Consumer Perceptions of the World Wide Web: an Exploratory Study Using Focus Group Interviews

Gary L. Geissler, University of Georgia
George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia
ABSTRACT - Despite all the hype and interest surrounding the World Wide Web, little research has been conducted to examine its potential impact on consumer behavior. Here, we use focus group interviews so as to understand consumer perceptions of the Web. Overall, we find that consumers have favorable impressions of the Web. The Web is viewed as very helpful for educating consumers. In particular, it facilitates easier and quicker comparison shopping for high-involvement products. Two distinct nonuser groups are identified-"true nonusers" and "triers". Triers tend to have much more negative perceptions of the Web than do true nonusers.
[ to cite ]:
Gary L. Geissler and George M. Zinkhan (1998) ,"Consumer Perceptions of the World Wide Web: an Exploratory Study Using Focus Group Interviews", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 386-392.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 386-392

CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY USING FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEWS

Gary L. Geissler, University of Georgia

George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia

 

Nerd herd, at work

 

"You could wrap your senses

around the blooming dogwood trees

if you would just spring up

out of your cube: prairie dogging."

 

"No. I prefer to let the Internet

wash over me

in all of its splendor

and broadband perversity."

ABSTRACT -

Despite all the hype and interest surrounding the World Wide Web, little research has been conducted to examine its potential impact on consumer behavior. Here, we use focus group interviews so as to understand consumer perceptions of the Web. Overall, we find that consumers have favorable impressions of the Web. The Web is viewed as very helpful for educating consumers. In particular, it facilitates easier and quicker comparison shopping for high-involvement products. Two distinct nonuser groups are identified-"true nonusers" and "triers". Triers tend to have much more negative perceptions of the Web than do true nonusers.

INTRODUCTION

A variety of communication technologies have been invented and adopted in the 20th Century, including the radio, television, computer, and fax machine. Technology is changing the way people communicate, gather information, and shop, as well as the way companies conduct business. The Internet is the latest development of the "Information Age", and it (along with its offspring such as the World Wide Web) will influence human activities in the 21st Century.

Here, the major research questions are: 1) How do both users and nonusers perceive the World Wide Web?; 2) Is the Web helpful to consumers? To date, little research has been conducted concerning the impact of the Web from the consumer’s perspective. The specific objectives are:

1) to investigate consumer perceptions of the Web. In particular, is the development of the Web perceived to be a positive or negative event?

2) to identify relevant behavioral changes, particularly with regard to purchase behavior, as a result of Web usage.

3) to gauge the potential influence on users’ perceptions of brands which appear on the Web.

4) to explore how both users and nonusers would feel if the Web was no longer an option.

A Brief History of the World Wide Web

Creation of the World Wide Web helped to pave the way for commercial activity on the Internet. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) created the Web as a way to link multiple documents through hypertext. Highlighted words in a document act as electronic reference pointers to additional information.

Originally developed for internal use at CERN, the Web was extremely popular and worked well. It was soon introduced to the entire Internet and became known as the World Wide Web. In 1992, Mosaic, the graphical user interface of the Web, was conceived. The inclusion of images, video, and sound helped bring the Web into the public domain. Also, the National Science Foundation had begun allowing commercial access to companies it had under contract to operate the network backbone. Ever since business was allowed access to the Internet, it has grown at a very fast rate (Sterne 1995).

Growth of the New Medium

The tremendous growth of the Internet and the Web has been well-documented. Briefly, this growth is evidenced by the increase in the number of computer hosts on the Internet. A host is "any computer system connected to the Internet (via full or part-time, direct or dialup connections)" (Network Wizards 1997, p. 2). In just the past year (from January 1996 to January 1997), the number of hosts increased by 69% from 9.5 million to 16.1 million.

Hosts can be categorized by their three-letter domains (e.g., com=businesses, edu=educational institutions, and gov=government institutions). A domain "has name server (NS) records associated with it". Business hosts have shown the greatest growth during the past couple of years. Commerce grows on the Internet and the World Wide Web (Network Wizards 1997).

