ISSN : (Online)
DOI : https://doi.org/10.14377/JAPR.2012.9.30.41
Building Relationships with Consumers : U.S. and South Korea
Online shopping allows consumers to purchase products quickly and conveniently. Not only have online-based brands such as Amazon.com and Ebay.com become popular, but many brick and mortar retailers have also expanded into the online environment. Seminerio (2000) explained that online-based brands often suffer from a lack of brand awareness and con-sumer trust. However, several recent studies suggest that online-based brands have been able to build more positive relationships with Web users than brick-and-mortar brands (Alwi, Faridah, Silva, & Vinhas, 2007; Yoon, Choi, & Sohn, 2008; Zhang & Wedel, 2009). Brand relationships help customers to the reduce uncertainty or discomfort associated with on-line purchasing (Yoon etal.,2008). However, few studies have investigated the cross-cultural differences on the way customers build brand relation-ships online.
The current study focuses on finding cross-cultural differences asso-ciated with relationship building in online shopping. The Internet gives retailers global access to foreign markets without geographical constraints, and often, with fewer local regulatory barriers (Bennett, 1997). Consequently, cross-cultural marketing has become an important part of doing business online (Hamill, 1997). Using the concepts of power dis-tance (Hofstede, 1980) and cultural context (Hall, 1976), the current study investigates the cultural differences in perceived interactivity—an im-portant element of e-commerce—and relationship building between South Korea and the U.S.
Why South Korea and the U.S.?
The two countries used in this study were chosen because they have similar levels of technological development, but different cultural backgrounds. Internet usage is high in both the U.S. and South Korea. In 2010, the estimated number of Internet users in Korea was over 39.4 million with a 77.8% penetration rate (Korea Internet Security Agency; http://isis.kisa.or.kr, 2010). The number of Internet users in the U.S. was over 239 million with 77.3% penetration (Pew Internet & American Life Project; http://www.pewinternet.org, 2010). Online shopping is popular in both countries, as well (e.g. 64.3% of the Internet users in Korea and 78% in the U.S use online shopping, according to the 2010 statistics). At the same time, South Korea and the U.S. have different cultural backgrounds. South Korea has a collectivistic culture based on Confucianism, whereas American culture is based on individualism. According to Hofstede’ Individualism Index Ranking (1991), ), the U.S. ranks first with 91 points, while South Korea ranks 43rdwith18points.The cultural differences between these two countries have been proven by many cross-cultural studies(Ahn, Kwon, & Sung, 2010; Cho & Cheon, 2005; Choi, Hwang, & McMillan, 2008; Ji, Hwangbo, Yi, Rau, Fang, & Ling, 2010; Shin & Huh, 2009).
By investigating cultural differences on relationship building between online retailers and e-customers in South Korea and the U.S., this study addresses an important question in online cross-cultural communication: Is the Internet a culture-bound or a culture-free medium? This study con-tributes theoretically to a better understanding of cross-cultural communi-cation and relationship management. In addition, the current study makes a practical contribution by highlighting the importance of culturally con-gruent marketing appeals.
Theoretical Background and Concept Explications
Cross-Cultural Communication: High and Low-Context Cultures
Defining the concept of context as the information that surrounds an event, Hall (1976) suggested two types of cultures—high and low-context cultures—in order to understand and explain cultural differences in communication.
According to Hall (1976), in high-context cultures (i.e. Eastern cul-tures), internal meaning is often embedded deep in the information, not explicitly stated in written or spoken language. Listeners are expected to read "between the lines" and to understand the unsaid, with their back-ground knowledge. Hall (1976) emphasized that "a high-context commu-nication or message is one in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, or transmitted part of the message"(p. 91). Therefore, com-munication is indirect, ambiguous, harmonious, reserved, and understated (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988), and greater confidence is placed in the nonverbal aspects of communication than the verbal aspects (Hall, 1976). On the other hand, in low-context cultures (i.e. Western cultures), meanings are explicitly stated through language. Explanations are ex-pected when something remains unclear after communication. As Hall (1976) explained, most information is expected to be in the transmitted message in order to make up for what is missing in the context, both internal and external. In contrast with high-context cultures, communication in low-context cultures is direct, linear, precise, and open. Thus, Western communication tends to be based on true intentions (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988).
