Consumer web-search behaviour in the Irish airline industry
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Masters in Philosophy
Dublin Institute of Technology
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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.