Although the Internet and the Web have been U.S.-centric, there are signs of change. During the past year, the greatest growth in Internet use has occurred outside the U.S., primarily in Asia, Europe, and the Pacific. Efforts to globalize the Web include: 1) development of multilingual browsers and e-mail software, 2) continuing improvement of machine translation technology (i.e., "on the fl" computer translation of Web pages into different languages), 3) creation of country-specific content, 4) development of search engines to make foreign-language Web sites easier to find, 5) education of individuals from developing countries to provide know-how necessary to effectively enter the Internet community, and 6) forthcoming privatization of European telecom monopolies which should allow easier and cheaper access to the Internet (Frost 1996). There is now opportunity to have a Web site presence that is global in nature. And, the Web is attractive to marketers because it is a relatively inexpensive medium. Here, we focus on consumer perceptions of the Web.

Marketing and Consumer Behavior on the Web

The World Wide Web is a new medium with unique implications both for marketing managers and for consumers. First, the Web is a pull medium, not a push medium. That is, information is available to consumers who are willing to put in the effort of reaching in and pulling it out (Sterne 1995). Typically, the customer has to find the marketer. Second, initial presence is relatively easy to establish and affordable for most companies. Third, the Web tends to be the "great equalizer" for marketers by offering equal access regardless of company size, essentially uniform share of voice, and low set-up costs (Berthon, Pitt and Watson 1996).

Interaction via a Web site is a key mechanism for offering value to consumers. Users should be given the feeling that they are gathering information, instead of having it handed to them. Information that is too easy to access may be seen as unimportant, while information that is too difficult to obtain may not be worth the effort. The perceived value of a Web site is somewhat dependent upon the balance between user effort and reward (Sterne 1995).

TABLE 1

FOCUS GROUP RECRUITING QUALIFICATION

The Web exhibits many of the elements of an electronic trade show and a community flea market, where a large number of sellers and potential buyers are brought together. Some visitors may just be browsing, while others are much more intent on gathering information (or purchasing). Marketers are primarily concerned with converting browsers (or Web surfers) into customers or, at least, leads (Berthon, Pitt and Watson 1996). Information communicated on the new medium may help to persuade the consumer to choose one brand over another (Fox and Geissler 1994).

STUDY OVERVIEW

A total of five focus groups (three Web user groups and two Web nonuser groups) were conducted on December 17th and December 24, 1996 and on March 15, 1997. The focus group facility used is a conference room at the local public library. The group discussions generally lasted around two hours per session. Each discussion was audiotaped and transcribed.

METHOD

Participant Recruitment

Focus group participants were recruited by a variety of methods. Random phone calls were used to recruit some respondents. Other participants were recruited via newspaper ads and flyers. Twelve participants were recruited for each group. This "overrecruiting" method was used since the typical "no show rate" is around 20 percent of those recruited (Greenbaum 1993). To encourage participation, each group member was paid $30. Of the 60 people recruited, a total of 43 people actually participated. The group sizes ranged from 6 to 12 participants.

As shown in Table 1, three groups of Web users and two groups of "nonusers" were recruited. Web users were separated into different goups based on light, medium, and heavy usage. Thus, participants in each group shared somewhat similar Web experiences and exposures. The Web "nonuser" groups consisted of people who have used a computer before and who are aware of the World Wide Web. An important distinction among the nonusers is between "triers" and "true nonusers". About half of the participants are triers who have used the Web before, but not during the past month. The other half are true nonusers who have never used the Web.

Both Web users and nonusers were screened to eliminate people under 18 years of age. A range of ages and a mix of students and nonstudents were recruited. Approximately half of the participants were male, and half were female. Finally, respondents were screened to ensure that they have not participated in another recent research study.

Upon qualifying and agreeing to participate, respondents were mailed a confirmation letter and map to the facility. They were given a reminder phone call on the day of their discussion.

Data Analysis

Audio tapes from the focus groups were transcribed. These transcriptions were read through numerous times by the researcher (moderator) to become even more familiar with and sensitive to the content. The transcripts were reviewed with the above objectives in mind. In addition, the review process was helpful for making sure the questions are clear and understandable, and for identifying key terms used by participants when talking about the Internet and the Web (i.e., the language they speak and understand).

