The internet is one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th and 21st century. Since its invention and introduction into the public domain, it has found application in numerous spheres of people’s lives of which the most important influences have been on the communication, sharing, and acquiring knowledge.
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In the consumer market, the internet has become an integral part of the sector where consumers and businesses cannot live without it (Karakaya & Ganim 2010). For the businesses, the internet is a major platform for advertising and reaching millions of potential customers who access the internet to find information relating to specific products and services before making the final purchase decision.
On the other hand, consumers use the internet to find and access information and recommendations that relate to products or services they need before settling on the final purchase decision. Information that relates to products comes from different areas of the internet. One of them appears in the form of recommendations from other internet users.
Product reviews and blogs are other methods that customers use to gain knowledge concerning a product. Hence, the influence of online recommendations on consumer decision-making has attracted much attention from businesses (Lu, Chang & Chang 2014). Sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Google Plus, and MySpace among others have provided clients with excellent decision-making capabilities when it comes to purchasing a commodity.
Since they attract millions of users each day, they are increasingly featuring comments and recommendations that relate to brands and products (Hsu, Chuan-Chuan & Chiang 2013). The influence of bloggers on their followers is very enormous. Businesses are keen on taking advantage of this followership. Brands managers understand the importance of online advertisement in terms of moving their products to potential consumers.
Thus, they are keen on hiring bloggers to do their product and service reviews to attract new consumers through the influential bloggers. The availability of the internet through mobile phones and other portable devices that have internet connectivity capabilities has made it possible for internet users to access and read blogs and/or view videos among other activities (Chen 2008).
Due to social influences on people’s decision-making processes, the popularity of the internet has become an essential part through which consumers are influenced to make purchasing decisions on various products. Indeed, many recent studies on consumer decision-making processes show that more than 90% of people who read online reviews end up being influenced to buy the products, which have positive reviews, as opposed to the products that have negative reviews.
Indeed, this trend has not escaped the attention of many consumer products and service providers who are currently spending billions towards online advertisement (Yayli & Bayram 2012). The funds are channelled to bloggers to make positive product reviews. Despite the growing influence of online product reviews and the internet on consumer decision-making, few studies have been undertaken to understand the growing phenomenon.
This dissertation seeks to delve into this issue by exploring the influences of bloggers on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Further, the dissertation will explore how bloggers influence the buying patterns of consumers. The study will use survey and interviews to collect important data for analysis in making important conclusions on the topic of discussion.
The survey will focus on consumers of all ages in relation to their buying patterns and the influence of the internet on their buying patterns. To address the topic effectively, the dissertation will have three hypotheses to cover the required tenets of study comprehensively.
Interviews will be an important part of obtaining data. Such interviews will be targeted to bloggers who will be questioned concerning the way they influence their followers and the main factors that make their followers believe in them.
Background to Internet and Blogging
The internet is viewed as one of the most formidable developments in the history of commerce. It has greatly revolutionised the way organisations do their businesses, and most importantly, marketing. The emergence of social media platforms, which allow users to generate and consume content at the same time, has become a revolutionary aspect of the internet.
Such transformation has affected how marketers relate with their retailers, channels of distribution, and consumers (Zhu & Zhang 2010). Most importantly, the development of digital media has boosted the connectivity and communication of a diverse pool of consumers via the internet.
Consumers can now share their feelings and opinions about services, products, and organisations through a process that is referred to as the electronic word of mouth (eWOM) (Goldsmith & Clark 2008). Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) define the sharing of consumer opinions as ‘any positive or negative statement made by potential, actual, or former customers about a product or a company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions via the internet’.
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As opposed to the traditional word of mouth, which reached only a few people, eWOM can reach millions of people via blogs, social networking sites, online communities, review websites, and online discussion boards, which have had a major impact on a company’s brand and products. According to Trammell and Keshelashvili (2005, p. 970), blogs and weblogs are ‘web pages with frequently updated posts that are arranged in the newest materials or posts that appear at the top of the page…to provide mechanisms for personal publishing, encouraging the expression of thoughts, feelings, and commentary’.
In other words, blogs are forms of user-generated contents. They provide content that is prepared by individuals, as opposed to an organisation-published content (Cheong & Morrison 2008; Bubphapant & Thammasaro 2012).
Despite the popularity of web blogs and blogs, there exists a limited literature relating to their application and their influence on consumer decision-making. Blogs are increasingly becoming important tools of communication in all industries.
