Gender differences regarding the product's online visual representation: impact on satisfaction and purchase intention/Diferencias de genero en las percepciones sobre la representacion visual del producto online: impacto en la satisfaccion e intencion de compra.

Author:Blanco, Carlos Flavian
  1. Introduction

    Recently, the diffusion of the Internet as a retail and distribution channel has undergone a great growth. We face a global market with more than 1,500 million people (Internet World Stats, 2009) and more than 80,000 million of commercial and corporate websites (Domain Tools, 2009), wherein the opportunities for exchange are almost infinite. In Spain, more than a half out of the 18 million Internet users (AIMC, 2009) have purchased through the Web. Besides, the e-commerce turnover was up to 4,700 million euros in the last year (AECE, 2008).

    This growth of the Internet has provoked changes in the way consumers acquire information about products, which is an important stage of the shopping-decision process (Engel, Blackwell and Miniard, 1995). Searching for commercial information is one of the most performed activities in the Internet. Specifically, 89.3% of purchasers and 45.2% of nonpurchasers use the Internet as the main source for acquiring information (AECE, 2008). Thus, the online channel must provide consumers with tools to facilitate the search, acquisition and processing of information related to the products they want to buy, or they just want to know about.

    In this context, the online product presentation turns into a key element of the virtual store. Aspects such as the product placement in the interface or the purchase route could affect the consumers' tendency to browse the web to search for information (Khakimdjanova and Park, 2005). Besides, the attitudes towards the product presentation could influence the consumer's searching and buying behaviour (Kerfoot, Davies and Ward, 2003).

    Given that in the online context there is no possibility either to "touch" the product or to examine it physically before the purchase, marketing practitioners should make an effective use of the design tools for presenting the company's products. In this way, the visual representation of the product is critical for consumers to identify it and consider its purchase. In fact, most of websites use images to present their products to users. The use of this feature should be carefully managed, since the navigation speed could be limited if there is an overload with the use of very large pictures, with excessive resolution and/or animation (Cristobal, 2006).

    However, there is a lack of studies focused on analysing the effects of product pictures on the consumer behaviour. Therefore, it seems necessary to examine the role played by the characteristics of the product picture on the online user's perceptions.

  2. The importance of visual product representation on consumers' perceptions

    The specialized literature has demonstrated the existence of a clear link between the environmental elements of a virtual store and the online consumers' affective and behavioural states (e.g. Liang and Lai, 2002; Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002; Khakimdjanova and Park, 2005). In this sense, high levels of user satisfaction with the website could be a determinant factor for the success of online businesses (Liu and Arnett, 2000; Zviran, Glezer and Avni, 2006). In fact, user satisfaction could have a positive impact on his/her purchase intention (Shih, 2004), derived from the generation of favourable attitudes towards the website.

    Thus, it seems interesting to examine the role played by the visual representation of the product in these determinant variables of the e-commerce success. More concretely, this study focuses on the specific case of electronics' websites to analyse the impact of three elements frequently exploited in the presentation of the product (i.e., size, quality, and movement of images) on user's satisfaction and online purchase intention.

    Moreover, consumer characteristics could be also important to determine the acceptance of e-commerce and to affect the way they behave online (Swaminathan, Lepkowska and Rao, 1999). In this way, it has been established that consumers' gender could influence the way they perceive visual stimuli, because men and women differ in their information processing (e.g., Holbrook, 1986). Given that the offline and online environments are completely different, it would be interesting to examine the moderating role of consumers' gender on their online purchase behaviour.

    In short, this study tries to find answer to the following research questions:

  3. Is there a relationship between the visual representation of the product and users' degree of satisfaction with the website?

  4. Is there a relationship between the visual representation of the product and users' online purchase intention?

  5. Is there an optimal design combination which provokes the most favourable responses on online users?

  6. Does the gender of the consumer play a moderating role in the proposed relationships?

    The following sections deal with the theoretical background that supports the hypotheses development which tries to give answer to these research questions. Figure 1 reflects graphically the proposed relationships regarding the visual representation of the product, users' satisfaction with the website, their online purchase intention, and the moderating role of the gender.

