Special Session Summary the Three Faces of E, Commerce: Insight Into Online Consumer Behavior Through the Interpretation of an Internet Consumer’S Experiences

Bruce D. Weinberg, Bentley College
[ to cite ]:
Bruce D. Weinberg (2001) ,"Special Session Summary the Three Faces of E, Commerce: Insight Into Online Consumer Behavior Through the Interpretation of an Internet Consumer’S Experiences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 218-221.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 218-221



Bruce D. Weinberg, Bentley College



Nancy Puccinelli, Harvard Business School




Sidney J. Levy, University of Arizona


Frederic Brunel, Boston University


Susan Dobscha, Bentley College


Bruce D. Weinberg, Bentley College

Bruce Weinberg, as part of his Internet Shopping 24/7 Project, set out to do all of his retail shopping exclusively online (and to not enter any retail stores, excluding restaurants and services) from September 15, 1999 to September 26, 2000. He chronicled his shopping experiences in an online diary (i.e., text) at www.InternetShopping247.com (when he initiated the project, the site people.bu.edu/celtics was used).

In this session, three researchers presented their interpretations of his Internet Shopping 24/7 Project experience and Weinberg served as the discussant. Both Sidney Levy and Susan Dobscha based their interpretations solely on the text. Fred Brunel’s interpretation was based primarily on depth interviews with Bruce and Amy, his wife.

Sidney Levy’s manuscript, detailing his interpretation, is listed in full here. Synopses of the interpretations presented by Brunel and Dobscha are also detailed. Finally, a manuscript by Weinberg is included.



Frederic F. Brunel, Boston University

This interpretation focused on the following research questions:

$How does e-consumption adoption take place?

$How is e-consumption affecting consumption for one person (Bruce) but also for the family unit?

$How is everyday consumption changed?

$What are the adaptations that take place?

$What types of challenges have to be negotiated?

$What are the outcomes of this experience?

The methods used were depth interviews with both husband (Bruce) and wife (Amy) and a content analysis and interpretation of Bruce’s first person account of his experience and Amy’s third person account of her observations of Bruce’s experience. One major challenge in this analysis was in identifying the behaviors of Bruce as a researcher and Bruce as a consumer; could the two be untangled? Would the analysis be based on a sample size of one or two? An effort was made to differentiate, when possible, Bruce as researcher and Bruce as consumer.


As a researcher

The Internet Shopping 24/7 Project was the product of a crisis and three catalysts. The crisis was a tenure case that was denied. Bruce initiated the formal tenure application process at Boston University in the spring of 1997 and a final decision to deny tenure was made on his case in the fall of 1998. During both the time period that his case was under review and the time period that followed the announcement of the final decision, it was a time of great introspection for BruceCapproximately two years. Part of this process resulted in his serving as a visiting professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of ManagementCwhere he was exposed to researchers who influenced his conceptualization of the Internet Shopping 24/7 Project.

At Kellogg, he had frequent exposure to Mohan Sawhney and he was impressed with Mohan’s knowledge about and understanding of ecommerce. Bruce saw Mohan as a "player" in this space and he wanted to realize a similar level of understanding in the area as he felt it would help advance his research. Bruce says about Kellogg and Mohan "I went visit at Kellogg, I spent time with Mohan. It was fascinating. That guy was up on everything; he had a website where he was doing his thing; reading and evaluating books He was engaged in it It was the real thing, not just reading about it [the Internet] I had to figure out what my thing was What do I love? What do I know that can be mine?"

He also was exposed to Sidney Levy while at Kellog. Sidney made a presentation to the marketing department about his research. Bruce was impressed and quite taken by Sidney, his research and the potential value of using qualitative research methods. Bruce states, "When I was there [Kellogg], Sid gave a talk and I felt wow! It was incredible. His presentation was not about the Internet, but about qualitative research methods and some of his research experiences. I thought that it was a great approach, and because the Internet was unknown, I had to live it."

Bruce’s experience and research in both the general and online automobile industry also served as a spark for initiating the Internet Shopping 24/7 Project. During one trip to California he interviewed senior executives at Autobytel.com, CarsDirect.com and Edmunds.com; he came away curious (and impressed) that some consumers would purchase online a new automobile without visiting a dealership or, in some cases, without taking a test drive.

As a consumer

Several aspects of Bruce’s personal background influenced his adoption of online shopping. Bruce has a BA in computer science and he is very proud of this; he worked in the high tech industry full time for a couple of years as part of a startup software group for a small company that was, before he left it, purchased by a large high tech company; he has maintained and used his computer skills in his research. He will tell you that "I am a computer scientist." He has a clear affinity of technology.

