Uncertainty in consumer online search and purchase decision making

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2011-11-25
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Information Systems Science
Degree programme
79, [79] s.
Aalto University publication series. DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 121/2011
Consumers´ online pre-purchase information search is an essential part of their buying and decision-making process. Pre-purchase search is an activity that most consumers engage in frequently to extract up-to-date information for a purchase decision. Search is an interesting topic from the practical and academic point of view. We approach the topic by observing the information needs through the concept of uncertainty. Uncertainty has been identified as a major determinant shaping consumer search and buying behaviour. The ubiquity of uncertainty in everyday choices is reflected in its prevalence in economic theories. Despite the acknowledged importance of uncertainty, however, the actual content of the concept is far from clear, for uncertainty has rarely been the focus of research. The empirical study of this dissertation focuses on uncertainty in consumer online search and buying behavior, and uncertainty in the decision making process. Firstly, we link consumer online purchasing process into a search theory base, uncertainty and the general decision making literature. Secondly, we will study the validity and the structural relationship of the uncertainty constructs and consumer pre-purchase search strategies. The combined effects of search strategy and uncertainty on consumer buying process effectiveness will be studied. Thirdly, our study is aimed at developing and validating an instrument to measure consumer uncertainty in different decision making phases. Measurement scales for the four dimensions of uncertainty were developed and tested for reliability and validity by studying the uncertainty constructs via extended decision making phases described by Simon. Further, the role of uncertainty is tested in consumer decision making. We will take a look at external search determinants influence on uncertainty. Finally, we test the effect of various concepts of uncertainty on consumer perceived satisfaction of purchase. In this dissertation, our findings support earlier observations about the aforementioned uncertainties markedly influencing the consumer search behavior, yet, we found them affecting search differently than has been previously reported. We chart the dimensions of uncertainty in consumer decisions by applying the generalized model of decision making put forth by Herbert Simon. We propose that uncertainty has four dimensions in consumer decision context: knowledge uncertainty, evaluation uncertainty, choice uncertainty, and implementation uncertainty. Against previous wisdom, evaluation and implementation uncertainties seem to exercise stronger impact on consumer decisions than the other varieties of uncertainty in electronic commerce context.
Supervising professor
Saarinen, Timo, professor
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