Consumer search behavior in online shopping : the effects of novice versus expert product knowledge



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The Internet now provides consumers with a new tool for finding information during the pre-purchase phase of a buying decision. It also provides researchers with a method to study the information-seeking behavior of consumers in a dynamic environment. User knowledge has been identified in prior research as having an influencing effect on search behavior. In the case of consumers, user knowledge is defined as their novice- or expert-level product knowledge. The primary research question that guided this study was whether product knowledge creates significantly different search behavior among consumers while online shopping. Specifically, the study examined differences in the site types consumers use and in any patterns to their site type visits. Two online shopping tasks were used to identify distinctive external information-search patterns among consumers (n = 43). The participants were classified according to their level of product knowledge. The objective of the analysis was to identify differences in the site types used and in the sequence of site type usage between those having expert and novice product knowledge. Using McNemar tests and log-linear analyses, significant differences between novices and experts were found in the usage of site types. Significant pattern differences were also found in the antecedent site types used under expert versus novice conditions. The resultant data has implications for both information professionals and for marketers in designing specifically tailored web sites and web tools that assist different user groups in finding the information they seek.