A large group of Canadian retailers and universities are about to launch 15 research projects that will collectively explore how to improve the online consumer shopping experience.

The three-year effort has received $865,000 in funding under the Initiative on the New Economy, a five-year

umbrella project coordinated by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The retail study will involve 13 academic researchers at six universities and 14 businesses, including Deely Harley-Davidson, Mark’s Work Wearhouse and The Running Room.

Peter Messinger, a professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Business and the project’s principal investigator, said the research would help out a number of retailers who have been stymied by the budgets advertising agencies have demanded to set up an e-commerce strategy. From a marketing perspective, he said many of them are also looking at more ways to use the Internet to develop one-on-one relationships.

“”The real question for a lot of retailers is, what’s the most appropriate business model for using this communications medium?”” he said. “”In the late 90s, direct, transactional e-commerce was considered the way to go. There is a market for that, but perhaps not as large as expected.””

Rena Granofsky, an analyst with the J.C. Williams Group in Toronto, said Canadian e-commerce was healthy during the recent Christmas holiday season, but the challenge doesn’t necessarily stop at the online sale.

“”There have been issues here in Canada in terms of how to get delivery happening. It remains a challenge,”” she said. “”What needs to happen is more integration between the various channels to make that happen.””

Messinger said the retail study will focus on four key areas: how customers are attracted to a site, how they interact with it, what happens when they place an order and the outcome of the transaction. Besides field tests, case studies and surveys, Messinger said the researchers would also use laboratory experiments with students and regular shoppers.

“”It’s not simply looking at a Web site,”” he said. “”You might put them in a scenario where they’re shopping for some big-ticket items. By participating, it’s a consequential decision because we’re having a lottery and one of every so many people — maybe every 40 people — actually gets what they select.””

Subjects might be asked to buy a digital camera, for example, so they should select one they would actually want to use, he said.

Other academic researchers working on the study come from the University of Toronto, Concordia, University of British Columbia and Dalhousie Univesity. Messinger said 10 of the projects will begin in May.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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