Morgan (1988) described two basic approaches for analyzing focus group data: 1) a strictly qualitative or ethnographic summary and 2) systematic coding via content analysis. The two approaches can complement each other, strengthening the analysis. The present analysis is largely ethnographic, relying on many participant quotes to illustrate and to support key themes. However, systematic tallying of key topics is also used to help identify and develop important themes. For example, it is helpful to know how many people in each group think that the Web is a way to shop. This type of analysis provides insights about what is important to respondents, and provides a way to gauge intensity of opinion.

The group is the fundamental unit of analysis. To begin, each group discussion transcript was analyzed separately from other group transcripts. After several reviews of each transcript, key topic responses were tallied, themes were identified and developed, and supporting quotes were identified. Then, preliminary findings for each group were compared to those of other groups (e.g., heavy Web users vs. light users).

FINDINGS

The findings are grouped by common themes. Where appropriate, supporting quotations are provided.

Types of Web Advertising

Respondents were asked: "Is the Web an advertising medium or not?" Most Web users and nonusers seem to agree that the Web is an advertising medium. Respondents perceive two types of advertising on the new medium: 1) companies advertising with their icon or logo (i.e., banner ads) on other Web sites or search engines, and 2) the Web site itself, especially the home page (i.e., the first page).

A Useful Consumer Aid

Respondents were asked: "Overall, do you think the Web is good or bad for consumers?" Nonusers were asked to provide their perceptions based on what they have seen or heard from others and from other media. Web users appear to strongly agree that the new medium is good for consumers; nonusers seem to half-heartedly agree. According to users, te Web provides more information access easily and quickly. Consequently, the consumer can make more informed decisions. With the Web, the consumer can control the information search and the buying process. Consumers seem to like this increased control.

(The Web) gives you a choice to either go out and meet someone face-to-face and talk about a product or to be impersonal about it. (heavy user)

The consumer controls it. (heavy user)

If you’ve got an idea of what type of thing you’re shopping for, you’re in control of finding it. It’s not like you have to go to each store to find out if that store carries that thing. You’ll know immediately if they’re going to have what you want. (heavy user)

It allows us to make more informed decisions, because we have more research available. (medium user)

It’s a source of information we just never had before, or didn’t have as easily. (medium user)

The Internet is a great way of making anybody who uses it an educated consumer. (light user)

Instead of just being limited to Consumer Reports, you have every source of consumer information that’s on the Web or the Internet. (light user)

It’s good. You can choose to use it or not. (nonuser)

I think anything that gives you additional information can be beneficial. (nonuser)

P1: Consumers perceive that they have more control when using the Web than when using other media.

Several users commented that the Web is good for comparison shopping, making it easier to compare alternatives, with no salesperson hassles. In addition, users appreciate the two-way communication that the Web facilitates between a consumer and a company and between a consumer and other consumers.

You can look at more options in a quicker period of time. (medium user)

You can get a wealth of information about the productCprinted informationCwithout having a salesperson trying to drag you in to meet their sales manager. (light user)

Not only can you find what you want, but you can talk to other people who have that same thing and find out how they feel about it, where they got theirs, and what kind of deal they got. It gives you lots of people from across the country or across the world who own the same thing. And, you can ask other people how they did it, without having to make a bunch of phone calls. (heavy user)

Also, you can have two-way communication. If you have any questions or whatever, you can leave it on their Web site. Some sites have that and some don’t, but that’s a good thing. (medium user)

Nonusers perceive some of the same positive Web aspects as do users. However, nonusers (especially "triers" who have used the Web before but not in the previous month) appear much more likely than users to view the Web in a negative light. Nearly all triers seemed to have negative initial experiences using the Web. For example, many had difficulty finding the desired information and became frustrated and angry. These negative experiences may lead to dissatisfaction with the medium. Based on these findings, we predict that:

P2: Nonuser "triers" have more negative perceptions of the Web than either Web users or "true nonusers".

Users and nonusers expressed widespread security concerns, such as whether it is safe to use one’s credit card on the Web. Triers, in particular, are worried that more eople will have access to their personal information. Also, triers appear more skeptical than others about the trustworthiness of the information being communicated via the medium. For example, concern was expressed about the possibility that some company information and "news" reports on the Web may be biased, and that some individuals may misrepresent themselves.

