IT management doctoral student Peng Huang is part of the Georgia Tech research team whose "Searching for Experience on the Web" article was published in the prestigious Journal of Marketing.
Marketers of products and services that consumers need to experience before evaluating quality (such as cars, restaurants, and wine) might benefit more from feedback- and multimedia-heavy Websites than sellers of "search goods" that are easy to evaluate without direct interaction, according to Georgia Tech College of Management researchers.
Online sellers focused primarily on such "search goods" as cameras and computers might do better investing in strategies that enable them to lower product costs rather developing expensive, feature-rich Websites, note IT management doctoral student Peng Huang, assistant marketing professor Nicholas Lurie, and associate IT management professor Saby Mitra in their recent Journal of Marketing study, "Searching for Experience on the Web."
That's because consumers of "search goods" tend to focus on getting the best price, shopping around instead of delving deeply into consumer reviews and online simulations, the researchers discovered. Such shoppers might "free ride" on a site with a lot of information, then buy from a cheaper source.
"However, our results suggest that for 'experience products,' you are more likely to buy from the Website where you spent the most time gathering information," Lurie notes. "For these goods, investments in superior and feature-rich Websites are important. A buyer is more inclined to buy 'experience goods' from a trusted seller, and this trusted seller will be the Website that provides the buyer with the most extensive product information."
Different Consumer Response
While many marketers believe that the long-held distinction between "search goods" and "experience goods" has blurred because of the abundance of online information enabling shoppers to learn from the experience of others, the Georgia Tech researchers discovered that consumers respond differently to each type in their online shopping behavior.
"Although the search versus experience distinction has long existed in the marketing and economics literatures, this is the first study to examine differences in information search for the two product categories based on directly observed online consumer search behavior," Huang notes.
While the total time spent searching for both types of goods is not significantly different, consumers of "experience goods" view fewer Web pages but spend more time on them. "We find that communication mechanisms such as consumer feedback and experience simulation only increase the time spent in a particular domain when buyers are seeking 'experience goods,'" Mitra says.
"Retailers with sophisticated information technology infrastructures that incorporate consumer feedback, third-party recommendations, and multimedia presentations at the Website will reap greater benefits by focusing more on experience goods than search products," he adds.