Satisfaction has been traditionally considered a main determinant of customer loyalty in offline environments, and this belief has also spread to the online marketing field (Shankar et al., 2003). Therefore, it is widely assumed that the higher the customer satisfaction with a website, the more predisposed he or she will be to purchase or keep purchasing products there and to recommend it to other people, thus increasing his or her commitment to that website. However, this relationship between satisfaction and loyalty has been questioned by several researchers (Johnson et al. 2008; Oliver, 1999). Thus, a higher level of satisfaction does not always translate into an improvement of customer loyalty. This can be due to several factors: (i) the necessity of taking into account other antecedents of loyalty that could be more influential than satisfaction itself under certain circumstances, such as the perception of the alternatives' attractiveness or the customer's propensity to seek variety in his or her purchases; (ii) the way in which loyalty has been defined and measured by different studies (whether they only referred to the behavioural component or also the attitudinal component); (iii) the possible influence of moderating factors on the relationship between satisfaction and loyalty. In this regard, Ranaweera et al. (2005) pointed out that to further understand the behaviour of the online customer is necessary to analyse the moderating effect of some of the customer's characteristics. Amongst said characteristics the authors include perceived risk, given that its moderating effect on the antecedents leading to online loyalty has received little or no attention in literature.
This is the reason why the present paper seeks to analyse the moderating effect of perceived risk on the relationship between satisfaction with a website and customer loyalty. Loyalty is perceived both through its behavioural (purchase intent) and attitudinal dimension (word-of-mouth intention and commitment to the website). For this purpose, an empirical study has been conducted, with a sample of 562 users of air tickets selling websites. If we look through the existing literature, we shall see that the satisfaction with a website is expected to have a bigger effect on purchase intent, commitment and positive word-of-mouth communication in the case of those customers with a lower perceived risk in shopping on that website, as further discussed below, in the conceptual framework section.
This paper presents the following structure: firstly we tackle the conceptual framework, in which not only the hypotheses about direct relationships but also those associated with the moderating effect of perceived risk will be presented. Secondly, we describe the methodology used in the empirical study, followed by the analysis and discussion about the main findings. Finally, we present the conclusions, management implications and future research lines.
Conceptual framework and hypotheses
Online satisfaction and online loyalty
Within the context of virtual environments, global satisfaction is defined as "the contentment of the customer with respect to his or her prior purchasing experience with a given electronic commerce firm" (Anderson and Srinivasan, 2003). These authors also define loyalty as the customer's favourable attitude toward an electronic business resulting in repeated purchase behaviour. Whereas satisfaction can be regarded as a one-dimensional or a global measure (Garbarino and Johnson, 1999; Homburg and Giering, 2001), loyalty must be regarded as a multi-dimensional measure (Barroso and Martin, 1999) since it has not only conative but also affective and attitudinal dimensions (Barroso and Martin, 1999; Engel et al., 1982; Keller, 1993; Oliver, 1999). According to Ranaweera et al. (2005), in order to analyse loyalty in virtual environments it is necessary to incorporate the behavioural components (purchase intent) as well as the attitudinal components (commitment and word-of-mouth communication). This is the approach of the present paper.
If we focus on the relationship between satisfaction and purchase intent, it has been widely demonstrated in the marketing literature that a higher satisfaction with an organization or supplier strengthens the customer's intent of acquiring products or services again from that supplier. There is substantial empiric evidence about this relationship in the context of online shopping (Ranaweera et al., 2008; Yen and Gwinner, 2003). As can be clearly seen in some studies conducted in this field, the intent to keep using or purchasing a service is determined by the satisfaction obtained in previous experiences (Bhattacherjee, 2001). Thereby, if the Internet user's expectations are met, this will result in repeated usage/purchase behaviour (Anderson and Srinivasan, 2003). Bearing in mind the above, we formulate the following hypothesis:
H1: The higher the customer satisfaction with his or her purchase experiences on a website, the stronger his or her intent to keep shopping on that website.
Commitment is one of the main concepts of the relational marketing paradigm (Berry and Parasuraman, 1991; Dwyer et al., 1987; Wetzels et al., 2000; Iniesta and Sanchez, 2002), and some authors consider it to be one of the attitudinal dimensions of loyalty (Shankar et al., 2003).