I think the thing that frightens me is the accessibility of certain (personal) information to just anybody. It’s kind of like the "Big Brother" thing.

I think I get scared. I just don’t want people to track it. Some things are personal, and you just don’t want people to know some things about you.

You can’t take ( a company Web site) at face value. It’s an advertisement for their own product, and it may be a little biased.

There was this girl on "Oprah" who met a man (via the Web), and they ended up getting married. He ended up being a woman.

What is truthful?...in this virtual world, truth is real easy to move around (on the Web).

(The Web) is accelerating the rumors (about the Jon Benet murder). It spreads them even faster than ever before. (There’s) all this misinformation that’s out there.

P3: Information communicated via the Web is perceived as less trustworthy, especially by nonuser "triers", than information communicated through other media.

Behavioral Changes

Respondents were asked: "Has the Web changed your life in any way or not? Has it changed the way you do things?" There appears to be strong agreement among users that the Web has influenced their behavior and the behavior of many of the people they know. While the Web has not markedly changed the behavior of nonusers, they claim that it has affected many of the people they know. Notable changes include working more efficiently and on-line shopping for some. Many respondents claimed that they spend less time viewing TV and going to the library. Also, they seem to be making fewer phone calls (i.e., more e-mail).

I just don’t think television is as good as it should be. But, (using the Web) has definitely chipped into that. (heavy user)

(The Web) has completely changed my focus on my goals and where I’m going to work and who I’m going to work for. It’s opened up an entire area of career opportunities. (heavy user)

(I) probably make less phone calls, because I can contact people by using e-mail and be in more contact with people than I might otherwise. (heavy user)

Yes, I have managed my time efficiently since the Web. (medium user)

Whatever time I’ve saved on doing research for projects I’ve probably lost in browsing other things, but (the Web) definitely makes a person more efficient. You can contact a lot of people and keep in touch with friends who you probably wouldn’t bother to call up long distance and spend a lot of money. (medium user)

You don’t drive to the library anymore. (light user)

I have never used (the Web), but if there was something that I was interested in I know that I could go to people who know how to use it and they would pull up the information for me. I know it’s out there, so I guess it has (changed my life) because I know it’s another resource I can use. (nonuser)

Thus, we predict that:

P4: Using the Web changes other communication behaviors, primarily resulting in less television viewing and fewer phone calls.

In a sense, the Web has changed the behavior of some nonusers, especially "trirs". While some nonusers simply do not have sufficient time, access, or education to use the Web, others are either consciously or unconsciously exhibiting avoidance behavior. The Web appears to have caused nonusers much fear, frustration, and concern. "True nonusers" (i.e., those who have never used the Web) seem to have a fear of the unknown. They are frustrated, because they feel overwhelmed by the new technology. Many do not like "falling behind" and feeling uninformed. "Triers" generally have had negative experiences using the Web (e.g., they were frustrated by not being able to find the desired information) or are concerned with the security of the system.

Influencing Brand Attitudes

It certainly seems that the Web has the potential to change or reinforce brand attitudes. Only users were asked: "Has the Web influenced your attitudes toward any particular brand?" There appear to be mixed reactions concerning whether the Web had actually influenced brand attitudes, to date. The new medium seems most effective in influencing brand attitudes when the consumer is looking for something specific, such as a new car.

For me, (the Web’s) almost sold me on Toyota....When you get the information, you’re much more apt to make an intelligent decision about a product. (heavy user)

As far as brands, it’s the same for me. I’m looking at cars, and it’s practically sold me on Saturns....It’s not so much that their advertising is so good. It’s just kind of comparison shopping to have that information so easily available. (heavy user)

I would say that when I was looking at Ford’s home page they talked a lot about the way their company was run in terms of management style and their philosophies. It was very impressive to meCthe changes they were making, stuff I didn’t know. That really stuck with me and in my mind. That company was elevated in my mind when I was reading how they were doing things....It did change my perception of them in a better way. (medium user)

Usually, when you’re buying a car the first thing you start with is I can spend "x" amount of dollars. You can get on the Internet and find that out and eliminate (some cars). (You can) just go to the Ford dealership and know that the only cars you have that you can afford are these. (light user)

