An overview of online consumer behaviour theory and model

By Jaideep Bhattacharjee & Priya Chetty on February 25, 2019

The internet has become a constant key platform in every sector through which companies can create a globally interconnected network of information and business. It has been the most fundamental factor in the rise of e-commerce business across the globe, with the generation of sales of over USD 2,800 billion in 2018 (Digital Commerce360, 2019). The proliferation of e-commerce businesses across the globe is mainly due to some key factors such as easy accessibility, innovative marketing strategies, and service delivery satisfaction. This article aims to explore different online consumer behaviour theories.

Technology acceptance model

The technology acceptance model has been developed by Fred Davis based on the Theory of Reasoned Action. Furthermore, this model is structured to foresee how users are going to accept and apply new technology like e-commerce (Marangunić & Granić, 2015). This model has been formulated to identify the acceptability of the technology and perform the modifications to ensure that it is acceptable to the users. This model also explains the fact that acceptability to users is dependent on two key factors such as perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness. Perceived ease of use reflects the standard to which people believe that they can use the system effortlessly. Moreover, perceived usefulness outlines the standard to which people believe that they would be able to increase their performance with the use of the system. The figure below represents this model.

Figure 1: Technology acceptance model of online consumer behaviour (
Marangunić & Granić, 2015

This model is broadly used to elaborate on why customers go online shopping (Rauniar et al., 2014). The perceived usefulness of the technology acceptance model in the context of online shopping describes savings in time and efficiency in spending. Perceived ease of use of the technology acceptance model illustrates how easily and conveniently the online shopping system works. Both perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use influence positive attitudes and behavioural intent towards online shopping and eventually lead to users using the product or service.

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Theory of reasoned action

The theory of reasoned action was formed by Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein in 1975. It tries to establish the relationship between human action and behaviour and attitudes. With the help of this theory, one would have an idea of how individuals will act based on their intentions and existing attitudes (Mishra et al., 2014). Furthermore, the main objective of the theory of reasoned actions is to understand the behaviour of individuals by evaluating the deep-lying behavioural intention to do an action. It was formed as an improvement of the Information Integration theory. This theory explains the behavioural intention depending on three key elements; the attitude of individuals, subjective norms and the individual’s perceived control of the behaviour.

  • The attitude of individuals: It signifies the personal point of view towards a specific behaviour, whether good or bad.
  • Subjective norms: It underlines the social pressure from the expectations of people. This is viewed from the perspective of the individual (Head & Noar, 2014). A subjective norm has two parts; the individual’s motivation and normative beliefs of the individual. An Individual’s motivation is derived from the desire or expectation of other people. On the contrary, normative beliefs of the individual explain what the individual perceives about the expectancy of others.
  • Individual’s perceived control of the behaviour: Describes the individual’s perception of the ability that individual possesses to do a specific behaviour (Glanz et al., 2015).

Therefore, it is observed that the theory of reasoned action highlights the reality where a person might have a specific behaviour but the subjective norms of that person might contradict it, facilitating a different behaviour completely. The prediction of behavioural intention is based on the contradiction of this difference.

Theory of reasoned action of online consumer behaviour (Mishra et al., 2014)
Figure 2: Theory of reasoned action of online consumer behaviour (Mishra et al., 2014)

The theory of reasoned action suggests that marketing strategies of online businesses aim to change the attitude of the consumers towards the brand (Burak et al., 2013). This attitude is impacted by the individual’s belief in online shopping to save money and time. Attitude towards online shopping generally formulates the actual habit of online buying. If users have a buying attitude towards online shopping from their past experiences then they are likely to buy it. Subjective norm explains the pressure from marketers on potential consumers to make them buy or not buy. Thus this attitude and subjective norms are inclining towards behavioural intentions that shape the behaviour of online buying.

Planned behaviour theory

The theory of planned behaviour is an extension of the theory of reasoned action. This theory explains that the basic elements of the theory of reasoned action such as perceived control of the behaviour, subjective norms and intentions impact the intention to follow the behaviour (Kautonen et al., 2015). Thus, this theory states that all or some of the above-stated elements would influence the intention which eventually predicts whether the behaviour would happen or not.

Planned behaviour theory of online consumer behaviour (Kautonen et al., 2015)
Figure 3: Planned behaviour theory of online consumer behaviour (Kautonen et al., 2015)

The introduction of perceived behavioural control in the theory of the reasoned action model has paved the way for the theory of planned behaviour model and mitigated many limitations in the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Sheikh, 2013).


If a user has the subjective norm, the right attitude and the behavioural intention to buy online, they might have a behavioural intent of buying. But it is not necessary for the buyer will buy online as they might not know about the online payment process.

Role of behaviour theories in framing marketing strategies

This article reflects the three theories which explain how attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control of individuals influence their specific behaviour. With the help of these three theories, online businesses are framing their marketing strategies; highlighting the perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use of online shopping. Online shopping businesses have an idea of how to exploit the advantages of online shopping to change the attitude of consumers. With the application of these models, e-commerce companies have ensured that there need not be any negative perceived behavioural control.


E-commerce firms have come up with so many payment options like cash on delivery, net banking, Lazypay etc. As part of their marketing strategies for consumers to reduce negative perceived behavioural control.

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  • Ajzen, I. & Sheikh, S.., 2013. Action versus inaction: Anticipated affect in the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(1), pp.155-162, doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.00989.x.
  • Burak, L.J., Rosenthal, M. & Richardson, K.., 2013. Examining attitudes, beliefs, and intentions regarding the use of exercise as punishment in physical education and sport: an application of the theory of reasoned action. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(7), pp.1436-1445, doi: 10.1111/jasp.12100.
  • Digitalcommerce360, 2019. Global e-commerce sales grow 18% in 2018. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 22 February 2019].
  • Glanz, K., Rimer, B.K. & Viswanath, K.e.., 2015. Health behavior: Theory, research, and practice. 1st ed. NY: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN-10: 1118628985.
  • Head, K.J. & Noar, S.M.., 2014. Facilitating progress in health behaviour theory development and modification: the reasoned action approach as a case study. Health Psychology Review, 8(1), pp.34-52, doi: 10.1080/17437199.2013.778165.
  • Kautonen, T., van Gelderen, M. & Fink, M.., 2015. Robustness of the theory of planned behavior in predicting entrepreneurial intentions and actions. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39(3), pp.655-674, doi: 10.1111/etap.12056.
  • Marangunić, N. & Granić, A.., 2015. Technology acceptance model: a literature review from 1986 to 2013. Universal Access in the Information Society, 14(1), pp.81-95, doi: 10.1007/s10209-014-0348-1.
  • Mishra, D., Akman, I. & Mishra, A.., 2014. Theory of reasoned action application for green information technology acceptance. Computers in human behavior, 36(1), pp.29-40, DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.030.
  • Rauniar, R., Rawski, G., Yang, J. & Johnson, B.., 2014. Technology acceptance model (TAM) and social media usage: an empirical study on Facebook. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 27(1), pp.6-30, doi: 10.1108/JEIM-04-2012-0011.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).