Morgan and Hunt (1994) define commitment as "an exchange partner believing that an ongoing relationship with another is so important as to warrant maximum efforts at maintaining it." The authors admit their definition to be very similar to the one proposed by Moorman et al. (1992): "an enduring desire to maintain a valued relationship". Other definitions could be "an implicit or explicit pledge of relational continuity between exchange partners" (Dwyer et al., 1987) or a psychological bond to an organization (Grune et al., 2000). Therefore, customer commitment can be generally defined as an attitude reflecting the desire to maintain a beneficial relationship that feeds from shared values, by putting the necessary effort into it (Anderson and Weitz, 1992; Moorman et al., 1992; Morgan and Hunt, 1994).
The term affective commitment refers to an emotional bond, a sense of identification and involvement with an organization that leads to a desire to maintain the relationship (Bendapudi and Berry, 1997; Meyer and Allen, 1997; Meyer and Smith, 2000; Pritchard et al., 1999). There is evidence that trust (Garbarino and Johnson, 1999; Gilliland and Bello, 2002; Morgan and Hunt, 1994) and satisfaction (Garbarino and Johnson, 1999; Henning-Thurau et al., 2002) are factors that can exert an influence on affective commitment, which is in what we focus on in the present paper.
We can conclude from the research carried out by Muhmin (2005), Bansal et al. (2004) and Johnson et al. (2001) that the higher the satisfaction the customer gets from a seller, the stronger the customer commitment to that company. However, some papers from the field of services marketing have determined that satisfaction has little influence on affective commitment (Bansal et al., 2004; Bettencourt, 1997). The existence of a direct effect of satisfaction on commitment has also been proven in the electronic context (Bauer et al., 2002). On account of this, we propose the following hypothesis:
H2: The higher the customer satisfaction with his or her purchase experiences on a website, the stronger his or her commitment to that website.
Customer satisfaction not only generates repeated purchase but also positive word-of-mouth, which further reinforces customer loyalty to a product or firm (Anderson and Sullivan, 1993; Bolton and Lemon, 1999).
Some authors regard word-of-mouth communication as a behavioural intention (Zeithaml et al., 1996). In this sense, it is worth noting that in the specific literature about consumer behaviour in virtual environments there are several studies that highlight the positive impact which satisfaction can have on customers' future intentions (Anderson and Srinivasan, 2003; Bhattacherjee, 2001; Flavian and Guinaliu, 2006; Eighie, 2006). Therefore, we propose the following hypothesis:
H3: The higher the customer satisfaction with his or her purchase experiences on a website, the stronger the intention to recommend that website to other people.
1.2. Perceived Risk: Moderating Effects
Researchers broadly agree on the significant role that the concept of perceived risk plays in influencing consumer behaviour (Boksberger et al., 2007; Conchar et al., 2004; Gonzalez et al., 2006).
The origins of the rich marketing literature about perceived risk date back to the 1960's, when Bauer (1960) introduced the concept in the marketing discipline. Also worth noting is Cox's contribution since he proposed a perceived risk model that has been taken as a starting point by many researchers up to the present day. In the 1970's many studies developed conceptual models about consumer risk perception and how they managed it (Stem et al., 1977; Taylor, 1974); but it was not since the 1990's that perceived risk started to be studied as an explanatory variable in the empirical research on consumer behaviour (Boksberger et al., 2007; Dowling and Staelin, 1994; Gonzalez et al., 2004, 2006; Srinivasan and Ratchford, 1991).
There is not a commonly accepted definition of perceived risk within the field of consumer behaviour, but there are several conceptual approaches to the construct depending on the context of the study (Conchar et al. 2004; Dowling, 1986; Mitchell, 1999). However, the most usual conceptual approach defines risk according to the consumer's perception of uncertainty and the adverse consequences associated with the purchase of a product or a service (Boksberger et al., 2007; Dowling and Staelin, 1994; Mandel, 2003).
In view of this definition of risk, one might expect it to exert a moderating effect on several variables relating to the field of...