I remember when I was trying to buy a printer. I went to the store and saw the prices, but those prices weren’t competitive enough. So, I went on the Internet and looked at the Epsilon printer (and some other brands) to see exactly what prices they were offering and to look at the computer mail house or mail order places. So, I’ve used it that way in terms of comparison shopping. (light user)

As illustrated in the comments above, when consumers think about brands on the Web, they focus on high-involvement products, such as automobiles and computers. These are product categories where consumers are willing to spend a lot of time gathering information and comparing alternatives. Thus, the Web provides convenience. It provides a way to minimize the expenditure of time and resources for the consumers who have Web access. We predict that:

P5: The Web is perceived to be superior (to traditional media) as a means of comparison shopping for high-involvement products.

Influencing Purchase Behavior

The Web has the potential to influence purchase behavior. Respondents were asked: "Has the Web influenced the way you go about making purchases?" Users commented that the Web provides easy access to much company, product, and service information. Consequently, the new medium saves time shopping.

Before, you kind of shopped around and you spent your time looking here and there and trying to get past the pushy salespeople to see if (a product) really has this speed. Now, you’ve already got that information in hand before you go see it. (heavy user)

Also, the Internet gets the cheapest prices first. (heavy user)

This past summer, I went to the Gateway home page and clicked all the options and did all the different variations on the kind of monitor and hard drive....It gave you a lot more variety, whereas a magazine you flip open only presents so many options. (medium user)

(The Web) is just a way of shopping and getting ideas. (light user)

The Web has not influenced the purchase behavior of nonuser "triers". In fact, they seemed almost indignant about the notion of purchasing via the Web. They repeatedly expressed concerns about using a credit card on the Internet or the Web.

I don’t want to send my money over the (Web). I don’t want to give my credit card (number). You’ve got to build up some kind of trust in that system, and it’s just not there at this point.

Although Web security is a widespread concern among both users and nonusers, placing orders via the Web appears to be a viable option for many consumers. Ordering via the Web seems more convenient for some items. However, an important consideration for consumers considering purchases via the Internet is the return policy of the company. Also, assurances of security seem helpful.

About 70%, maybe 90%, of the stuff that I buy I get through catalogs or over the computer. I mean, gosh, it comes with a 365-day guarantee. If I don’t like it, I send it back and they pay for the shipping. And, I get full reimbursement. (heavy user)

The reason why I haven’t ordered things over the Internet is because I’m just very cautious about using my credit cards. It took me at least a year after having a credit card for me to even think to order over the phone using my credit card. Now that I’m ordering over the phone using my credit card every now and then, I think in probably another year or so I’ll finally convince myself that it’s safe enough to order over the Internet. (heavy user)

(I would order) if it was comparably priced and it was like a CD I knew I wanted, and I could get it through the Internet as opposed to going to Best Buy and getting it. (medium user)

I would make a lot more purchases, if I knew I could return it easily. (nonuser)

As far as shopping, people who don’t live close to the store or people who can’t get out, like disabled people, would benefit (from ordering via the Web). (nonuser)

Nonusers and users who have never ordered via the Web were asked: "Would you ever consider ordering or purchasing a product or service over the Internet or the Web?" Interestingly, many of these respondents would consider doing so. Based on these findings, we predict that:

P6: Orders via the Web are more likely when: a) the product can be returned for a replacement or for a refund and b) security assurances are provided.

Would Consumers Miss Not Having the Web?

Toward the end of the group discussions, the moderator gave the participants a hypothetical situation to ponder. "Let’s say you wake up tommorrow morning and there is no more Internet, there is no more World Wide Web. What would be missing from your life?" Without the Web, current users seem to feel that they would indeed be "missing out". They would mostly miss the information, conveniece, time savings, e-mail, instant access to experts (via news groups and chat rooms), and planning help. Heavier users would miss not having the Web more so than would lighter users.