Cross-Cultural Communication: Power Distance (Hofstede, 1980)
Many cross-cultural studies incorporate Hofstede’s (1980) four cul-tural dimensions: individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and power distance. The current study uses the di-mension of power distance to explain possible cultural differences in rela-tionship management. Hofstede (1991) defined power distance as "the ex-tent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally" (p. 28). In other words, power distance reflects human inequality generated from power, prestige, wealth, and law (Hofstede, 1980).
Hofstede (1980) compared the consumption context of consumers in India and Canada. He found that Indian consumers depended on the central-ization and formalization of authority and displayed a tolerance for the lack of autonomy. Therefore, in India a substantial asymmetric power balance existed between weak consumers and relatively powerful suppliers. On the other hand, Canadian consumers valued individualism, resisted hierar-chic status, and expected consultative and participative decision-making. Thus, attitudes of mutual power sharing existed between consumers and suppliers in Canada. Research by Frazier, Gill, and Kale (1989) supports Hofstede’s findings. Frazier et al. (1989) found that marketing contexts in Eastern culture, where suppliers are more powerful than consumers, re-flect greater channel power asymmetry than those in Western culture.
The current study attempts to explain cultural differences in perceived interactivity and relationship building between South Korea and the U. S. with both high/low context communication and power distance theories.
Perceived Interactivity and Cultural Differences
The Internet has shifted the customer relationship paradigm from inter-mittent to up-to-date, from irregular to constant, from gradual to synchro-nous, and from unspecified to customized. Interactivity is a key property of the Internet's that has facilitated this innovation. Through two-way, con-sumer-driven communication channels, the Web encourages consumers to build relationships with companies (Yoon et al., 2008) bymaking it easy to search for and acquire information about products and compa-nies(Bezjian-Avery, Calder, & Iacobucci, 1998). Previous studies have recognized the role of interactivity in building relationships with custom-ers on the Web (Feinberg & Kadam, 2002; Fiore, Jin, & Kim, 2005; Heldal, Sjovold, & Heldal, 2004; Jo & Kim, 2003; Thorbjornsen, Supphellen, Nysveen, & Pedersen, 2002). Based on these findings, the current study considers interactivity on the Web as an important factor that may affect customer relationship building in the online retail environment.
The effects of interactivity can be evaluated by studying users' percep-tions of a Web site’s interactivity (McMillan & Hwang, 2002; McMillan, Hwang, & Lee, 2003; Wu, 1999).As Duncan and Moriarty (1998) empha-sized, focusing on consumers’ subjective perception is crucial in market-ing communication because the perceptual process is inseparably linked to attitude and actual behavior. Indeed, empirical studies have found re-peatedly that varying degrees of perceived interactivity are related to con-sumers’ evaluative responses toward online marketing communication (e.g. McMillan, Hwang, & Lee, 2003; Wu, 1999).
This study adopts McMillan and Hwang’s (2002) Measures of Perceived Interactivity (MPI). MPI proposes three dimensions constitut-ing perceived interactivity. The first dimension is "real-time con-versation," which includes the two-way nature of online communication. The second dimension, "no-delay," is related to loading time and speed of the interactivity. The last dimension is "engaging"which focuses on the concept of user control.
Different cultural contexts may explain the differences in the way Korean and U.S. customers perceive interactivity. First,in the perceived engagement (i.e., perceived control) dimension, which refers to voluntary choice of information at an individual’s will and intention (Gao, Rau, & Salvendy, 2009 Liu & Shrum, 2002), U.S. customers are likely to perceive more control than Korean customers because control is a typical character-istic of those who communicate in low-context cultures (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988). Second, U.S. customers are likely to engage in more active real-time conversation (i.e., two-way communication) than Korean customers. Because people in the low-context cultures tend to derive mean-ing from message content more than context, (Hall, 1976), their in-formation-seeking behavior is more dependent on feedback, or two-way communication (Day, 1998 Ha & James, 1998; Newhagen, Cordes, & Levy, 1996). Lastly, U.S. customers are likely to have higher levels of per-ceived no-delay (i.e., perceived synchronicity) than Korean customers. Low-context communicators pay less attention to meanings embedded deep in the information (Hall, 1976). Because low-context communicators seek simultaneous acquisition of information from the explicit content of messages, they may have stronger perceptions of synchronicity (Liu & Shrum, 2002). Therefore, the following hypotheses can be postulated:
H1a.U.S. customers have a higher level of perceived real-time con-versation than do Korean customers.
