Is customer service a concept that has become out of date since the advent of online shopping?

1.0 Background to the Research
One of the known advantages of electronic commerce since its emergence over the past decade is that it has been a revolutionary tool that has transformed global trade as well as B2C and C2B relationships. Indeed, to a noteworthy extent, e-commerce can be said to be part of everyday life because of its importance in buying and selling as well as increased access and speed to varied products and services. As e-commerce becomes increasingly popular amongst modern day consumers, one of its defining elements is said to be the customer oriented aspects in which rapid interaction with consumers and retailers are facilitated through a rapid communication process. One of the major challenges of e-commerce however is that the processes involved as well as its structure and other wider factors -affects the quality of customer service which in effect has a negative implication for consumer satisfaction.
As was noted by Devaraj et al (2002) given that in online shopping, some transactions goes wrong by going through delays, arriving late or being delivered to the wrong address, customers encounter a number of issues relating to customer service. For example, they cannot run to the retailer or return the product instantly without going out of their way. The said dearth of customer service quality in online shopping was confirmed in a survey by the Boston Consulting Group (2005) in which emails were sent to major e-retailers concerning orders already made online. In the survey, almost half of online retailers emailed were said not to have responded within one day while about one-third never responded at all. As has further been noted by Shih (2004) several online shoppers find the checkout process complicated and many desert their purchases because they cannot encounter a customer service experience that will put them through.

