The effects of virtual agents on consumer websites

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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MSc program in Information and Service Management
MSc program in Information and Service Management
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As opposed to print media, websites allow consumers to gain control over the information that will reach them, in which order it comes and how long the consumers want to be exposed to it, even though it requires more effort to reach and process the information. Consumers now have the liberty to easily access information, share their views and interact with other consumers through social media, in which case customer loyalty and brand reputation of companies is at risk. And nowadays, with breakthrough technologies and e-commerce growth, companies need not only to keep up with their competitors but also to come up with innovative approaches in order to attract new customers and retain the current ones. This current research investigates the impact on using virtual agents on consumer websites to the benefit of the consumer and the extent to which it increases intentional and behavioural stickiness. And in particular, the study focuses on the consumer's perception use of congruent versus incongruent agent in this type of manipulation. The framework of this study is based on the Elaboration Likelihood Model developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo in the mid-1970s, model which proposes two routes to persuasion. The central route, determining permanent attitude changes, focuses on the attitude of the consumer towards the message of the organization. The peripheral route, based mainly on intuition and less thinking, occurs when superficial characteristics appeal to consumers (e.g. song used in a commercial or the commercial itself). A qualitative and quantitative approach is taken in order to support all assumptions made in this current study. The use of eye-tracking technology is employed for an in-depth and accurate analysis, followed by a questionnaire. The study manages to reveal that the use of virtual agents increases website stickiness, even though the previous literature conveys contradictory opinions with regards to their usefulness. The analysis also reveals a high bias towards the congruent agent over the incongruent one.
Elaboration Likelihood Model, persuasion, virtual agents, eye-tracking
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