H1b. U.S. customers have a higher level of perceived no-delay than do Korean customers.
H1c.U.S. customers have a higher level of perceived engagement than do Korean customers.
Relationship marketing refers to "all marketing activities directed to-ward establishing, developing, and maintaining successful relational ex-changes" (Morgan & Hunt, 1994, p. 22). Although relationship marketing exists in the traditional retail environment, this concept may be especially important to the success of online retailers who do not have face-to-face or voice-to-voice interpersonal communication with their customers (Patsioura, Malama, & Vlachopoulou, 2011). To define relationship build-ing, this study employs on two main constructs from De Wulf, Odekerken-Schröder, and Iacobucci’s (2001) model of customer relation-ship management (CRM) in the traditional retail environment: perceived relationship investment and relationship quality.
Perceived Relationship Investment
Perceived relationship investment means that when customers per-ceive that a company is working to builda favorable relationship with them, the customers ought to be positively impressed (Hart & Johnson, 1999). Customers feel a psychological bond with companies that spend time and effort on building relationships with them. This bond makes customers more likely to stay in that relationship and to expect reciprocation (Smith & Barclay, 1997). Other studies on relationship marketing have suggested a connection between a company’s relationship investment and customers’ general perceptions of the company (Baker, Simpson, & Siguaw, 1999; Bennett, 1996; Ganesan, 1994).
De Wulf et al. (2001) defined perceived relationship investment as "a consumer’s perception of the extent to which a retailer devotes resources, efforts, and attention aimed at maintaining or enhancing relationships with regular customers that do not have outside value and cannot be recovered if these relationships are terminated" (p. 35). They found that perceived relationship investment has a mediating role between relationship market-ing tactics and relationship quality.
Relationship quality is regarded as an overall assessment of the strength of a relationship (Garbarino & Johnson, 1999; Smith, 1998 Yoon et al., 2008). Despite some controversy, relationship quality has been generally conceptualized as a three-dimensional construct consisting of relationship satisfaction, trust, and relationship commitment (De Wulf et al., 2001; Dorsch, Swanson, & Kelley, 1998; Hennig-Thurau & Klee, 1997; Leuthesser, 1997). In other words, greater satisfaction, trust, and commit-ment lead to better-quality relationships.
Relationship satisfaction. De Wulf et al. (2001) defined this construct as "a consumer’s affective state resulting from an overall appraisal of her or his relationship with a retailer"(p. 36). As an important outcome of con-sumer-company relationships (Smith & Barclay, 1997), relationship sat-isfaction refers not to specific satisfaction toward each transaction, but to a cumulative effect over the progress of the relationship (Anderson, Fornell, & Rust, 1997).
Trust. Defined as "a consumer’s confidence in a retailer’s reliability and integrity" (De Wulf et al., 2001, p. 36), trust is an indication of successful relationship marketing (Garbarino & Johnson, 1999; Gruen, Summers, & Acito, 2000; Hunt & Morgan, 1995 Song, Hur, & Kim, 2012). The develop-ment of trust is regarded as a crucial result of investing in dyadic buyer-sell-er relationships (Gundlach, Achrol, & Mentzer, 1995).
Relationship commitment. This construct, the thirddimension of rela-tionship quality, is defined as "a consumer’s enduring desire to continue a relationship with a retailer accompanied by this consumer’s willingness to make efforts at maintaining it" (De Wulf et al., 2001, p. 37). Relationship commitment has been found to reflect consumers’ perceptions of relation-ship quality (Dorsch et al., 1998; Hennig-Thurau & Klee, 1997).