Information....Most of the information I get I look up with the Internet. Without that, it’s going to take me a lot longer to make decisions. (heavy user)

Time. (heavy user)

Time. That’s it, time. (heavy user)

On top of that, I’d be missing a means of communication. Like with my father, we stay in constant contact with each other by e-mail. We always know what’s going on. (heavy user)

I guess I’ll miss having some of the best minds work for me, in case I’m having a technical problem if I’m doing a research project. I can just send out a question over the news groups or chat rooms that I’m hooked onto. The best people who have spent their lives working in that area can give you a reply right away. (heavy user)

I would miss my curiosity. (heavy user)

I would have to replan my whole strategy of how to target or approach every day. That will cut the efficiency of my work day in a big, big way. Then, I would have to reschedule, redo, replan everything that I already structured. (medium user)

I’d feel bad, because I know it’s there. I have this faint feeling that one day I’m going to know how to use this thing, and it’s going to be so wonderful. (light user)

I think I’d be disappointed in the way he’s talking about, although to a lesser degree. (light user)

Most respondents seem to think that they would adjust if the Web no longer existed. They would simply use other media and information sources, albeit they would prefer to have the Web as another option.

I don’t think it would affect me that much. I’d just adjust. (medium user)

I’d be cut off from the friends I’ve made just over the Internet, but that would be kind of like just moving to another town. (medium user)

I don’t think it’s pervasive enough in my life that I would (miss it much). I use e-mail and I use it every once in a while to get information, but I don’t use it for a lot of things. (medium user)

I don’t think anything would be the best thing, except for the convenience (of the Web). Anything you can find on the Internet you can find from other sources. (light user)

There’s nothing that I need from the World Wide Web, but there’s stuff that I’d like to get off of there. (light user)

It’s like television. You don’t need television. But, what would we all do without it? None of us need (the Web), but we would all hate it if we didn’t have it anymore. (light user)

Opinions are mixed among nonusers concerning what, if anything, would be missing from their lives if there was no more Web. Nonuser "triers" seem to think that they would not be missing anything, and they seem unwilling to use the Web much in the future. It appears that some people who have never used the Web would be relieved if it no longer existed.

I would find it hard to believe that that is something else I don’t need to know about.

It’s just like when the computer system came up. I didn’t want to try it.

Some "true nonusers" seem somewhat embarrassed that they don’t know more about the new technology. Yet, many wish they did have more knowledge and experience. Some nonusers who have never used the Web seem quite willing to try it in the future, given easier access and more time.

I think it’s a positive thing, and I wish I knew about it. Right at this point in my life, it would be kind of nice. It’s horrible when little kids know more about the coputer than you do.

I want to (learn more about the Web). I know so many people that get information, and I’m like, "Wow! That’s great that they can do it". I just haven’t taken the time to do it. I’m not proud of the fact that I don’t use it.

If we get a computer that I have access to all the time, I think I’d definitely be on (the Web).

It’s kind of like a social thing. You’d be up-to-date and have people think that you know what you’re talking about.

Caveat

This study is exploratory in nature. While the findings from this sample of Web users and nonusers are intuitively appealing, they may not be representative of a broader population. Also, our data reflect what people say about the Web in a group setting. That is, our data are not based on observations of actual behavior, and this is an important limitation.

Here, we develop testable propositions for future research. It might be interesting to focus even more on differences between the three groups that we identify here: users, triers, and nonusers. It also would be intriguing to learn how consumers move between these groups as they gain new experience.

DISCUSSION

Overall, both Web users and nonusers agree that the Web is both an advertising medium and a useful aid for consumers. With this new medium, consumers like having more control of the information search and buying process. A wealth of information is easily and quickly accessible. The Web is a valuable resource for creating more informed consumers throughout the buying process (e.g., prior to an actual store visit or purchase). Thus, the Web shifts the balance of power in favor of the consumer.

The Chinese philosopher/poet, Lao-tzu, commented on the valuable experiences which can be derived via contemplation, reflection, and meditation: "Without going outside, you may know the whole world. Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven. The farther you go, the less you know. Thus the sage knows without traveling; He sees without looking; He works without doing." The existence of the Web provides a new twist on this Asian philosophy. By looking through the "window" of the Web, consumers "may know the whole world." "Without traveling," consumers have the ability to increase their knowledge about the marketplace.

