Y. L., and Tam, K. Y. The Effects of Information Format and Shopping Task on Consumers' Online Shopping Behavior: a Cognitive Fit Perspective. Journal of management information systems 21, 3 (2005), [7] Ratchford, B. T. New Insights about the FCB Grid. Journal of Advertising Research 27, 4 (1987), [8] Park, C.-W., and Moon, B.-J. The Relationship between Product Involvement and Product Knowledge: Moderating Roles of Product Type and Product Knowledge Type. Psychology & Marketing 20, 11 (2003),

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