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Liverpool John Moores University

Consumer Buying Behaviour:

User Friendliness as a Success Factor
in Technological Products
A study of consumer behaviours to determine the importance of user-friendliness in the success of technological
products. Will the consumer choose a user-friendly product in favour of a sophisticated one?
What do the consumers value more? Usability or latest functionality?

Research Proposal

Submitted By:
Tom Jacob

Course Name: Master of Business Administration

Module Name: Research Skills Analysis
Module Code: FTKMIM001
Submission Date: April 2009
Submitted to: Marilyn May
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Introduction 3
Industry Background
Rationale 3
Research Questions and Objectives
Literature Review 4
Methodology 6
Research Philosophy
Research Approach
Research Strategy
Data Collection and Analysis
Primary Data Collection
Secondary Data Collection
Sampling Method and Size
Data Analysis
Ethical Issues 8
Data Access 9
Resource Implications 9
Gantt Chart
Research Budget
Reference 10

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Living in a world dominated by technology, we use a range of electronic devices and
gadgetry everyday that is supposed to make our life easier, enjoyable, simple and more
satisfying. Our generation have mobile phones to stay in touch with loved ones; portable
media players keep them stress-free while game consoles entertain them.

Still, our lives are more complicated than ever. Every new device or new versions of existing
gadgets guarantee to be the easiest ever, but complicate things even more. Developers
strive to add new features in to products every day. Mobile phones incorporate satellite
navigation systems, making it more convenient, but the primary purposes like cellular
reception and battery life has suffered. New versions of operating systems are so resource
demanding and buggy that users go back to older versions. Promises of efficiency and
simplicity have not been kept.

Where does this leave the industry? Is the industry bringing out highly complex products
that consumers do not buy? Can new and better features alone attract consumers? Will a
possibly inferior product that is more easy to use persuade the end user? Is it usability over
latest functionality?

Industry Background
One of the fastest growing sectors of our time, technology industry –companies that design,
manufacture and distributes electronic devices and services–, is unique do to its high
investment in research, development and marketing. Due to this, it is also a highly evolving
industry. Global leaders in the sector are Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, IBM,
Google, Dell, Toshiba and Nintendo.

In yesteryears, customer had little choice in the market as there were only a handful of
players. Traditionally, new features are the primary selling point in this sector. This has
changed drastically in the last five years. As the industry matured, industry leaders started
losing customers to new and upcoming companies, which then prompted the marketers to
focus on new selling points like user-friendliness to attract or retain customers. This
paradigm shift is the basis of my research.

The purpose of this research is to understand the consumer philosophies when choosing
technological products. What does the consumer look for when he buys a technological
product? Latest features or the usability? Can user-friendliness of a product influence buying
decisions? If so, how significant is this factor to a consumer?

I am taking three set of sample products, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 from gaming
sector, Apple iPhone and Nokia N95 from mobile phone sector and Google Gmail and
Microsoft Hotmail from online email providers to research on this subject. In every set, one
is an industry leading company or product and the other one a new pretender who focus on
being more user-friendly. How are these products fairing in the market? What makes a
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consumer go for a product? Is it the User Interface? Alternatively, is it the new features?
Perhaps a shorter learning curve? As my research is industry centred rather than product
specific, use of three separate set of products won’t broaden the scope of my research.
Instead, I will benefit from the bigger pool of data that can be obtained. This will in turn
bring out clearer patterns and trends which can be used to form an inductive hypothesis.

This research will help the developers to understand the needs of the consumer. The study
will bring out different segments (with different priorities) of the market, which will help in
marketing communications. How can the industry align their strategic capabilities and core
competences to better suit the needs of the consumer? They can then direct their energies
towards developing systems that have an optimal blend of features and user-friendliness.

As a tech savvy person, I am always frustrated by the unfriendly nature of today’s gadgets
that make simple things overly complicated. It would definitely make my life more stress
free if my gadgets are less complicated to use. This will also be a unique opportunity to study
consumer behaviours, which will aid me in my career as a marketing professional.

