Written by Josh A.
As the Internet sales industry is constantly growing on a global scale, companies are looking for new ways to influence customer behaviours and motivate clients to purchase their products and services in the online environment (Dai et al., 2014). The quality of corporate information resources is one of the critical antecedents of conversion, which emphasises the role of Internet platform elements in the decision-making process. Therefore, website design is highly significant as this dimension is responsible for the convenience, effectiveness and trustworthiness of marketing interaction with prospective customers (Rozekhi et al., 2014). However, its role in the decision-making process is often vaguely defined. The aim of this essay is to explore how website design can influence customers’ intention to shop online.
2. Customer Shopping Intentions in the Online Environment
Online purchases are usually preceded by fully formed purchase intentions that are moderated by the subjective norms and the knowledge of customers related to their prospective acquisitions (Lim et al., 2016). The theory of planned behaviour suggests that the effectiveness of promotional activities is largely determined by the acceptance of specific behaviours such as Internet shopping in certain societies and reference groups as well as by the perceived security and trustworthiness of these instruments. That said, customers generally associate e-commerce with higher risks and uncertainty in relation to offline sales channels (Dai et al., 2014), which decreases their willingness to make online purchases and may be explained by insufficient ‘trustworthiness’ of website design elements. Therefore, the improvement of this dimension may be a relevant factor in changing the attitude towards these resources and their attractiveness to consumers.
The readiness to shop online is partially moderated by the behavioural principles analysed in the technology acceptance model (Yoo and Ross, 2014). While some customers are open to new technologies, the majority of prospective clients are hesitant to accept unfamiliar solutions and need a detailed demonstration of their benefits and reliability. Hence, the convenience of using online resources and their perceived security are critical for making online sales channels as efficient as brick-and-mortar stores. At the same time, website communication must balance personalisation with privacy to achieve good customer retention (Mpinganjira, 2014). While certain advertising and promotional elements can be embedded into the website design, they have to be unobtrusive to avoid the dissatisfaction of visitors and to maintain the integrity and continuity of their purchase decision-making processes.
According to the Stimulus-Response model, consumer intentions are guided by internal and external stimuli (Prashar et al., 2017). The first group includes hedonic and utilitarian shopping values that determine whether the consumers seek entertainment and arousal or balance and convenience in their shopping intentions. On the contrary, the second group is based on the objective characteristics of the online environment such as website graphical design, content quality and the ease of navigation. A properly designed web resource must appeal to both hedonic and utilitarian motivations by combining attractive visual elements with good functionality. There are three views on the association between customer purchase intentions and web resource elements (King et al., 2016). The first one assumes that website design is the most important motivational factor because interactivity, ease of navigation and visual appeal are relevant for stimulating consumers to choose Internet shopping. The second approach suggests that the degree of trust between the seller and the prospective customer primarily determines the outcome of their communication. Finally, the third standpoint asserts that actual product offerings, pricing policies and customer service elements are the key factors in the decision-making process.
Another critical element of Internet resources marketing is customer experience personalisation (Adnan, 2014). This instrument ‘remembers’ individual visitors and adjusts the website elements to reflect their tastes, preferences, location and other factors. This information can be collected through geotargeting tools or provided by customers voluntarily in exchange for discount codes, subscription services and other communicational arrangements. At the same time, the findings of Sevim and Eroglu (2014) indicated that customer trust was determined by both the convenience and quality of the website design and its reputation and security. Therefore, online resource owners need to use multiple incentives to appeal to the utilitarian motivations of customers and influence their intentions.
3. The Influence of Website Design on Customers’ Intention to Shop Online
Website design elements support the customer decision-making process in several ways (Rozekhi et al., 2014). Firstly, visual appearance increases the level of attention towards the company through embedded images, video and audio files. Secondly, the choice of information, fonts and colours influences the perceived trustworthiness of the website and the intention to make purchases through it. Hence, a high-quality platform capable of supporting customer decision-making must combine superior aesthetic experience with easy content navigation and popular e-commerce capabilities (Hasanov and Khalid, 2015). It should be noted that the impact of these variables on customer intentions to shop online may be indirect because some prospective consumers may not make purchases during their first visit. However, their positive experience of visiting a well-designed website may stimulate their intention to recommend it to their friends and relatives.
The analysis of 303 respondents by Chiu and Yang (2015) identified that the perceived information quality, ease of use and entertainment value were the most important factors of customer decision-making. These elements improved the overall perception of and the attitude towards the visited online resource, which resulted in the intention to purchase products and services through it. Hung et al. (2014) discovered that website design could not impact customer intentions without the assistance of other factors such as customer service, privacy and security measures and product pricing. The role of this element was limited as it was utilised only to facilitate the completion of purchase decisions or attract consumers to certain brands and products. That said, website design can influence customer intentions in multiple ways within the scope of the theory of reasoned action (Kuster et al., 2016). On the one hand, some clients have already formed their behavioural intentions by the moment of visit and view online resources as functional instruments necessary to complete their purchases. On the other hand, websites can create needs and wants by presenting products and services in an attractive manner.
The design of online resources can be subdivided into three constituent elements, namely content design, visual design and social design (Samadi et al., 2015). The first dimension includes all information provided on individual pages in textual and graphical form that is related to products, services and the company itself. Visual design determines the overall attractiveness of the website and is often viewed as a primary determinant of customer satisfaction and purchase intentions. Finally, social design involves communicational elements such as social media integration, email correspondence and other means of contacting the company in electronic form. The study of Winnie (2014) discovered a strong positive correlation between website design and customer loyalty in the online environment. The perceived attractiveness of the platform and the convenience of using it for searching and comparing product-related information were highly critical for all customers. The ease of navigation and shopping also stimulated consumer retention as satisfied clients were more likely to make their future purchases through the same website.
Website design also determines the first impressions obtained by consumers during initial visit (Noronha and Rao, 2017). On the one hand, it represents the functional elements or the user interface that are associated with the convenience of using the website to obtain information and make purchases. On the other hand, it expresses corporate style elements that provide a unique brand experience and strengthen the brand image. The ideas of Prashar et al. (2017) were supported by Jung (2014) who discovered that the intention to shop online is generally preceded by the state of customer confidence. Consumers are evaluating the visual and informational characteristics of website design in order to decide if they can trust the presented brands and products and if these offerings are capable of addressing their needs. Therefore, the role of the Internet platform is viewed as supportive in terms of developing trust towards the company.
It can be concluded that website design as a marketing instrument has the potential to influence customer intentions to shop online by changing consumer attitudes towards e-commerce in general and supporting their decision-making processes (Kuster et al., 2016; Rozekhi et al., 2014). These results can be achieved through visual, content and social elements that increase the perceived trustworthiness and functionality of Internet platforms through addressing the hedonic and utilitarian needs of their visitors. At the same time, this approach can be viewed as a supporting mechanism for more significant factors such as product pricing, customer service, security instruments and privacy mechanisms (Hung et al., 2014). It should also be noted that desired customer behaviours are usually preceded by the state of confidence that is achieved through the evaluation of both textual and graphical information presented on the website. Hence, website design should create this sense of trust towards the company and its products in order to stimulate online shopping activities.
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