    2.1. Impact of Visual Representation of the Product on User's Satisfaction with the Website

    In general terms, satisfaction is an affective response of the consumer arising as a consequence of a global evaluation of all the aspects that compose the relationship between the company and the customer (Anderson and Sullivan, 1993). Satisfaction is a signal of the user's favourable attitude; satisfied users can stay longer navigating through the website, they can visit it more frequently or generate positive word-of-mouth (Zhang and Von Dran, 2000).

    Some researchers have stressed the importance of user's satisfaction with the website in order for virtual stores to succeed. Thus, a successful website, in the context of the electronic commerce, "is one that attracts customers, makes them feel the site is trustworthy, dependable, and reliable and generates customer satisfaction" [Liu and Arnett, 2000; p. 24]. In this way, Kim and Stoel (2004) examined the website's quality and identified the main dimensions that influence the online consumer's satisfaction. Zviran, Glezer and Avni (2006) investigated the effects of usability on user satisfaction, which is considered a measure of the success of the website.

    Although a good website design does not guarantee consumer satisfaction, it has a direct impact on it (Flavian, Guinaliu and Gurrea, 2006). In fact, graphic representations (e.g., icons, colours, images and animations) are used to increase the vividness of the website and, as a consequence, the levels of user satisfaction (Zhang and Von Dran, 2000). In this sense, Muylle, Moenaert and Despontin (2004) identified the website design as a main dimension of online satisfaction, emphasising colours, graphic elements and animations as important factors.

    Following this idea, a big size and a high quality of the product picture could evoke positive feelings when navigating through the website because the product is perceived more clearly, which helps users to know the product better and remember it easily (Lee and Benbasat, 2003; Park, Lennon and Stoel, 2005). Therefore, it seems reasonable to propose that a high quality and a proper size of the product picture lead to a higher degree of consumer satisfaction.

    In addition, images with movement could generate greater levels of attractiveness and entertainment for online users (Jeandrain, 2001; Daugherty, Li and Biocca, 2008). If we also take into account the higher information and interactivity that movement offers to the product presentation, we could expect that a dynamic image will lead to a higher level of user's satisfaction with the website:

    H1a: The size of the visual representation of the product will have a direct impact on user's satisfaction with the website.

    H1b: The quality of the visual representation of the product will have a direct impact on user's satisfaction with the website.

    H1c: The existence of movement (vs. absence) of the visual representation of the product will have a positive impact on user's satisfaction with the website.

    2.2. Impact of Visual Representation of the Product on User's Online Purchase Intention

    In a traditional retail context in which several alternatives have to be considered before the purchase, consumers need to evaluate a great amount of features related to the product characteristics, such as the price, the quality of the materials, the colour or the size (Lee, Lee and Wang, 2004). In a similar way, in a virtual retail environment, the aspects related to the appearance of the website could influence the user's purchase intention and eventually increase the company's sales (Then and DeLong, 1999; Cristobal, 2006).

    Therefore, it seems reasonable to state that the correct use of product images could lead to a higher purchase intention of the online consumer. More specifically, if the product pictures are presented with a proper size and a high quality, positive feelings could arise towards the website and consumer's online purchase intention could increase.

    In this sense, Ariely (2000) and Klein (1998) showed that the quality of the decision and the users' attention improve in those websites with high levels of interactivity. The movement of the visual representation of the product allows users to examine it from multiple perspectives and interact with it in a greater extent. Thus, if the product is presented properly, the acquisition and processing of the information about it would be easier, speeding up the shopping process and therefore boosting the purchase intentions. Consequently, we could expect that the image movement will have also a positive effect on consumer's online purchase intention:

    H2a: The size of the visual representation of the product will have a direct impact on user's online purchase intentions.

    H2b: The quality of the visual...

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