Service quality is defined as the difference between perceived performance and perceived expectations of consumers (Dhar, 2015). This is one of the critical factors for online businesses that influence online shopping decisions. At times, perception may differ from the actual experience. When the actual service rendered by a brand differs from the expected quality, it leads to a gap.
The SERVQUAL model is one of the most renowned models explaining service quality dimensions. These days as consumers are becoming increasingly inclined towards shopping online, the SERVQUAL model explains what service-related factors should be considered to understand buying patterns. Apart from that, convenience and customer handling are other service quality dimensions that affect online shopping decisions.
The SERVQUAL model can help to understand online shopping decisions
SERVQUAL stands for service quality gap model which is used to measure the gap and identify the factors that lead to the difference between actual services and expected services. The aim of the model is to identify the gaps first and then bridge the gap so that customer service can be enhanced. This model was developed by Zeithalm, Parasuraman and Berry in 1985 (Wang et al., 2015). The five gaps which have been highlighted by this model
- customer gap,
- knowledge gap,
- policy gap,
- delivery gap and,
- communication gap.
Gaps to understand while maximizing customer satisfaction
- The customer gap is outlined as the difference between the expectation and perception of the consumer.
- The knowledge gap is described as the difference between the provision of service facilitated and the expectations of the buyers.
- The policy gap illustrates the improper translation of service policy, guidelines and rules for the workforce.
- The delivery gap reflects the negative performance of the workforce and is not up to the expectations of the consumers. As a result, it shows that the organization has failed to train the employees to cater to the needs of the customers (Ciavolino & Calcagnì, 2015).
- Communication gap highlights when a brand is not able to meet the promises as advertised. Which consequently raises the expectations of the buyers.
These five gaps are highly significant for online shopping businesses to attract more sales. When the gaps are mitigated, firms are able to be profitable businesses and have a healthy market share.
SERVQUAL model is a scale based on multiple factors that help to evaluate the perception of the consumers on service quality. Five dimensions of the SERVQUAL model are empathy, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and tangibles.
- Tangibles dimension outlines the physical evidence of the business such as the personnel, physical facilities or store, bank statements, etc. In the case of an e-commerce business, the website acts as a tangible. It is important for e-commerce businesses to offer customers a user-friendly and well-designed website to build trust and confidence in taking a purchase decision (Parasuraman et al., 2005).
- The reliability dimension explains the ability of the e-commerce business to deliver on the promises made to consumers consistently. It means fulfilling the service at the right time. Moreover, companies should make sure that they are conveying relevant information to customers transparently (Lee & Lin, 2005).
- The responsiveness dimension describes the willingness of the e-commerce business to help consumers with the necessary services such as pre and post-sales services to ensure the complete satisfaction of the customers (Wang et al., 2015). In fact, this dimension has been rated as one of the most important factors determining the service quality of an e-commerce business.
- The assurance dimension explains the knowledge base that employees have that translates to consumers’ confidence and trust in a brand. In the case of e-commerce businesses, this is a tricky dimension. This dimension determines whether a customer will purchase a product online or not (Zeithaml et al., 2000).
- The empathy dimension underlines the individualized care and attention being offered to the consumers by a company. The internet is a powerful medium of two-way communication.
Ecommercebusinesses make use of data on customer preferences, habits and needs from their browsing patterns as well as previous purchase records. Using this data, personalized services are created (Li et al., 2001).
With the help of these five dimensions of the SERVQUAL model, e-commerce businesses are able to evaluate how service quality influences online shopping decisions.
Convenience is an important service quality aspect
Another service quality aspect that plays a strong role in shaping online shopping decisions is convenience. It consists of decision convenience, benefit convenience, access convenience, post-benefit convenience and transaction convenience (Kaura et al., 2015).
- Decision convenience reflects how efficiently and quickly the consumer can shop on an online platform or store (Seider et al, 2007). Consequently, it explains that the e-commerce platform should have provisions for the visitors to make a choice of their wants such as brands, sizes, product categories, materials, sellers etc.
- Access convenience describes how easily the online platforms or stores of e-commerce businesses can be accessed (Jones, Mothersbaugh, & Beatty, 2003). It is one of the biggest reasons why consumers today prefer to shop online.
- Benefit convenience explains what core benefits an e-commerce business offers. For example, home delivery and easy returns policy convince consumers today to take online shopping decisions.
- Transaction convenience illustrates how fast payments can be made (Berry et al., 2002). E-commerce businesses offer multiple payment methods like cash on delivery, credit card payments, net banking, etc. for the convenience of the consumers. Moreover, secure payment gateways are put in place to avoid the loss of critical data.
- Post-benefit convenience suggests how effectively the e-commerce business is dealing with sales issues of the consumers (Seider et al, 2000). Furthermore, it explains in the case of a product return, the e-commerce business should offer hassle-free
pickupand initiate a refundpromptly.
Role of customer handling in online shopping decisions
Customer handling involves:
- understanding the requirements of the consumers,
- fulfilling their needs,
- facilitating better quality and,
- focus on frequent interaction with the consumers.
E-commerce business has prioritized customer handling to a great extent because the cost of acquiring a consumer is almost five times higher than retaining one. With proper customer handling, the services of the online firm which required more attention can be improved which would eventually increase the sales volume. Factors such as personal needs, recommendations from others and past experiences influence consumer expectations. As a result, it positively impacts online shopping decisions.
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