The role of product form in online purchases

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The extended use of internet has digitalized many daily life practices in human life, including shopping, in the 21st century. While consumers used to experience the products mainly in store, now they must base their purchases whatever they see on the screen. Thus, the visual product design directly influences the digital buyers in their product purchases, but how? The earlier studies show that a product’s appearance can have aesthetic and symbolic value for consumers, can communicate functional characteristics and give a quality impression (practical value), and can communicate the ease of use (ergonomic value) (Creusen & Schoormans, 2005). Although these studies explore the role of product appearance or visual product design in consumer purchases, none of them particularly targets online purchases. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap in the literature through qualitative research.
The qualitative research, conducted as a part of master graduation assignment (see Appendix A to read the whole assignment), explored whether the different roles of product appearance exist in consumers’ process of product evaluation in online environments and to what extent these roles influence the consumers. Also, product related or contextual factors which may potentially have an impact on consumer responses to the product form in the digital environment were researched in the scope of this project. The complete online shopping experience was designed for the participants, and they were asked to perform two simple tasks, purchasing a pair of headphones and a laptop stand through the test website. Later, they were interviewed on their choice reasons for the products. The interviews done with the participation of forty-three subjects was transcribed and coded first, then content analysis was done to learn the frequencies of each concept existing in online shopping practice.
The research findings showed that different roles of product appearance exist in the consumer product evaluation process in digital environments, although the consumer responses to these roles vary for different product categories. For instance, in the experiment, some participants based their purchase on attention drawing value of the product form for a socially significant product category, headphones, whereas this value was not mentioned at all by any of the participants for the other category. Additionally, the influence of some contextual and product factors on the consumer responses to the product form was detected based on the research results. For example, an impact created by in-context images on consumer perception of symbolic value was noticed in the experiment. As a result, this study filled the knowledge gap in the topic “the role of product form in online purchase” as much as the study limitations allow.