Beyond Information Search: Browsing As Consumer Information Acquisition

ABSTRACT - Most research in consumer information search assumes that consumers know what product they want and the purpose of search is to find the appropriate brand. Also, the research assumes that there are no other information acquisition activities prior to the decision to purchase the product. Direct information search is one way through which consumers acquire information. However, information acquisition is a much broader concept than mere direct search. In this paper, consumer information acquisition is defined as a collection of activities through which consumers obtain product/service information, voluntarily and/or involuntarily, consciously and/or nonconsciously. We propose that besides direct search, people can acquire information through casual, unstructured, or even nonconscious acquisition activities, which is conceptualized as browsing.



Citation:

Lan Xia and Kent B. Monroe (2002) ,"Beyond Information Search: Browsing As Consumer Information Acquisition", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 302.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Page 302

BEYOND INFORMATION SEARCH: BROWSING AS CONSUMER INFORMATION ACQUISITION

Lan Xia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.

Kent B. Monroe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

Most research in consumer information search assumes that consumers know what product they want and the purpose of search is to find the appropriate brand. Also, the research assumes that there are no other information acquisition activities prior to the decision to purchase the product. Direct information search is one way through which consumers acquire information. However, information acquisition is a much broader concept than mere direct search. In this paper, consumer information acquisition is defined as a collection of activities through which consumers obtain product/service information, voluntarily and/or involuntarily, consciously and/or nonconsciously. We propose that besides direct search, people can acquire information through casual, unstructured, or even nonconscious acquisition activities, which is conceptualized as browsing.

Browsing is a common human behavior that exists in people’s everyday life. Bloch et al. (1989) defined browsing as "the examination of a store’s merchandise for recreational or informational purposes without a current intent to buy." They distinguished ongoing search (browsing) from prepurchase search (direct information search). People engage in browsing behaviors for various purposes, and browsing has both desired and undesired consequences.

This paper suggests that consumers acquire information through browsing as well as directed search. However, the storage and retrieval of information acquired through searching and browsing may not be the same. It has been proposed that there are two bases of recollective experiences: explicit retrieval (i.e., remember), and a sense of familiarity (i.e., know) (Rajaram 1993). It is likely that information acquired through searching and browsing may be associated with different aspects of recollection.

Research has suggested that there are two distinct components of recognition memory, one based on associative and contextual information, the other based on a traceless awareness of familiarity. The former is referred to as "remember" and latter is referred to as "know". People "remember" an item or event when they have a vivid memory and consciously recall having seen the item/event during a previous exposure. On the other hand, people "know" an item or event when they can tell the item/event occurred, but cannot recollect specific details with it. Information acquired by consumers could be either in the form of "remember" or in the form of "know". Both remember and know may influence consumer behaviors. Consumers may make product evaluation and purchase decisions based on what they remember as well as what they know.

Three studies were conducted to investigate consumer information acquisition through searching and browsing. In each study, subjects were first presented with an electronic sales paper. Product pictures, brief descriptions, and price information were presented. Products from twelve product categories with both real and fake brand names were included. These products were placed either on the main page or embedded within the target pages.

Each study was a 2 (instruction: browsing vs. searching) x 2 (product placement: main pages vs. embedded pages) x 2 (brand name: real vs. fake) between subjects design with repeated measures on the latter two factors. A control group was also included. Subjects were instructed either to search for a product to buy or just browse and evaluate the design of the sales paper. Immediately after the task, subjects were given a survey as a distraction. Following the distracter, subjects received different tests. In study 1, subjects received a recognition test. They were provided with a list of product names containing both those that had appeared in the sales paper and new products and asked to indicate whether they recognized those products from the sales paper. If they recognized it, they were further asked to identify whether they "remember" it or "know" it, and the confidence level associated with their responses. In study 2, subjects received a choice task where they were to pick the product categories and brands that they would consider buying as a graduation gift for their friend. The previous exposure of the sales paper was not mentioned and subjects were asked to treat the test as a separate task. In study 3, subjects performed both tests.

Results showed that subjects acquired information both in searching and browsing. While searching, they acquired information on the targets as well as other products. Information on the targets tended to be stored in the form of "remember" while that of other products tended to be stored in the form of "know". Although subjects may not clearly remember many of the products presented in the sales paper, exposure to products other than the target indeed had an influence on their choice. They were more likely to choose product categories that were shown in the sales paper compared to the control group.

While browsing, subjects acquired product information although they had not intended to. Information acquired was stored either as clearly remember or as the sense of knowing. Similarly, information acquired influenced their choices. When asked to make a purchase of the target product, subjects were as satisfied with their choice as those in the direct search group and they indicated that they would not like to have more information about the target products. The influence of information acquired also was also shown in their "gift" choices.

Comparison of information acquisition through searching and browsing showed that subjects in the searching condition tended to be sensitive to conceptual information such as whether a brand name is real or fake and failed to recognize products that were presented before. On the other hand, subjects in the browsing condition tended to mistake new products as old and were not influenced by real or fake brand names. The difference suggested that the nature of information acquired through searching and browsing may be different. In addition, association between recognition and implicit choice tasks showed that both remember and know contribute to the influences on choices. The number of old items picked for the choice task was significantly positively correlated with the number of "know" items.

Our studies showed that consumers may acquire information through various ways. Only focusing on direct search may greatly underestimate the amount of information consumers acquired and can make use of when facing a purchase decision. Understanding consumer browsing will further our knowledge of consumer information acquisition as well as consumer decision making.

REFERENCES

Bloch, Peter, Nancy M. Ridgeway and Daniel.L. Sherell (1989), "Expanding the Concept of Shopping: An Investigation of Browsing Activity," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 17(1), 13-21.

Rajaram, Suparna (1993), "Remembering and Knowing: Two Means of Access to the Personal Past," Memory & Cognition, 21(1), 89-102.

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Authors

Lan Xia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.
Kent B. Monroe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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