Among Hofstede’s (1980) four cultural dimensions, power distance ex-plains the differences in how Korean and the U.S. customers perceive rela-tionships with online retailers. U.S. customers are likely to feel more in-timate with retailers because the power distance between marketers and consumers in the U.S. is not so great. Therefore, U. S. consumers may be more aware of retailers’ online investment. This awareness may lead U.S. customers to feelmore satisfied with retailers, have more trust toward them, and develop a stronger commitment to maintain the relationship. Such an accumulation of psychological and physical ties with retailers would lead to behavioralloyalty. Thus, the following hypotheses can be postulated:
H2.U.S. customers have a higher level of perceived relationship invest-ment than do Korean customers.
H3.U.S. customers have a higher level of relationship quality – sat-isfaction, trust, and commitment - than do Korean customers.
In addition to the cultural differences in perceived interactivity and rela-tionship quality, the current study also investigates differences in how Koreans and Americans relate these concepts to one another. Several pre-vious studies have suggested structural modelsfor relationship building from marketing tactics (De Wulf et al., 2001) and perceived interactivity (Yoon et al., 2008). Based on these models, the current study examines the association between three perceived interactivity constructs and three rela-tionship quality constructs, within the context of cultural differences. Two research questions are proposed.
RQ1.Do antecedents (perceived real-time conversation, no-delay, and engagement) that are associated with perceived relationship investment vary across cultures
RQ2. Do antecedents (perceived real-time conversation, no-delay, en-gagement, and perceived relationship investment) that are associated with relationship quality (relationship satisfaction, trust, and relationship com-mitment) vary across cultures
A self-administered, online survey was conducted to test the proposed hypotheses and research questions. Online retailers are of particular inter-est in this study since they enjoy a unique opportunity to manage customer relationships. Not only can online retailers track consumer visits and pur-chase patterns, but they can also use that accumulated information to cus-tomize their offerings to individual consumers, thereby building long-term relationships with customers cost-effectively.
Data were collected online from undergraduates enrolled in several ad-vertising classes in a large southern universityin the U.S., and in a large university in South Korea in Spring 2009. College students were deemed appropriate for the study because they represent a significant segment of the online population with high levelsof education and Web skills (Yoon, Cropp, & Cameron, 2002). For the U.S. sample, two-hundred and twenty students took part in the survey for course credit. Of the surveys collected, 200 questionnaires from 45 males (22.5%) and 155 females (77.5%) were usable and included in the final sample for analysis. Respondents’ ages ranged from 17 to 36 years, with an average of 20 years. Over 70 percent of U.S. respondents were Caucasian. For the South Korean sample, two-hundred and five students participated in thesurvey for course credit. Of the surveys collected, 190 questionnaires from 75 males (39.5.7%) and 115 females (60.5%) were usable and included in the final sample for analysis. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 38years, with an average of 21 years. A t-test was conducted to examine the potential effects of fre-quency of visit on participants’ responses between two countries; and no significant difference was found (t = .082, df = 387, p = .935; MKorea = 4.94, SD = 1.58 ; MUS = 4.93, SD = 1.65).
Respondents who agreed to participate in the study were given the Web site address directing them to log onto the first page of the study site with general instructions. Participants were then asked to indicate the name or URL of one online retailer Web site they visit regularly for shopping. Respondents were also asked to identify the category of product offered by the site. Because of the study's focus on online retailers, respondents were given a specific definition and an example of an online retailer Web site with no physical stores, such as Amazon.com. Respondents were then instructed to fill out an online survey regarding their responses to the Web site they had listed.
Measures for most of the constructs were borrowed from the literatureand adapted to fit the online retail environment. The online survey consisted of three main sections. The first part of the questionnaire measured behavioral loyalty and purchase experience concerning the Web site respondents had indicated. The second section assessed how respondents perceived the Web site's features and activities, including perceived relationship investment, relationship qual-ity (trust, relationship commitment, and relationship satisfaction), and per-ceived interactivity (perceived real-time conversation, perceived no-delay, and perceived engagement). The third part of the survey measured respondents’ self-efficacy with the Web and demographic variables. All of the constructs except demographic characteristics were measured on a seven-point, Likert scale. The specific items and reliability coefficients for all of the constructs appear in Table 1.