In this case, bloggers are applying the command of the eWOM to share their views on brands and companies with their followers or readers. Bloggers’ contents can reach tens of thousands or millions of customers. Such blogging power gives consumers the ability to build or break a brand very easily (Owen & Humphery 2009). According to Gruen, Osmonbekov, and Czaplewski (2006), unlike a marketer’s communication tactics, the eWOM is perceived to have a little bias.
This perception gives it even more consumer power and consequently a higher potential of influence on brands and organisations. Kent (2008) presents several advantages that are associated with blogging. For instance, blogging has the power to link individuals who have analogous opinions through social media platforms.
Further, the groups are now able to access information that was once only available to experts (Duan, Gu, & Whinston 2008; Gretzel & Yoo 2008). The second strength of blogs lies in their ability to allow the interaction between readers and bloggers, as well as with other blog readers (Yayli & Bayram 2012).
Besides, blogs have the ability “reach the choir”, a phrase, which Kent (2008) uses to indicate the fact that since customers have to search blogs, it is likely that they have analogous needs or opinions on various issues, including products and organisations. This strength of blogs is a key reason why organisations must pay attention to updates if they want to have influence on the opinion that relates to their brands and organisations (Hsu, Chuan-Chuan, & Chiang 2013; Bubphapant & Thammasaro 2012).
Previous studies have pointed out that indeed readers of user-generated contents often regard such materials as credible to the extent that they (materials) can influence their buying decisions and opinions (Banning & Sweetser 2007; Huang et al. 2008). Further, a study by Cheong and Morrison (2008) found that bloggers were often perceived as opinion leaders. The information that they posted relating to various issues was often considered in the decision-making process.
Bloggers as Opinion Leaders
In the marketplace, opinion leaders are very important since they influence consumers through their word of mouth (Stokberger-Sauer & Hoyer, 2009). In consumer decision-making, opinion leaders have the ability to influence attitude formation and future purchase decisions (Karakaya & Ganim 2010).
According to Bubphapant and Thammasaro (2012), opinion leaders tend to be knowledgeable in a product category, rather than a specific product. For instance, in book sales and publishing, opinion leaders can have experience and knowledge relating to motivational books (Dhar & Chang 2009). In such a case, opinion leaders show more ability to discover and/or upgrade items based on their kind of concern.
Consequently, they have a higher involvement in such a product. This expertise gives them the ability to demonstrate authority in the specific category (Chen 2008; Vermeulen & Seegers 2009). Previous sources have not addressed in details the issue of blogging, especially how blogging is linked to marketing. Hence, this section has been overlooked (Chu & Kamal 2008).
The influence of bloggers on the product adoption process has received little interest and research and hence the need to critically research the issue (Cheung, Lee & Rabjohn 2008). As opinion leaders, bloggers play an important role in social networks. Besides spreading information and making new ideas gain momentum, they influence decisions that relate to various issues, especially product adoption in the business area.
Credibility and Influence of Third Party Opinion Sites and Blogs on Purchase Decisions
In a survey by Dimensional Research, an overwhelming 90% of respondents who read online reviews confirm that positive online reviews influence their purchase decisions (Cheung, Lee, & Rabjohn 2008). Indeed, according to Lu, Chang, and Chang (2014), the platforms where consumers encounter eWOM provide an area of concern for marketers since such information has a very high influence on consumers.
According to Hernandez-Ortega, Jiménez-Martínez, and José Martín-DeHoyos (2008), when information is about specific products, eWOM becomes highly effective and influential when it is found on third-party sites. Peer-to-peer influence is a major aspect and influence on decision-making and hence the reason why blogs feature prominently in this area (Moe & Trusov 2010; Karakaya & Ganim 2010).
Through blogs, bloggers manage to influence their followers since they are perceived to be more credible and reflective of the consumers’ opinion on the product. Another research by Senecal and Nantel (2004) on buyers’ reliance on social media-based proposals reveals that customers who get encouraging suggestions on a given commodity depict higher chances of paying for the proposed item compared to other people.
While investigating the reason why bloggers have such influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions, Goldsmith and Horowitz (2006) identify eight different motivations for seeking an online opinion from bloggers before purchase. These motivations include, minimising any threats, peer authority (since others do it), securing lower prices, access to straightforward information, unintentional/impromptu actions (because a commodity is visually appealing), prompt by offline participation, and getting pre-purchase information.
Concisely, the influence of bloggers on consumers’ purchase decision has received a considerable amount of research, which has revealed important findings that suggest that indeed bloggers and user-generated content sites are important segments of the consumer market.
