Web Usability is highlighted as a key factor likely to affect web search and subsequent
buying behaviour. In fact it has been claimed 'usability is a prerequisite for e-commerce
success' (Nielsen et al 2001). The main elements of usability may be categorised as
primarily personal and stimulus factors. The main personal factors are constructs such as
consumer attitudes towards searching, subjective norm, behavioural intentions to revisit
web sites and likelihood of carrying out ecommerce purchases. The main stimulus factors
are encapsulated in web design, which incorporates elements such as web content, web
structure and web accessibility. These personal and stimulus factors interact to form the
total web experience for consumers.
Given that air tickets are among the biggest online purchases for Irish Internet users
(Amarach Consulting 2004), the industry review justifies the selection of the airline emarketplace
and outlines its structure. Aer Lingus, who currently channel 57 percent of
customer bookings via the web (Carey 2004b), believe that the Aer Lingus site
(http://www.aerlingus.com) has been a major factor behind the turnaround in the airline's
fortunes (Carey 2004b; Oliver 2003). In comprison, Ryanair (http:/Avvvw.lyanair.com)
have 95 percent of their customers booking via the web (O'Mahony 2003: 19), and have
been named by Google (http://www.google.com) as the most searched for airline brand on
the web (The Irish Times 2003). Interpretive and quantitative techniques are used in
examining the online services of these major players.
For the interpretive part of the study, in-depth interviews incorporating usability testing
methods (Nielsen 2001) and phenomenology based interpretive techniques (Thompson et al
1989) were applied in naturalistic settings in consumers' homes to establish factors which
are perceived as hindering and facilitating consumers in finding product/service
information, and making e-commerce purchases. Twelve consumers living in Dublin were
recruited, using the following selection criteria: web expertise, age, social class and gender.
Behavioural, affective and cognitive responses were assessed in depth.
Two national quantitative online surveys (generating 596 usable responses from Aer
Lingus customers and 1,442 from Ryanair customers) were designed and administered
using random sampling procedures. Findings of the in-depth and quantitative studies are
examined and interpreted in the context of literature approaches. Recommendations on
how both web sites can be improved to better match consumer requirements and
expectations are drawn up and suggestions are made for further research.