Bruce is also cheap. When he shops, he is in search of the "best deal." The "deals" available on the Internet during his Internet Shopping 24/7 Project experience were amazing and he reveled in finding those which he could use. Bruce comments, "I have always loved reading the Sunday circulars since I was a teenager. I like finding the best deal and being a smart shopper. When I was shopping in stores, I liked Costco because I could buy in bulk and pay a lower price per unit. For example, I typically bought two giant things of toilet paper. I got a lot of it because I knew I was saving moneyAlso I liked to figure out when things would go on deal in stores and the deal patterns at stores. For example, there was a time when I knew that Tropicana orange juice would go on deal every four to six weeks, so I would purchase a four to six week supply every time it was on sale."

Amy, Bruce’s wife, confirms his love for the deal; she believes that "Bruce is an aggressive shopper. He likes to conquest and find the best deals. He checks out the ads, the circulars, and researches the competition. He used to drive around a lot and search for the best value he is price conscious. I am the opposite. Price is not as much of a concern for me."

Though Bruce sought out great deals, he also could not stand poor service. Amy informs that "Bruce enjoyed shopping in stores, but also he used to complain that people that work in the stores were not social or nice enough. He hated standing in lines to pay and get out of the store."

Bruce was also clear about his service preferences, "If I want help, I want help, not just a clueless sales person. For example one of my last purchases in a store was at KB-Toys. I did not get the attention from the teenage store personnel [at the cash register]. She did not even acknowledge my presence. I was waiting to pay, and I wanted to move. I don’t need a friend, but I want to tell her, stop chatting with your buddy here and pay some attention to me. A computer program is reliable, not like a robot clerk talking with her robot teenage friend."

And so the project began in September, 1999. Bruce says, "I was going to shop online for some time. At first it was supposed to be for three and a half months. I was going to make my own site. Mohan [had his site and] wrote about books. I was going to [have my own site and] write about shopping. I liked this. I could be proactive.


To understand some of the family dynamics, investigation of the division of shopping was assessed. The experience clearly had an impact not only in the context of shopping, but also on running the household. Amy comments on their shopping responsibilities during the Project, "Because Bruce stopped going into stores, I felt a bigger burden to run the household. I had to make sure to get items. I had to give him a list to shop on line and order. I could not just ask Bruce to pick up something at the last minute on his way home from work. It was hard for me. Much more planning was involved. Also, Bruce would want to shop online in the evening. At 11pm my brain is fried. I can’t think what to order, so I would tell Bruce get whatever you want. He would buy staples, but [he] did not put menus together. I ended up going to stores more. I did a lot of small trips. Bruce got a lot of big items -like diapers."

Amy feels that the Project experience created more work for her. Prior to the Internet Shopping 24/7 Project, there was more sharing of the shopping responsibilities. Bruce says, "Before, I went to the supermarket a fair amount. Amy would go to Bread and Circus [an upscale supermarket owned by Whole Foods]. She did a lot. I did a fair amount. I would do 65 or 70% of the supermarket shopping. She would create the shopping list, but I would go out and buy everything. Also I would go to Costco, or be involved in any big ticket item purchase."

Amy recalled Bruce’s greater assistance with shopping prior to the Project experience, however, she did not perceive the division of labor in quite the same way, "I did most of the shopping, about 60% of it. Bruce shared and went to stores, but I did most [of the shopping]. I had the most responsibility. I planned menus and lists. Yet, Bruce was happy to go to the store I did the day to day shopping, he did the bulk. I did most of the immediate shopping, for example, buying presents or going to the drugstore."

There is evidence of a foundation of shared responsibility in this household prior to the Internet Shopping 24/7 Project experience and there is evidence that this was preserved through the art of compromise. Amy recalls, "When Bruce decided to extend the duration of his experiment [from the originally planned three and one half months], he told me that I could use Streamline [an online grocer that was preferred by Amy and charged a monthly fee, unlike the "no fee" grocery service provider preferred by Bruce]. I really liked Streamline. I had to do it once a week onlyBevery Wednesday. It made me more organized, with once a week ordering only. So I ordered on Streamline and Bruce ordered on Homeruns [Bruce’s preferred online grocer]."

Another compromise situation involved the purchase of beds for their two young boys (ages 3 and 2 at the time of the purchase). Amy, who was pregnant at the time and expecting to give birth within two to three weeksCas one can imagine, she was a busy motherCwanted beds for both boys as part of the process of getting the household ready for the new baby. She felt that she would have no time to do this later. Bruce recalls, "We wanted to buy beds for the guys. I wanted to buy them on line; Amy wanted to go to a store. I kept on insisting that we had to buy them online. It was like saying "Amy can’t stop me!" I kept on pushing deadlines and negotiatedOne day, I came home and the baby sitter was there and then I just knew she had gone to store to buy the beds She let me buy the mattresses on line."