[Table 1] Factor Loadings of all Variables used in U.S. and S. Korea
For data analysis, a t-test was used to examine the differences among variables between two countries, and hierarchical regressions were used to examine the association among variables in each country.
Hypotheses 1 to 3 predict cultural differences between Korean and U.S. respondents in perceptions ofinteractivity (H1s), relationship investment (H2), and relationship quality (H3s). A series of t-tests were conducted to test the hypotheses.
Differences in Perceived Interactivity between South Korea and the U. S.
The t-tests revealedsignificant differences between Korean and U.S. respondents in perceived real-time conversation (t = 7.957, df = 391, p < .001), perceived no-delay (t = 10.959, df = 391, p < .001), and perceived engagement (t = 15.063, df = 391, p < .001). As hypothesized, mean scores for the three perceived interactivity constructs were higher among U.S. respondents than among South Korean respondents: Perceived engage-ment (MKorea = 4.58, SD = .89 ; MUS = 5.88, SD = .81), Perceived no-delay (MKorea = 4.22, SD = 1.15 ; MUS = 5.50, SD = 1.14); Perceived real-time conversation (MKorea = 3.52, SD = 1.02 ; MUS= 4.38, SD = 1.09) as shown in Table 2. Thus, H1a, H1b, and H1cwere supported.
[Table 2] T-tests on Variables between Korea and U.S.
Differences in Perceived Relationship Investment between South Korea and the U. S.
In comparing perceived relationship investment, there was a significant difference (t = 4.089, df = 391, p < .001) between the U.S. (M = 4.76, SD = 1.21) and Korea (M = 4.25, SD = 1.21). As hypothesized, perceived rela-tionship investment was higher in the U.S. than in Korea, confirming H2.
Differences in the Perceived Relationship Quality between South Korea and the U. S.
The t-tests found significant differences in trust (t = 10.393, df = 391, p < .001), relationship commitment (t = 5.037, df = 391, p < .001), and rela-tionship satisfaction (t = 8.362, df = 391, p < .001) between the two countries. As hypothesized, means for allthree relationship quality con structs in the U. S. were higher than those in South Korea: Trust (MKorea = 4.23, SD = 1.22 ; MUS= 5.46, SD = 1.13); Satisfaction (MKorea = 4.13, SD = 1.11 ; MUS = 5.07, SD = 1.12); and Commitment (MKorea = 3.53, SD = 1.37 ; MUS= 4.21, SD = 1.31) as shown Table 2. , Thus, H3 was supported.
Association between Perceived Interactivity on Perceived Relationsh- ip Investment
Research question 1 considers differences between South Korea and the U.S. in the association between perceived interactivity and perceived relationship investment. As shown in Table 3, for Korean customers, per-ceived real-time conversation (β = .247, t = 3.623, p < .001) and perceived engagement (β = .334, t = 4.869, p < .001) were contributors to perceived relationship investment, explaining 18.2 percent of the variance (R² = .182). Similarly, for U.S. customers, perceived real-time conversation (β = .265, t = 3.886, p < .001) and perceived engagement (β = .314, t = 4.208, p < .001) were associated with perceived relationship investment, explain-ing18.3 percent of the variance (R² = .183). However, perceived no-delay did not have a significant effect on perceptions of relationship invest-mentfor South Korean or U.S. customers.
[Table 3] Regression on Relationship Investment between Korea and U.S.
Association between Perceived Interactivity on Perceived Quality
Research question 2 considers differences in the association between perceived interactivity and the three constructs of relationship quality. Hierarchical regressions were conducted to investigate the association of perceived interactivity (perceived real-time conversation, no-delay, en-gagement, and perceived relationship investment) with each construct of relationship quality (relationship satisfaction, trust, relationship commit-ment).
Perceived Interactivity and Relationship Satisfaction
As shown in Table 4, perceived real-time conversation (β = .235, t = 3.644, p < .001) and perceived engagement (β = .142, t = 2.133, p < .05) were significantly associated with relationship satisfactionamong Korean customers. Perceived relationship investment (β = .390, t = 5.834, p < .001) was also a significant predictor of relationship satisfaction. The two per-ceived interactivity constructs explained 19.8 percent of the variance in relationship satisfaction, while perceived relationship investment ex-plained 12.3 percent of variance. However, perceived no-delay did not have a significant effect on relationship satisfaction.