The Web is very helpful to consumers who are comparison shopping. It provides consumers with an opportunity to compare a wide variety of alternatives at their convenience, without being pressured by salespeople. If the consumer desires communication with company personnel or other consumers, the Web has the potential to facilitate this interaction.

The new medium is especially helpful to consumers when they are looking for information about a specific brand, instead of when they are just browsing or "surfing". Consumers are quite deliberate when looking for specific product or service or brand information. They are likely to be interested in a brand or a possible purchase when they plan to visit a specific Web site. This interest is indicative of the "pull" aspect of the medium. Thus, the Web has much potential for helping consumers to compare and decide among brands.

By using the Web, consumers can save time shopping. Time savings are usually achieved only after learning skills and tricks for quickly finding information about companies, products, and services. Consumers are sometimes frustrated when they begin using the Web; they may initially waste time looking for information. This frustration seems to be a key reason why many nonuser "triers" no longer use the Web and continue to harbor negative perceptions of the medium. As with any service, bad experiences lead to dissatisfied customers.

Thus, marketers should design Web sites which are relatively easy and quick for consumers to negotiate and gather relevant information. After a "trial-and-error" period, many consumers appear to have a greater comfort level with using the Web, and they seem more satisfied with the speed and efficiency of the Web for gathering information.

Another aspect of the Web which may take some time for consumers to adjust to is the idea of placing orders over the Internet. Consumers are generally concerned about the security of releasing certain information, such as credit card numbers, onto the Web. While some consumers seem to be taking a "wait-and-see" attitude, others see ordering over the Web as an acceptable, current alternative. Ordering via the Web is viewed as a viable future option for many more consumers. Consumers seem to require reassurance that the system is secure and that products can be returned, if desired.

Consequently, Web advertisers should provide secure methods for transmitting personal information, such as credit card numbers, over the Internet. Encryption services and an explanation of the protection offered should be strongly considered. Also, a guaranteed return policy will help consumers to feel more comfortable ordering via the Web. Given the necessary assurances, consumers will likely accept the Web as another way to purchase products and services. Also, nonuser "triers" may be willing to try the Web again.

The Web facilitates on-line shopping. As a direct result of the Web, consumers appear to be changing other aspects of how they spend their time. Changes include working more efficiently, spending less time viewing television and going to the library, and making fewer phone calls. The more time people spend using the Web, the more comfortable they become with it and the more open they become to gathering information via the Web.

There are important public policy issues associated with the Web. Here, we find that there are some important differences between users, triers, and nonusers. Many nonusers are in this category because they don’t have a choice. For example, affluent consumers are more likely to have access to the Internet; younger consumers are more computer literate than older consumers. Thus, the Web has the potential to be a divisive force in society. It increases the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots." In brief, the information on the Web is not available to everyone in society. Even though the Web provides segmentation opportunities for marketing managers, it simultaneously raises a red flag for those concerned with public policy, fairness, and justice.

While some Web nonusers (especially triers) feel that they are not missing anything, many current users would not miss the Web too much. Not surprisingly, heavier users would miss the new medium the most. Nevertheless, consumers like having the Web as another option, particularly as a powerful information source.

Overall, the Web is beneficial to society, because it has the potential to educate consumers. This new technology has an empowering effect. Armed with information that is more easily and quickly accessible, consumers have increased knowledge and control when they enter the buying process.

REFERENCES

Berthon, Pierre, Leyland F. Pitt, and Richard T. Watson (1996), "The World Wide Web as an Advertising Medium: Toward an Understanding of Conversion Efficiency," Journal of Advertising Research, 36 (January/February), 43-54.

Fox, Richard J. and Gary L. Geissler (1994), "Crisis in Advertising?" Journal of Advertising, 23 (December), 79-84.

Frost, Robin (1996, "Web’s Heavy U.S. Accent Grates on Overseas Ears," Wall Street Journal, (September 26), B6, B8.

Greenbaum, T. L. (1993), The Handbook of Focus Group Research, New York: Lexington Books.

Morgan, David L. (1988), Focus Groups As Qualitative Research, Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Network Wizards (1997), Internet Domain Survey, (January), http://www.nw.com/.

Sterne, Jim (1995), World Wide Web Marketing: Integrating the Internet into Your Marketing Strategy, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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