They influence consumers’ decision-making processes concerning the purchase of a given product or service. However, gaps are still evident. Such loopholes need to be addressed so that bloggers’ influence can be felt when it comes to the purchase of different products such as book purchasing.
This study investigates the influence of bloggers on customer intentions to purchase books. The study focuses on a new field where there is little secondary information that addresses this specific area of the influence that blogging has on clients’ buying decisions. To address the topic effectively, the research will be based on the following three hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Bloggers positively affect consumers’ intention to purchase the products/services
Hypothesis 2: Consumers find bloggers more trustworthy than the official advertisement from the manufacturers/brand
Hypothesis 3: Men customers will be less easy to be influenced by the bloggers relative to women customers
The research will rely on a sample population of 200 bloggers. The collection of data is a very critical part of a primary research. Data collection will be a major part of the research in this study. The research will rely on both primary and secondary data sources in the quest of proving or disapproving the hypotheses that the research is based on.
In this case, the study will heavily rely on surveys and interviews. The survey will focus on getting information from online users. The goal will be to determine whether online product reviews by bloggers influence their decision-making when it comes to purchasing the products online.
Hence, the survey will focus on getting information from bloggers and their followers of all age groups in the quest for identifying the key factors that make bloggers influence consumers’ decision-making process. In addition, this data gathering strategy will be an important process of getting first-hand information from consumers on the key motivations that drive them to seek an opinion from bloggers concerning their intentions to purchase a product.
The survey will include elaborate questions that will be provided to bloggers and consumers. The questionnaire will comprise both open and closed-ended questions, which will be guided by the hypotheses to which the research seeks to respond.
As data collection methods, surveys form a very important part of any research. They offer an important advantage in research in terms of cost, reach, and flexibility. The use of both online and paper survey is cost effective and hence an added advantage to researchers (Neuman 2005).
Further, since they can be used to reach hundreds of people in a short duration, they allow the involvement of a larger population sample, thus leading to more accuracy of research and generalisation of the findings as compared to other methods of data collection. The flexibility of survey reveals why they can be applied in different scenarios such as online assessment, emails, paper analysis, social media exploration, and telephone surveys among others (Joy 2007).
In this case, a research can choose between the above options and still come up with credible data that can be used for the purpose of the given research. Lastly, surveys are dependable since they provide anonymity, which allows respondents to give candid, sincere, and valid answers to the questions they are required to respond to on the survey (Cooper & Schindler 2003).
Honesty is a major aspect that credible research needs. Hence, by providing anonymity, respondents can give more honest and personal opinions concerning various issues. For this research, such opinions relate to how bloggers influence customers’ purchasing decisions.
The second data collection method will be through interview schedules, which will be undertaken on bloggers to identify the key motivation behind their (bloggers) quest for their activities in online platforms. Such interview schedules will constitute various questions that will be geared towards revealing important aspects that relate to the research questions and the hypotheses that form the basis of the research.
Interviews can be done be face-to-face or through the internet via applications such as Skype, telephone, or focus group discussions (Joy 2007). Regardless of the method, interviews are important parts of a research for various reasons. Firstly, dialogues allow a one-on-one communication between the interviewer and the respondent.
In this case, an interviewer has the chance to record more than just the content of the interview, but both non-verbal and verbal communication cues, which can greatly influence the bearing and outcomes of the interview. Interviews also pave a way for flexibility in terms of the direction that the discussion takes, hence allowing room for to address more details, which may have been overlooked on the structured interview schedule.
Data analysis allows the processing of raw data into information and key trends that can allow the answering of the study questions. This research will apply the SPSS technique to analyse the data that will be obtained from the surveys and interviews with consumers and bloggers. Graphs, percentages, charts, correlations, and tables among other data presentation methods will be highly used.
Each of the data presentation approaches will have its advantages in terms of the kind of information that will be presented therein. For instance, graphs and charts will be important in making comparisons and/or presenting relationships that can be identified when analysing data to draw important conclusions (Cooper & Schindler 2003). They will allow easy visualisation of complex data and information such as numbers and trends among others.
They are an important way of presenting and conveying large amounts of data in an easily understandable manner (Neuman 2005). The data presentation will also be accompanied by an in depth explanation of the trends and other findings that will be important in making important conclusions that relate to the hypotheses of the research. Concisely, the data analysis segment will be an important part of the research since it will allow the conversion of the data that will be collected from interviews and surveys.
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