[Table 4] Hierarchical Regressions on Satisfaction between Korea and U.S.
Among U.S. customers, relationship satisfaction was significantly as-sociated with perceived no-delay (β = .249, t = 3.727, p < .001), and per-ceived engagement (β = .141, t = 2.066, p < .05) with 23.4 percent of the variance explained. Perceived relationship investment was also a sig-nificant predictor (β = .420, t = 6.726, p < .001), explaining 14.2 percent of variance. Unlike Korean customers, perceived no-delay predicted rela-tionship satisfaction among U.S. customers, but perceived real-time con-versation did not.
Perceived Interactivity and Trust
Of the three perceived interactivity constructs, only perceived engage-ment was significantly associated with trust among Korean customers (β = .156, t = 2.223, p < .05), explaining 15.5 percent of the variance in trust. Neither perceived real-time conversation nor perceived no-delay was sig-nificantly associated with trust in South Korea. Perceived relationship in-vestment (β = .320, t = 4.513, p < .001) was a significant predictor of trust, accounting for 8.2 percent of the variance.
In the U.S. customer group, trust was associated with perceived no-delay (β = .222, t = 3.429, p < .01), and perceived engagement (β = .244, t = 3.696, p < .001),with 28.3 percent of variance explained. Furthermore, perceived relationship investment was associated with trust (β = .402, t = 6.640, p < .001) and explained 13.0 percent of the variance. No significant effect of per-ceived real-time conversation was found on trust (See Table 5).
[Table 5] Hierarchical Regressions on Trust between Korea and U.S.
Perceived Interactivity and Relationship Commitment
As shown in Table 6, only perceived real-time conversation (β = .295, t = 4.082, p < .001) was significantly associated with Korean customers’ relationship commitment, explaining 14.4 percent of the variance. For U.S. customers, perceived no-delay (β= .171, t = 2.173, p < .05) and perceived engagement (β = .232, t = 2.880, p < .01) were significantly associated with-relationship commitment, with 12.8 percent of variance explained. Interestingly, perceived relationship investment was not significantly as-sociated with relationship commitment in either country.
[Table 6] Hierarchical Regressions on Commitment between Korea and U.S.
The objective of the current study was to investigate cross-cultural dif-ferences between South Korea and the United States in the way consumers perceive customer relationship management in the online retail context. Based on Hofstede’s (1980) power distance and Hall’s (1976) high and low-context communication theories, the current study examined the cul-tural differences in Web users’perception of interactivity, relationship in-vestment, and relationship quality, which were derived from previous liter-ature (De Wulf et al., 2001; Yoon et al., 2008).
By examining Korean and U.S. customers’perceived level of relation-ship investment, relationship quality, and interactivity with the online retail Websites, two key cultural differences were identified. First, U.S. custom-ers perceive higher levels of relationship investment and relationship qual-ity than do Korean customers, which supported the hypotheses postulated from the power distance perspective. In low power distance cultures, cus-tomers have more psychological intimacy with the online retail Web si-tesbecause they do not give authority to retailers. In other words, customers reject hierarchical relationships and do not recognize power distance. Therefore, U.S. online retail Web sites are likely to lessen the distance be-tween customers and marketers in an attempt to maintain and create more horizontal relationships. Due to such a bidirectional effort, U.S. customers might be more satisfied with retailers, have more trust toward them, and maintain the relationship more positively.
Secondly, the current study also found that U.S. customers perceive a higher level of interactivity than do Korean customers, confirming the hy-potheses drawn from the high- and low-context perspective. A few studies have attempted to explain cultural differences of perceived interactivity with cultural context theory. The current finding supports Cho and Cheon’s (2005) study, which found that the interactivity of Web sites has greater impact in the U.S. than in Korea. On the other hand, the current finding does not support another study by Choi et al. (2008), which showed that perceived interactivity affects the value of mobile advertising more in Korea than in the U.S. This difference may be explained by the fact that the two previous studies used different media. Cho and Cheon’s (2005) study investigated Web interactivity, while Choi et al. (2008)’s study fo-cused on mobile phone interactivity. Due to size and space constraints, in-formation seeking on mobile phones is more limited than information seek-ing on the Internet. Like Cho and Cheon’s (2005) study, the current study supports the assumption that low-context customers who concentrate more on explicit information from online retail Web sites would perceive a higher level of interactivity with these Web sites than high-context customersdo.
