Information Foraging in Internet-Based Selling: A Systems Design Value Assessment Framework

Information foraging theory provides a theoretical perspective for the study of different online consumer purchase behaviors that need to be understood to support a sound basis for the measurement of business value of the design of Web-based applications. In this chapter, we examine the extent to which online consumer purchases are effectively supported through systems design choices in Web-based applications through a series of five classical stages in consumer purchase decision-making. They include need arousal, information search, product evaluation, purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation. We distinguish between different purchase behavior settings through a framework that identifies purchase decision-making contingencies in the context of three different consumer purchase scenarios: convenience goods, researched goods, and replenishment goods. The different types of purchase scenarios reflect distinctions in terms of the extent of consumer involvement in information processing and evaluation leading up to the purchase decision, and the frequency of repeat purchases. We then illustrate and evaluate the extent to which the framework offers insights into the evaluation of the efficacy of systems design for Internet-based selling with reference to a number of minicases for each of the three types of purchase scenarios. The primary means for assessing the efficacy of the Web-based support in a given setting is the extent to which the consumer is able to achieve high levels of return on information foraging. We also consider differences that may arise between information goods and physical goods, and the Internet-based selling of goods versus services, in general. The results of our analysis suggest a number of new design guidelines for software application development in this area, and provide an initial assessment of the extent to which information foraging theory can be leveraged as a means to understand the referents of systems value.