Owing to the above reasons, customer service is said to be a major issue in online shopping given that major attributes of it are hard to find in many online shopping sites. Turban et al (2002) defines customer service as a string of service elements designed to help meet customer expectations – towards improving and managing their satisfaction.
In online shopping, some of the attributes or performance metrics of customer service are delivery performance, website functionality and responsiveness. According to Thomas (2005) this are some of the important elements of customer encounters which determines customer service effectiveness. In light of the above, the main purpose of the planned dissertation is to critically evaluate the presence of customer service in online shopping since its emergence over the past decade. The study will involve the testing of primary data from chosen sources and will use the metrics of customer service effectiveness available in the current literature to evaluate customer service in online shopping sites. The next section of the proposal explains the motivation of the dissertation and why it is chosen by the researcher.
1.1 Motivation
The present topic was chosen out of the researcher’s keen observation that as opposed to the traditional customer service encounter found in brick and mortar stores, the emergence of online shopping has seemingly changed the old tradition given that the traditional customer service infrastructures are no more and online shopping in total offers a new shopping experience. Today, the major elements of customer service, while it is guaranteed by many online shoppers has been more of a lip service than a service attribute found in their activities and service encounters. This phenomenon calls for better understanding into the issues, problems and challenges faced by shoppers in their online buying service encounters and retailers in their bid to offer effective customer service. Researching into the phenomenon will in many ways contribute to the current literature where there is dearth of research clearly demonstrating knowledge on the phenomenon.
1.2 Research Aims and Objective
The principal aim of this study is to determine the nature, effectiveness, presence and functionality of customer service of international online retailers. However, the following objectives underline and reinforce the foregoing aim.
To identify the nature of customer service offered by online retailers
To assess the ways in which effective customer service can improve the effectiveness and response of online retailers
To determine the various customer service issues and problems encountered by customers in their service encounter during and after online shopping
To review literature regarding the metrics of customer service in online shopping
1.3 Research Questions
How can customer service be measured in online shopping
What are the problems pertaining to customer service encounter in the online shopping
What are the contributions and effect of online shopping on online shopping
2.0 Literature Review
Since customer service of online stores cannot be like in traditional Brick and Mortar shops, online shopping must offer features whereby consumers can compensate for the lost features found in physical stores where they can touch and feel the products and the environment in which it is being sold (Massad et al. 2006). Some important aspects of these are said must include wider attributes like product availability and better organization of product information such as pictures and product specifications, easy navigation, search tools, greater customization options, easy price comparison and more importantly quick of respond to consumer requests and general needs.
Some of the important factors of online customer service are also service quality, information quality and system quality (McKinney et al, 2004). In another important element of online shopper’s customer service Mitchel (2002) suggests that the usability, delivery performance and web interfaces also matters in achieving effectiveness. The authors note that the aesthetics and visual properties of online stores are comparable to the atmospheric conditions of brick and mortar stores. In delivering effective customer service, previous studies have emphasised the importance of physical atmospheric features such as sorting, style, design, etc in traditional stores (Muylle, 2004). While most of the suggested factors form part of the factors determining an effective customer service Kholi et al (2007) identified delivery performance, customer support and effectiveness of response as a way to achieve customer satisfaction. In previous studies, other measures have been used to examine the customer service of online stores. Several studies have used the ten dimensions of Parasuraman et al (1985) consisting of tangibles; reliability; responsiveness; communication; credibility; security; competence; courtesy; understanding the customer; and access to measure the effectiveness of service quality. However in (1988) Parasuraman et al reduced the 10 dimensions to 5 – Namely: tangibles; reliability; responsiveness; assurance; and empathy. Following the emergence of the ecommerce scholars have deemed the service quality dimensions of Parasuramman and colleagues as unbefitting in the online retailing environment, therefore various elements of customer service measurement have been proposed by. In the work of Zeithaml et al. (2001) they developed 13 e-service quality dimensions which can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of customer service. These are responsibility, access, reliability, flexibility, access, flexibility, security, ease of navigation, efficiency, assurance/trust, price knowledge, site aesthetics and customization/personaliazation.
3.0Research Methodology
The dissertation will utilize the qualitative exploratory research approach and strategy towards accomplishment of the stated objectives. The qualitative approach will be used such that it will allow flexibility and insight into the phenomenon being currently investigated. This approach can be considered suitable for the dissertation because it is the approach which “seeks answers to a question, systematically by using a predefined set of procedures to answer the question, collect evidence and produce findings that were not determined in advance (Mack et al 2005). In contrast to other approaches, it is more interested in increasing understanding about a particular subject rather than creating innovative information or producing an explanation for the event (Dawson 1997). In support of the exploratory qualitative approach, the case study strategy would be employed by focusing specifically on the case of particular online shoppers who can help shape understanding on the issue of customer service. According to Saunders et al (2003), the case study research is meant by a set of approaches chosen to gather and analyze data in order to be able to effectively address the questions of the research. It may also be referred to as the tool(s) the researcher uses to achieve the aims and objectives of the study.
Following the adoption of the two methods above, both the primary and secondary data collection methods would be used to gather the needed data. Data collection is an important component of the research process and in is in fact the primary way of obtaining the materials critical to the conduct of the research. Indeed, Saunders et al (2000) underscores the importance of data collection and the need for the researcher to adopt the most effective method(s) of obtaining data by describing it as possibly the most fundamental “methodological question” in the research process. In terms of secondary data the documentary secondary sources will be explored to gather useful data. This will include the use of written material such as journal, previous report findings, and published evidences on the subject at hand in available data bases, media and information archives.
On other hand, primary sources of data collection will also be utilized. These have been described as fundamental and original sources from which the materials that are necessary for coming to valid conclusions are drawn (Sapsford & Jupp 2006). However, as there are different types of primary data sources, there are also different means of generating primary data, which includes the use of questionnaires, interviews, focus group discussions, etc. In the dissertation the researcher will interview online shoppers to understand their views about customer service of the sites in which they shop. About 8 people previous online shoppers will be questioned based on the predefined questions by the researcher relating to the investigative issues. Also to balance the data collected with the participant’s view, elements of survey will be used in the data collection process as the researcher will test the responsiveness, effectiveness and other performance metrics of online retailers’ customer service by making few online shopping to test the phenomenon.
3.1 Ethical Issues
The dissertation will be conducted in line with ethical norms and as such issues concerning ethics will be addressed. Besides, given that data collected through the research process will not involve sensitive information such as personal, company or private information, the issue of ethics is not expected to arise throughout the research process. The researcher will however take important steps in ensuring that issues which may generate ethical problems or questions in the case of change in the research process are adequately and appropriately addressed.
Research plan and timetable:
ActivityMay June July August Sep Oct September
review of the literaturex
Completion of supervisor’s amendments request x
Collection of data x x
Methodology x
Completion of supervisor’s request for amendments x
Analysis x
Completion of supervisor’s amendment request x
Introduction x
Conclusionsx x
Boston Consulting Group. (2005). BCG Reports 100 Percent Growth in Online Business-to-Customer
Revenues in Asia-Pacific This Year, Reaching Close to US$ 14 Billion. Available at: Accessed: 10th April, 2012
Devaraj, S., Fan, M., and Kohli, R. (2002). Antecedents of B2C Channel Satisfaction and Preference:
Validating e-Commerce Metrics,” Information Systems Research, 13 (3) pp.316-333.
Kohli, R., Devaraj, S., and Mahmood, A. M.(2004). Understanding Determinants of Online Customer
Satisfaction: A Decision Process Perspective, Journal of Management Information Systems, 21, Number 1, pp.115-135
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McKinney, V., Yoon, K., and Zahedi, F. M.(2002). The Measurement of Web-Customer Satisfaction: An Expectation and Disconfirmation Approach,” Information Systems Research, 13 (3), pp.296-315.
Muylle, S. M. (2004). The Conceptualization and Empirical Validation of Web Site User Satisfaction, Information and Management, 41 (5)pp.543-560.
Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A. and Berry, L.L. (1985), `A conceptual model of service quality and its implications for future research’’, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 41-50.
Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A. and Berry, L.L. (1988), SERVQUAL: a multiple-item scale for measuring consumer perceptions of service quality’’, Journal of Retailing, No. 1, pp. 12-40.
Sapsford, R & Jupp, V. (2006), Data collection and analysis, SAGE Publications, pp. 28
Shih, H. (2004). An Empirical Study on Predicting User Acceptance of E-Shopping on the Web,”
Information and Management, 41 (3), pp.351-368
Saunders, M, Lewis, P & Thornhill, A 2000, Research Methods for Business Students, 2nd Ed., Pearson Education Limited, London
Turban, E. (2002). Electronic Commerce: A Managerial Perspective. Prentice Hall
Zeithaml, V.A., Parasuraman, A. and Malhotra, A. (2001). A conceptual framework for understanding e-service quality: implications for future research and managerial practice’, working paper, Marketing Science Institute, Cambridge, MA.

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