Two more interesting results were found in the association between per-ceived interactivity and relationship quality. For Korean customers, re-al-time conversation with the online retail Web site was a major contributor to relationship quality—specifically to relationship satisfaction and rela-tionship commitment. For U.S. customers, perceived no-delay was the most influential factor on all relationship quality constructs. These findings can be explained by the difference in information processing style between Korea and U.S. customers. Korean customers in a high-context culture tend to pursue other connoted contexts rather than visible information from ex-plicit content. Korean customers would only be motivated to feel sat-isfaction and maintain relationships with Web sites that offered rich enough communication to allow customers to learn what they needed to know. By contrast, U.S. customers in a low-context culture tend to draw more in-formation from explicit content. U.S. customerswould feel satisfaction and trust toward Web sites that providethe needed information as quickly as possible. These feelings of trust and satisfaction would make U.S. custom-ers more willing to maintain relationships with these Web sites.
Although similarities were found between cultures (e.g. perceived en-gagement and perceived relationship investment were primary ante-cedents that contributed to relationship satisfaction and trust in both cul-tures), the overall results of this study demonstrate the significant cultural differences between Korea and the U.S. with respect to relationship build-ing online. With the advent of the Internet, several scholars have suggested that this global medium with limitless access will break down cultural bar-riers (Bennett, 1997 Hamill, 1997). However, the findings of this study indicate that even the Internet is still bound to culture. Thus, this study im-plies that global online marketers should customize their interactive mar-keting efforts to fit different cultural contexts.
The current study examinedcross-cultural differences between the way Korea and U.S. consumers perceive customer relationship management by online retail Web sites. Traditional cultural differences were found to persist, even in the online environment. This study’s findings have value for practitioners as well as researchers. Specifically, these findings may help global online marketers strategically design their retail Web sites to enhance local consumers’ perceptions ofinteractivity and relationship quality. A greater number and wider variety of tools for interactivity may be needed to build long-term relationships between online retailers and consumers. Moreover, strategic flexibility may be required as cultural dif-ferences call for distinct marketing tactics. For researchers, these findings highlight the importance of considering concepts like online interactivity and relationship building in their broader cultural contexts. In the glo-balized digital age, new technologies will continue to emerge and the ways in which retail Web sites interact with consumers will become even more varied. Therefore, future studiesmust keep extending concepts such as in-teractivity, and analyzing the way these concepts work in different cultural contexts. Researchers may want to explore other possible dimensions of relationship quality—besides interactivity—in terms of cultural differences. Also, the present study might be replicated in cultures other than Korea and the U.S. Studying cultures with greater differences (e.g. a wider range between collectivism and individualism) could reinforce or qualified the present findings.
Despite its useful implications, this study does have certain limitations. Cultural differences may not be the only explanation for the different re-sponses of South Korean and U.S. consumers. There may be other factors that were not examined in this study. First, the different retail Web sites visited by different respondents may be a factor. The participants in the survey were asked to indicate the name or URL of one Web site they visited regularly for shopping. Participants were then instructed to fill out the sur-vey with that Web site in mind. Because responses were based on many different Web sites, the differences between consumers’ perceptions could be due to differences between specific retailers and Web sites (e.g. different interactive functions, different efforts made by retailers to build relation-ships with consumers, etc.) rather than cultural factors. An experiment based on a single Web site might produce more objective results.
Second, responses were based on different product categories, as well as different Web sites. Respondents were also asked to identify the category of product offered by the Web site they visited. Therefore, respondents’ levels of product involvement might be different and might contribute to different results between the two samples. A follow-up study could exam-ine whether or not the degree of interactivity consumers need, and the qual-ity of relationship consumers perceive, vary according to high or low in-volvement products.
Finally, this study has not investigated demographic factors such as in-dividual shopping inclinations. These individual differences have often presented challenges for cross-cultural studies.
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