UNDERSTANDING CONSUMERS' ONLINE INFORMATION RETRIEVAL AND SEARCH: IMPLICATIONS FOR FIRM STRATEGIES
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The growth of the Internet and other digitization technologies has enabled the unbundling of the physical and information components of the value chain and has led to an explosion of information made available to consumers. Understanding the implications of this new informational landscape for theory and practice is one of the key objectives of my research. My dissertation seeks to understand how firms can use their knowledge of online consumer search and information seeking behaviors to design optimal information provision strategies. The main premise is that consumers' online search behaviors are key to understanding consumers' underlying information needs and preferences. In my first essay I specifically focus on big-ticket, high-involvement goods for which firms essentially have sparse information on their potential buyers - making information reflected in consumers' online search very valuable to online retailers. I use a new and rich source of clickstream data obtained from a leading clicks-and-mortar retailer to model consumers' purchase outcomes as a function of the product and price information provided by the retailer, and find interesting differences for sessions belonging to customers classified as browsers, directed shoppers and deliberating researchers. Since consumers typically straddle online as well as traditional channels, the second essay in my dissertation examines how online information acquired by consumers affects their choices in offline used-good markets. Secondary markets characterized by information asymmetries have typically resorted to quality-signaling mechanisms such as certification to help reduce the associated frictions. However, the value of traditional quality signals to consumers depends crucially on the extent of the asymmetries in these markets. The online information available to consumers today may help bridge such asymmetries. Drawing upon a unique and extensive dataset of over 12,000 consumers who purchased used vehicles, I examine the impact of their information acquisition from online intermediaries on their choice of (reliance on) one such quality signal - certification, as well as the price paid. These findings will help firms to better understand how the provision of different types of online information impacts consumers' choices and outcomes, and therefore help them in designing better and targeted strategies to interact with consumers.