Bruce felt that he was in greater control during the online shopping process. He refers to store shopping experiences where he felt that his preferred mode of sopping or shopping decisions were impeded. "When I would go to a store," Bruce commented, "I just wanted people to let me browse by myself. Let me focus, be by myself. I just wanted to be left alone. On the Internet. I am by myself. I am in control of what I do." It is important to consider whether Bruce, and any other consumer, is truly in greater control when shopping online. Perceived control may be quite different from the actual degree of control.

The Value of Time

One of the often pronounced benefits of online shopping is time savings (e.g., shopping can be done in minutes as opposed to hours). Amy found that for some tasks, utilizing the Internet actually increased the overall amount of time needed. For example, she found it faster to place an order over the telephone with Hanna Anderson, rather than logging into their website, placing desired items into a shopping cart and clicking through the checkout process. Also, she had concerns about waiting time for delivery. She found it more convenient to go to CVSCless than one mile awayCand get something immediately, rather than wait for it to arrive a few days later.

Bruce seemed to place little value on his time (either before or during the Project experiment). Yet, his attitude toward the value of time may have changed as a direct result of his online shopping experience. He highlights, "I was worse before. Now, I am better. I have realized that I was burning a lot of time. I have to let go [and realize] you don’t always have to be perfect [and] get the absolute best deal. I realized that it is great to save time and that it could be worth paying more in return for this some time."

In the Flow

Bruce could be described as being in the flow with respect to his research and shopping behavior. He moved easily and quickly from site to site in search of better deals. He was frequently up late, e.g., until 3:00am, surfing around. His experience was arguably of one who was a consumer, obsessed and addicted. Amy’s characterization of Bruce when he completed his data collection (i.e., stopped his run of exclusive online shopping) was telling, "When he stopped, he got depressed and withdrawn. Something important was ending He was going to have to go back into stores."

A Religious Conversion

When Bruce talked about his experience, it sounded as if he had gone through a religious conversion and that he wanted to help others convert as well. He talks about "taking a leap of faith" and doing his online shopping for the cause. In some instances, he talked about the importance in "believing that it will work out fine;" for example, when he decided to order online a Honda OdysseyCa motor vehicle with a list price in excess of $26,000Cfrom an automobile dealership in Connecticut that was over 130 miles away from his home (and willing to deliver it to his house). In discussing this experience and others he comments "If I do not do it, who will? Who will establish that this can or can not be done, or how it could be done well?"

This begs the question, who might care? Aren’t some of the online shopping experiences absurd? Bruce may have created a dogma, and, as a result, refuses to look at evidence that might clearly contradict the beauty and splendor of online shopping. He talks about those in and not in the faith. When he refers to online shopping, he uses the word "I’, and when he discusses bricks & mortar shopping he uses the pronoun "they" and refers to these shopping environments as the "dirt" world, which is in marked contrast to the pure, clean world of online shopping.

He exhibited evangelical behavior in how he thought about, talked about and utilized online shopping. He worshipped the online shopping scripture that he perceived (and perhaps partially created, at least in hi own mind). And his cause begot global interest from the media, executives, academics and other online shoppers. He took on a new public persona. He was ordained as "The Netty Professor" by Inc. Magazine in its lengthy article (October 2000) about his Internet Shopping 24/7 Project experience He took on a new public persona that was enthusiastic about exploring online shopping; Bruce wanted to persuade others, to convert the world.


$ Consumers seem to need special incentives or combination of circumstances to make the switchBbut which ones?

$New burdens and benefits can be found in e-consumptionBbut what are the big trade offs?

$Fanatic behavior can emergeBCan the fanatics convert others?

$Through carefully negotiated compromises and changes to daily life, 24/7 e-shopping can work.

$Understanding consumers’ time orientation and value for time are of central importance.

$Issues of flow and control seem to be at the core of e-shopping enjoyment.



Susan Dobscha, Bentley College

This presentation discussed interpretations of the text based on both astrological and feminist perspectives. This presentation, like the others, was hilarious and thought provoking. Her introductory comments were of surprise as she thought that her presentation would be the only one laced with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek and an abundance of humor.


An initial thought was that Bruce is definitely a Leo. A Leo is governed by the credo "I will," has the confidence to lecture others, takes charge of his own life, wants to protect others, and knows (or believes that he knows) all the answers. Bruce had exhibited each of these characteristics, as described in his text, in both action and words. Yet, in the final analysis, she did not believe that he was a Leo.

Then, Susan was convinced that Bruce had to be a Virgo. Virgo’s are ruled by the credo "I analyze," believe that learning to compete is very important, compete fiercely (e.g., his being the first all e-shopper), and achieve scholastic excellence. Given that the first personality trait of a Virgo is practicality, however, this sign was ruled out as a possibility. Other signs ruled out were LibraCwho are much more balancedCand SagittariusCwho are highly people focused.

