Cultural influences on consumer interactions in the context of electronic commerce
Researchers and academics from diverse disciplines have highlighted the role of 'trust' for establishing and strengthening existing relationships between individuals and organisations in the commercial and the social context. Trust in the cultural context specifically, is credited with being the social 'glue' for sustaining bonds between members of cultural groups. The 'trust' phenomenon has become a 'hallmark' of success for organizations as they become more involved with Information Technology (IT). A precondition for trust to manifest is the natural presence of risk or uncertainties in a potential decision. Since the fears and risks associated with online transactions in the context of ecommerce are high, gaining a customer's trust becomes a must. Some studies have found the ingrained cultural values, which form an essential part of the cultural heritage of a person, to be influential in evoking an individual's trust. Various sources in the marketing and consumer behaviour literature have highlighted the role that religious subcultures play in the purchase decisions of their members. The customs, values, and norms set by a religious group are highly esteemed by its members. The objective of this thesis is to investigate if religious Web sites are more likely to instil trust in online fellow-members than their generic counterparts. From a HCI point of view, we can say that our research will investigate an "abstract" interface of e-commerce systems: the 'theological' interface of a commercial Web site. Consequently, we can also ascertain if religious consumers basing their purchasing decisions on 'religious' trust alone overlook more important issues such as the privacy and security problems associated with financial transactions performed over the Internet. Our empirical findings have discovered that conservative Muslims, who are not very familiar with the Internet, trust a Muslim Web site more than a Christian Web site and a generic Web site. In contrast, conservative Muslims with higher Internet experience were found to be more cautious. They based their 'trust' on more appropriate criteria such as the extent of privacy and security safeguards adopted by a Web site. A qualitative analysis of the post-experimental interviews that we conducted purports that Web-based trust develops with a company's good reputation, previous personal purchasing experiences, and through word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family or peers. In light of our findings, we argue that the time experience gained in using the Internet plays a major role on how consumers perceive culturally or religiously oriented Web sites. We believe that less experienced Internet users are unaware of the security vulnerabilities inherent in the Internet environment. Therefore, we assume that they are context-blind: they do not differentiate between traditional and the digital marketing environments. Consequently, they would trust purchasing from an electronic store (Web site) in the same manner they would trust purchasing from a 'brick-and mortar' store. In contrast, experienced Internet users deem reputable Web sites adopting good security and privacy safeguards for online transactions to be trustworthier than Web sites designed with a 'religious' interface. We conclude that in the context of e-commerce, one cannot expect to establish a trustworthy commercial relationship based on religious trust alone. From the findings of this study, it has become apparent that the trait of strict religious affiliation seems to disappear in the context of e-commerce. The threats and risks inherent in online transactions seem to restructure the religious community by merging it into a traditional global community of e-consumers. When contemplating a purchase from a Web site, traditional e-consumers pay more attention to the company's reputation and the extent of data security measures adopted by a Web site rather than basing their purchase decisions on the religious affiliations and cultural values taught by parents and ancestors. Thus, Web sites aiming to sell products behind a 'religious' interface could become disappointed. Having said that, we reiterate that the time experience in using the Internet seems to play an influential role in how users' perceive cultural or religious Web sites.