situated in the “maintain strategy” zone, but they are slightly below the diagonal. This implies that there are still opportunities for an average improvement of Swiss Web sites in the grocery sector.
Looking at the details of the study, the results show that the more important phases are better realized than the less important ones in all shops. This is an indication that Swiss online mer- chants have a pretty good idea of what is important for their clientele. The position in regard to the diagonal varies highly among the different shops. The further away from the diagonal the values are, the greater the disproportion between the target value (importance rating) and the conceived situation (assessment rating). This is most noticeable for Spar, where almost all elements are in the lower right quadrant.
In summary, based on the results of the Web evaluation of the Swiss sites, the study reveals that the majority of the Web sites do meet user expectations up to a certain point. The best- practice company does not stand out as far as in the Australian sample.
COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
Using the EWAM tool, this study indicates that online grocers in Australia and Switzerland have not fully met the expectations of consumers. The study further shows that the performance of Swiss online grocers in various transaction phases has been more consistent across the sample sites compared to the Australian case. In Australia, the best-practice site was rated much higher than other sites in almost all transaction phases.
Although Australia and Switzerland differ in many respects, the results of the study demon- strate that consumers’ expectations in online grocery shopping are consistent in both regions. The study shows the importance of having a pleasant, easy-to-use user interface with no information overload on the pages. Furthermore, the availability of the images of products was found to be important in the information phase. Both studies also indicate the importance of having a good position in search engines, particularly for pure online players.
However, the studies indicate that in general, online grocers in Australia and Switzerland have not met the expectations of consumers. All the Web sites assessed, except Colesonline, were rated
below 0.5 by the assessors. The structure of the contents, the quantity and quality of information of most Web sites in the studies are still far below consumers’ expectations. In particular, most Web sites are unable to pass price benefits on to consumers.
The analysis of the importance ratings also indicates that the importance varies among the different phases and components of the transaction process. Other studies showed that these rat- ings also vary between different industries (Schubert and Dettling 2001). In order to improve the design of a Web site, it could be useful to analyze the importance rating in the relevant sector and concentrate design activities on the most important phases or on specific criteria.
For the agreement phase, the studies demonstrate the importance of having a transparent or- dering procedure and a clear status of the purchase process at any time. The majority of Web sites assessed have a reasonable performance in this phase.
For the settlement phase, the choice of preferred payment method is crucial. Credit card, cus- tomer account, cash or check upon delivery should be accepted. The ability to track and trace orders is considered a ‘nice-to-have’ feature but may not be necessary, as demonstrated by the Swiss study. However, precise selection of the delivery date and time is important in both cases. The importance of the settlement phase was rated higher in Australia than in Switzerland. Since Australia is a big continent and everything is spread over a relatively larger geographic location than in Switzerland, it would be more important for consumers in Australia to be able to track their orders as well as to be informed about the exact delivery time, so that they can plan their activities accordingly. It would be more troublesome for Australian than for Swiss customers to return products, for example, because of the geographical factor.
For the after-sales phase, both studies show the importance of having an online Customer Care Center (as in the case of Colesonline) with a contact number as well as the details of the hours of operation. Most of the Web sites assessed have a reasonable performance in this phase.
For the final section, this study shows that trustworthiness of the sites plays a crucial role. Colesonline, which is operated by one of the largest retail chains in Australia, and Coop and Migros, which have a high name recognition because they are established Swiss vendors, re- ceived high rating in general. The study further shows that customers appreciate the integration of brick-and-mortar payback programs (“SuperCard” and “Cumulus” demonstrated in the Switzer- land study) into the online shop. Last but not least, the ability for consumers to recall their per- sonal shopping list for consecutive sessions was found to be an attractive and useful feature.
Most online grocers evaluated in this study still need to better understand and be aware of all of the above expectations of consumers in order to improve their Web sites in the various phases of the buying process.
Below are several lessons learned from assessing the various aspects of transactional support of Australian and Swiss shopping environments. They are discussed based on the framework pro- posed by Allen and Fjermestad (2001).
Product is concerned with the content of a market space—that is, what is being sold (Allen and Fjermestad 2001). In the context of online shopping, products are now replaced with information about products. Internet technology has lowered the cost of collecting and disseminating product information to a larger customer base. Likewise, customers’ searching costs have been signifi-
cantly decreased. Customers can now perform product evaluation and price comparison across many online sellers quickly and easily before deciding to purchase (Rayport and Sviokla 1994). However, some grocery products, particularly highly perishable ones such as fruit and veg- etables, are considered as sensory products. These products have some attributes that can be discovered only through our senses such as touch, taste, and smell (Cho et al., 2003). Such prod- ucts require sophisticated information to assist buyers to make a sound decision. Therefore Web interface and design is a paramount in the online grocery shopping. Image-based systems and highly interactive communication tools may be necessary as part of decision support systems to achieve customer satisfaction and to manage customer relationships (Cho et al. 2003; Romano and Fjermestad 2003). Through an online system that enables a dialog between customers and
online grocers, uncertainty about products can be reduced and customer satisfaction increased.
None of the online grocers in this study have offered any interactive tools to enhance customer relationship and maintain customer loyalty. Such tools may increase the convenience experi- enced by customers while shopping online and, therefore, the possibility that they will return to the same site for the next purchase (Rayport and Sviokla 1994). Thus, online grocers should consider implementing interactive tools in order to improve customer satisfaction.