Prior to asking Bruce for his birthdate, Susan concluded that he must be a Capricorn. A Capricorn is ruled by the credo "I use," "longs to abandon duty but is resigned to the knowledge that spontaneous enthusiasm can never replace experience," reveres achievements (e.g., the creation and administration of The Brucie Awards), and recognizes the dangers of impulsive actions (n.b., using eBay was the one exception for him).

Bruce was born under the sign of Aquarius. Aquarians are forward-thinkers who see the big picture. They are unpredictable, original and idealistic. Aquarians rule the future, universal communication and worthy causes.


Amy and Bruce had a number of different perspectives about the experience. Bruce thought that online shopping was terrific and that everyone should do it. He felt that it was convenient, made life easier, made obtaining products effortless, saved him time and provided him with a higher degree of control over the shopping experience (vis a vis bricks and mortar shopping).

Amy felt that he was "going overboard" with the experience and that he was online "more than usual," thereby not saving time at all. She would on occasion issue "computer time-outs" so that he would spend more time interacting directly with the family. In addition, she did not believe that the experience made life easier for her; she found herself taking on more work. Bruce writes that "there were moments when she wanted someone to go out and get something for her."


Competition versus Collaboration

Shopping is thought of as a social collaborative exercise by many consumers, The text reveals a consumer who is engaged in competition rather than collaboration during a number of consumption experiences. When discussing eBay, Bruce writes "I won an eBay auction," "spotted an auction and what do you know I won," and when referring to the fact that he was finally using an online grocerCsomething that his mother had already been doingChe writes "take that mom, I’m catching up."

The Foil of Human Contact

At first glance, one could believe that Bruce immersed himself in online shopping in an effort to get further away from human contactCat least with respect to shopping. Describing an online car shopping experience, he declared that "buying a car online is great except for the part that includes humans." In another shopping situation, he rails that "the human ruined the experience." One time when he was purchasing gasoline, the pump malfunctioned and would not allow him to pay at the pumpCthis was after he pumped the gas; when forced to engage the attendant and pay him directly "inside," Bruce wanted to believe that this was not really happening "I’m not really here, I thought. There’s no place like online; there’s no place like online; there’s no place like online, I repeated to myself as I clicked my heels together. I wish that I could say that I woke up and realized that it was a dream (and you were there, and you were there, and you were there too...it was terrible Auntie Emm...)."

As one reads further through the text, however, one realizes a consumer who does indeed enjoy human interaction and seeks it out in shopping experiences. For example, he "fires up" Lands’ End Live [a live chat for assistance when navigating the Lands’ End Website] and enjoys interacting with the online assistants. He refers to them by name, e.g., Susan and Sarah, and when he requests a Lands’ End Live session and one of them is not assigned to help him, he tells other Lands’ End Live assistants to say hello to them for him. He also makes comments about people that are part of the "physical" part of the shopping process, e.g., "the delivery driver was pleasant."

Unpaid or Extra labor

In a number of shopping experiences, Bruce performs tasks that require extra labor for which he is not compensatedCor so it would appear. For example, a friend asked Bruce if he wanted to erect a sukkah for the Jewish holiday Sukkot. After agreeing, the friend discovered that the price for a sukkah "kit" at the nearby Israeli bookstore was $350Cunreasonable to both the friend andBruce. He writes "Were I able to visit Home Depot, I would have purchased the necessary items and been #good to go’ for less than $34.99. Given the timing, a delivery would have been too late; and I can’t go to stores (smile). What’s a sukkah builder to do? Good old fashioned ingenuity (and a little bit of sweat) was a cure for this problem. Some home construction had been going on at another neighbor’s house; some fallen trees were still sitting in the rear of their backyard (and they were happy when I took them away). I cut up these trees and made a wonderful sukkah frame. Some friends came over and a good time was had by all." Dumpster diving, it is assumed, is not typical of Bruce’s shopping behavior in general, let alone for religious celebrations; yet, he engaged this laborious activity because he was not willing to enter a store.

Theory of Trying

Bruce wanted to make online shopping work and he went to many extremes to prove this out. He put forth great effort in this endeavor. This is not pronounced as a flaw, rather, as something important to know when interpreting the data. A number of factors, as outlined in Solomon (1999) detail the factors which came into play when he made an effort to carry out a certain behavior. For example, he had no doubts that he could get online whatever he wanted (e.g., "I will buy black shoes") and he made great efforts to dominate the online world and exert his control of the domain in satisfying a need, no matter what was required.


$ E-suming (i.e., online consuming) would require a major shift in lifestyles. How many people would likely make the necessary changes? How long would it take? What would the path to adoption look like?

$The concept of involvement is overturned in the environment and conditions in which Bruce operated as much psychic energy and attention was paid to most purchases.

$Online shopping requires one to realize more unpaid labor.

$What effect would race, class or gender have on the likelihood of success of this experience?