A sequence analysis of consumers' online searches
Purpose - To describe consumers' heuristic and analytical searches for a pre-purchase information acquisition, and to assess the correspondence of flexibility of information task and the information found with a search. Design/methodology/approach - Propositions based on current research in web use and consumer studies. Tracked records of searches are used for descriptive analysis of transitional patterns in the data. Regression is used for statistical verification of the information provided by searches. Findings - Consumer searches center on chaining events, indicating heavy reliance on hyperlink navigation between web sites. Formal searches are seldom used, although when employed, tend to have a high level of diagnosticity. The emphasis on heuristic behavior is logical, as the way consumer information is currently presented on the internet rewards for this type of behavior. Use of heuristic search increases the likelihood of access to flexibly presented information. Research limitations/implications - Consumers favor heuristic trial-and-error searches even in focused fact-finding search tasks, which are typically considered the domain of analytical seeking. Consumers seem to benefit most from apparently inefficient, reactive and heuristic searches, because these are more likely to provide information in a format that the consumer can adapt. Convenience sample limits generalizability of findings. Originality/value - While there is an increasing body of knowledge concerning internet use for finding information, fewer studies have focused on consumer uses of the web in search. This paper provides new information of online consumers, an increasingly important topic.
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