A multi-method study of consumer behavior : towards a better understanding of the consumer's persperctive on online grocery shopping

Güsken, Sarah Ranjana; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Jeschke, Sabina (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2020, 2021)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2020


In 2020, the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 changed the world. While the crisis has had negative impacts on many companies, it has had positive effects on others. Companies whose business models enable physical distancing are among the beneficiaries of the crisis. One of these models is online grocery shopping. However, the crisis has required companies to develop new strategies for the shift in customer behavior as quickly as possible, and to adapt their business model so that it can carry them through the crisis. Changes in customer behavior and shifts in corporate strategy are of great interest to researchers, especially when they are driven by crises and happen rapidly. The analysis of such changes helps to develop an understanding of the mechanisms of customer behavior changes and the corresponding strategy and business model shifts. While this understanding does not help to anticipate such crises, it contributes to understanding possible customer behavioral patterns and strategy changes in business models and subsequently enables companies and researchers to apply them to other crises.Not only because of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic but also because of digitalization, the online grocery market is a swiftly-changing, emerging market with high growth potential. With a turnover of 209.8 billion euros, the grocery retailing sector is the largest sales channel for the food industry in Germany. However, the proportion of groceries purchased online is still low. Only 1.4% of the revenue in the grocery industry is generated via online sales. This is especially remarkable as e-commerce is well established in many other industries such as fashion, entertainment, and banking. Moreover, new and innovative ways of connecting people to groceries will be needed as societies undergo demographic shifts. Younger people tend to want to make purchases over the internet and have the offline purchase more as an experience than a necessity, while older people need to secure their grocery supply; even if they enjoy shopping for groceries offline, they still may want barrier-free services that deliver groceries for those times that they may not be able to transport them by themselves. Because of its social and economic relevance, the online grocery industry is a highly interesting field of research. Many researchers have worked in this area in recent years. Much of this research was undertaken using online customer and retailer data in specific countries such as the US or UK. Research on Germany-specific developments is, however, rare. The objective of this dissertation is to expand and enhance existing research on the online grocery industry. I strive to gain a holistic understanding of German consumers’ behavioral intentions and subsequently to derive information that can support the development and re-design of online grocery business models. I employ an interdisciplinary mixed-methods approach combining quantitative and qualitative research data. The diverse research methods and settings address various related research questions that are approached in three articles. In the first paper, I develop a research framework that comprises the key drives of German consumers’ behavioral intention to use online grocery shopping. I use Technology Acceptance Model 3 predictors and combine them with external variables that have been explored in recent online grocery shopping literature. I add factors that I extract from three qualitative customer workshops. I subsequently evaluate the framework with data from 213 online survey participants. For the analysis of the data, I deploy a structural equation modeling approach: more precisely, the partial least square methodology. The framework describes 41% of the behavioral intention to use online grocery shopping for consumers with online grocery shopping experience and 43.4% for consumers without online grocery shopping experience. These values imply additional factors extending beyond the developed framework. From this result, I derive the need for further investigation of online grocery shopping adoption behavior. The second paper addresses this need by exploring customer experiences through two ethnographic studies using research diaries. By analyzing the data inductively and deductively, I find that consumers’ reluctance to embrace online grocery business models is caused by several factors, most importantly the insufficient usability of the technical applications as well as limited product assortments and delivery coverage throughout Germany. I find that even if users are able to handle the online interfaces, the existing limitations make it difficult for consumers to integrate online grocery shopping into their daily lives. I further point out that current online grocery business models leave no room for spontaneity, for playfulness, for serendipity, for the delight of making happy, unplanned discoveries. The coronavirus crisis appeared during my studies, and I find that this situation has been both a positive and negative amplifier for the adoption of online grocery shopping.In the third paper, I change perspective and investigate the structures of 40 current operating online grocery business models. I extract 60 online grocery business model patterns concerning regular business activity and 19 crisis-driven patterns that account for the shift in business models caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. To structure the extracted patterns, I develop a taxonomy of online grocery business model patterns and transfer it into a morphological box scheme. To help others to put this information into practice, I subsequently propose a proceeding in seven steps. Finally, to connect the results of the third paper with the results of the first and second paper, I compare unfulfilled customer needs to the extracted business model patterns and highlight the business model dimensions that are in high demand for adjustments to reach business model success.In conclusion, my dissertation complements to the literature on online grocery shopping behavior and online grocery business models, while it simultaneously contributes to the understanding of consumer behavioral intentions, technology acceptance, and the lack of business model success in Germany. By looking at the customer ecosystem as well as the individual customer level, I confirm the importance of customer-centered business models. Simultaneously, I highlight the need for further research in this regard. Through analyzing customer behavior during the German lockdown and the corresponding shift of online grocery shopping business models, I furthermore contribute to the research on COVID-19-driven behavioral mechanisms.


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