Research Questions and Objectives

 Will a possibly inferior (feature wise) product that is more user-friendly win an end user?
 If so, how important is usability factor to a potential buyer? E.g.: Will he pay more for it?
 Should developers sacrifice technologically advanced new features to retain usability?
 Is User-friendliness a strong brand building/busting point? E.g.: Google, Microsoft

Literature Review
User friendliness is defined by freedectionary.com (2009) as ‘Easy to use or learn to use’,
where as International Standards Organization describe it as the ‘‘effectiveness, efficiency
and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in particular
environment’’ (Karwowski 2001). Hooks & Ferry (2001) state that ‘user-friendly’ is a
particularly troublesome word, arguing that a product developer who is comfortable with
technology is guaranteed to have a different threshold for ‘user-friendly’ than the end
customer. Effectiveness and efficiency can be measured. Karwowski says that satisfaction
might be seen as the most important aspect of usability for products whose use is voluntary
i.e. products like web email accounts.

Jakob Nielsen (1993), a usability consultant theorise that usability is grand total of five
attributes 1)learnability, 2)efficiency, 3)memorability,5) errors and 6)satisfaction. He further
argues that by defining user-friendliness in terms of these quantifiable and specific units, it
can actually be ‘‘systematically approached improved and evaluated’’. Computer science
professor Ben Shneiderman (2000) introduced the concept of universal usability which takes
in to account the diversity of user population and user needs; rather than the ‘average user’.
An earlier work (Shneiderman 1987) argues that developers should strive for consistency as
it will greatly reduce the learning curve. Sarah Horton (2005) proposed a set of universal
usability guidelines in her work ‘Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web
Designers’ which includes simplicity of design, build quality (user controls, flexibility,
fallbacks etc) and use of open standards.

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‘Consumer buying behaviour’ is defined by businessdictionary.com (2009) as a ‘‘Process by
which individuals search for, select, purchase, use, and dispose of goods and services, in
satisfaction of their needs and wants’’. The complexity of consumer buying behaviour is
perhaps best reflected in the wealth of disciplines that offer theories on it. Fields like
microeconomics, marketing studies, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and ethics each
explain motives of consumption (OECD 2002, p. 61)

According to Cooper & Channon (1998), economists were the first professional group to
offer a theory of buying behaviour. Marshallian theory holds that buying decisions are a
result of rational and conscious economic calculations. The main criticism of this theory is
that cardinal measurement of utility is unrealistic. It doesn’t take in to account other stimuli
(e.g.: marketing, social factors) the affect consumer buying behaviours (Aréna & Quéré
2003). It also assumes that the consumer is fully aware of the market and has complete
mobility, which is unrealistic. As my research looks to understand if usability factor can
influence buying behaviour, I am actually trying to disprove this theory.

Another influential theory is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow 1943) which envisions a
pyramid- shaped arrangement of needs. This theory is used by marketers to understand
consumer needs and wants. It gets interesting when one think about the needs of a
customer who buys a technological product like a music player or a game console. Can User
friendliness of a product affect the need? My research will be looking at these issues and will
try to answer them. Maslow’s theory has its share of critics who argue that it is not practical
to categorize ever-changing needs of a changing society.

Another useful frame work is Needs, Opportunities and Abilities model (OECD 2002, pp. 66-
68) that hypothesises that consumer buy products for what they can do for them. This
theory is unique in the scene that that it takes in to account both the macro level (society)
and micro level (individual) needs. As seen from the diagram, comfort, one of the factors
influencing ‘needs’ will directly relate to the user-friendly issue. As the motivation and
behavioural control are opposing factors, it will be worthwhile to compare both and study
the tradeoffs between the two. I do intent to study this in my research

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In addition to these, we have theories like Hareide’s (1994) variables that make ‘life worth
living’, conditions for human development and existence by Allardt (1994), and ‘18 terminal
values’ and ’18 instrumental values’ by Rokeach (1979) which tries to explain what a
consumer needs.

