Friday, January 9, 2009

Understanding eLoyalty

I have been thinking and reading about loyalty on the web. Some refer to it as eLoyalty. Loyalty to a web site is very different from loyalty when the customer communicates directly with a person. I have long pointed out that loyalty consists of the product, the process and the relationship. When dealing with the web, the relationship is usually lost. Few companies have installed the capability for a customer to contact the company from their web site (even though the technology is available).

The notion of loyalty being based on product, process and relationship changes when the customer is dealing with a web site and there is no person from the company involved in the transaction. The simplest way to view this change is to replace the company employee with the web so that the three components of loyalty are product, process and the web.

Since it is clear that the personal relationships are being replaced with a web site, there are two questions to consider; namely, how much influence does the web site have on customer loyalty and what are the factors that influence consumer perceptions of website effectiveness.

This first blog is being based on a master's thesis entitled "E-Loyalty, Companies Secret Weapon on the Web." It was written by Muhammad Asim and Yaqoob Hashmi at Lulea University of Technology and was published in 2005 under the supervision of Asa Wallstrom. The information in this thesis will be tested against other research in future blogs.

The authors note that an effective website must accomplish four principle objectives: (1) attracting, (2) informing, (3) positioning, and (4) delivering. One way to evaluate a web site would be to evaluate each website in terms of their of contribution's to these aims. Of course, each of these principles are multi-dimensional and may not all have equal importance.

The few variables that appear to be important are:
1. Security and privacy
2. Downloading time
3. Virtual branding
4. Banner advertisements
5. Ease of access
6. Ease of navigation
7. Graphical interface preferred
8. Positioning capability
9. Use of cookies.

The key quality factors which highly influence the website design are:
1. Clarity of purpose and contents
2. Consistency, menus and site maps
3. Pages, text and clicks
4. Communication and feedback
5. Search
6. Fill-in forms
7. Selection
8. Product/service information and availability
9. Delivery information
10. Policies, charges, terms and conditions
11. Reliability
12. Customer Service
13. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I will spend some time developing these factors in future blogs. However, in my next blog I will investigate the factors that appear to influence customer eloyalty. The bottom line is that there has not been sufficient study of the web side of customer loyalty. Since it is likely that web purchasing will continue to grow, a well founded understanding of the factors that impact eloyalty need to be examined and tested.

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