Apart from these theories, there are a many books written on the subject, looking at buying
behaviour from different viewpoints and different depths. Prominent authors who have
written on this subject include Roy Wells Hill, P.J. Du Plessis, Richard J. Varey, Malcolm
McDonald, Patricia Parrott and Mika Hannula. ‘Explaining buyer behaviour: central concepts
and philosophy of science issues’ by John O’Shaughnessy offers a simplistic view of buying
behaviour where as ‘The marketing book‎’ by Michael John Baker explains the same from a
marketing point of view. ‘Understanding the consumer’ by Isabelle Szmigin chooses to
challenge existing functionally driven marketing thinking towards the customer.

One of the key debates, making big noise in this area is the issue of how better to meet
customer needs. There is a new wave of thinking that products can be replaced by services.
It is argued that a customer don’t actually have to own a song (even in an electronic format),
but just need to hear it. This ‘service as a product’ indicative might have far reaching
consequences when it comes to buying behaviours and user-friendliness as a factor which
affect buying behaviours.

Research Philosophy - Phenomenology
Described by Husserl (1983) as the ‘‘genuine positivism’’, Phenomenology is a study of how
things appear, especially if sustained and penetrating (Lacey 1996). David Woodruff Smith
(2005) further explains phenomenology ‘‘as a method of inquiry based on the premise that
reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human
consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness’’. Phenomenology
theorises that reality is with-in a person’s private perception – within his feelings and
intentions. (Sprenkle & Piercy 2005).

Consumers’ buying decisions are based on ‘‘what they see in the product’’. User-friendliness
is a personal perception and will differ from person to person. As my research tries to
understand the how products appear to the consumer, and what appeals them, this
philosophy will be appropriate to my study.

Research Approach - Inductive

Typically used in interpretive qualitative research, Inductive approach begins with a specific
observation that is then developed in to a tentative hypothesis, which is then tested (Hesse-
Biber & Leavy 2005). In this approach, the theoretical position is developed after the
collection and analysis of data (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2007). Jary & Jary (1991) argues
that ‘‘qualitative techniques relay on the skills of the researcher as an interviewer or
observer in gathering data’’. Also known as ‘bottom up’ approach, it involves four stages
(Robson 2002); 1) beginning with specific observations and measures 2) from which some
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patterns and regularities emerge 3) which are formulated in to rough hypotheses that are
tested 4) and in the end, come up with conclusions or theories. The research is less formal
and less structured.

Inductive approach is used in my research, as the first step is to collect information from
consumers who have brought or are planning to buy products that I have shortlisted. The
data collected will then be used to check for pattern and trends. Once such trends are
identified, it will be used at a later stage to form the hypothesis.

Research Strategy
Choosing the right research strategy is important as it provides you with a plan of how you
go about answering the questions (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2002). Also to be noted is
Chris Coryn’s (2009) argument that ‘‘there is no overarching framework for how qualitative
research should be conducted; rather each type of qualitative research is guided by
particular philosophical stances that are taken in relation by the research to each
phenomenon’’. For the purpose of this research, I am planning to use grounded theory
method –to develop a hypothesis from a corpus of data (Strauss & Corbin 1990)– and later
on, historical research –evaluation of data related to past occurrences in order to test
hypotheses (Gay 1996)– to complete my research. One advantage of grounded theory
approach is that theory building and data collection go hand-in-hand, which means an
almost fail-safe research.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection is the one of the most important part of the research. If done properly, data
collection can solve lot of problems associated with research. Primary data (accumulated
exclusively for the project) is collected using interactive questionnaires and interviewing,
focus groups and observation (Zikmund, 2000). Secondary data like official records and
scholarly articles on the subject matter is can be accessed through company records, public
libraries and internet.

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Primary Data Collection

The bulk of the primary data will come from questionnaires and internet forums and
interviews. I plan to deploy questionnaires and internet forum discussions from the
beginning, due to the relative cost effectiveness and the amount of data collected. As and
when the themes and patterns start to emerge in the data collected, I will start using
unstructured interviews and focus group meetings.

Secondary Data Collection

Bryman & Bell (2003) states that secondary data can be obtained quickly, is very cost-
efficient and usually are of extremely high quality. Authors like Chisnall, Foxall, Loudon,
Packard, Schwartz and Schiffman have written on consumer behaviours and will be excellent
sources of secondary data. Official data published by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo,
Nokia and Sony will be used. Further information will be available on academic websites like
athens, emerald and mintel.

Sampling Method and Size

‘‘A sample is a finite part of a statistical population whose properties are studied to gain
information about the whole’’ (Webster 1985). I intent to use a stratified probability sample.
A stratum is a subset of the population that share at least one common characteristic. The
variables used for my research will be income, education and technology awareness. The
advantage of this method is it reduces sampling error, while improving the accuracy of the

Deciding on a sample size is always difficult as it can be decided by constraints like funding as
well as the nature of analysis. This question is more difficult to answer in qualitative
research, as there are no clear-cut rules to follow (Patton 1990).

Data Analysis

It is important to note that the data obtained from participants is not in numerical form.
‘‘The emphasis is on the stated experiences of the participants and on the stated meanings
they attach to themselves, to other people, and to their environment’’ (Coolican 1999)

I will be using Constant Comparison/Grounded Theory technique developed by Barney

Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967) for the data analysis. It involves coding, grouping and
hypothesising the field note data repeatedly in parallel with data collection. The advantage
of this system is that much better and relevant results are obtained.

Ethical Issues
In the process of collecting primary data, I will face many ethical issues in relation to
voluntary participation and informed consent. In order to negate this I intent to bring out a
fact file to fully inform prospective participants about the procedures and risks involved in
research. To protect the privacy of participants, principle of anonymity will be strictly
adhered to in the earlier parts of data collection. In the focus groups and interviews,
confidentiality will be guaranteed and no personally identifiable data will be collected.

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While dealing with the secondary data, I should take care not to misinterpret data which
might lead to serious implications. The issue of plagiarism will be effectively negated by
proper usage of Harvard referencing system.

Data Access
Primary data will be collected through questionnaires and internet forums. As these are
anonymous and fairly easy to complete, I anticipate little trouble in obtaining it. But I do
expect some resistance when forming focus groups and doing interviews. I plan to use a
research fact file to get consent from the participants and confidentiality will be assured.
This will encourage more participation.

Secondary data will be easily obtainable as I plan to use only the officially published data.
This can be obtained from the company websites and the academic website mintel. I also
plan to use libraries -I am member of the British library- for general literature review.
Internet, especially, academic websites like athens and emerald will be used for in-depth

Resource Implications
Extensive access to the academic literature is essential to the successful completion of the
project. I plan to use the British library and the Middlesex University Library (very near to my
home, will be granted access as I am LJMU student). Online recourses like athens, emerald
and mintel will also be used to collect secondary data. I should also maintain good work
ethic, show good research and communication skills. Time management will also be

Gantt Chart

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Research Budget
As with any dissertation project, the main constraint to my research is the funding. Even
though data collection through questionnaires and forums are cost effective, the focus
groups and interviews will be costly. I am allocating £200 for questionnaires and forums and
£450 for focus groups and interviews. £200 is allocated for travelling. Stationary will cost me
about £150. Secondary data will not cost anything as I already have membership in British
library and online resources can be accessed through LJMU authentication. Altogether, the
research will cost me £1000 with 10% tolerance. This is a rough calculation and is subject to
change; with the consent of my research guide.

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