Buying Goods on the Internet. Advantages.

Methodology

As mentioned earlier the current topic of study is privacy issues faced by consumers during online purchases. It is a fact that online shopping has become widespread around the world especially in advanced economies. The prospect of viewing the goods online, ordering and paying for it and having the product delivered at your doorstep, all from the comfort of a person’s home/office is very inviting. But still many users are concerned about safety and privacy issues and this keeps many of them from following this practice. The methodology for collecting information on privacy issues in online purchasing is through an online survey.

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It was thought that online survey is an ideal method since participants from a wide geographical location can take part in the survey. This is relevant because online shopping has the same characteristics (no geographical boundaries) and hence this method of survey was adopted.

Since this was an online survey participant choice can be considered to be chosen as random. The researcher had no power in selecting either the participants or their nationality. But authority to reject or edit answers was available. There were no restrictions (for example, as to age, sex, income group, nationality etc) for participants to take part. Eighty five participants took part in the survey and fifty nine (69.4%) of them completed the survey. The nationality of the participants followed by country of residence is given below.

Country of residence

Qatar is the only country which stands out predominantly. Hence 74% of the participants are residents of this country.

With regard to age, no one below the age of eighteen was included. The highest figure was those of 25 years of age coming to 12.9% (8 respondents).

A break up of age of respondents is given below. Since there were no respondents above the age of 47, age groups above the fifty mark have been omitted.

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It can be seen that 25 to 35 year age group has the highest number of participants. The numbers above and below this age group is smaller in number. 25 years has the highest individual number and hence is taken separately. The next highest age group is 32 to 35 years followed by 26 to 30 years. So it can be said that this group is predominantly a middle aged group.

The next background information collected was income. It is shown below.

It can be seen that the higher income group has not much participation in the survey. So the total number that has come in the $1000 – 40,000 category is 26. Fifteen did not disclose and twenty four did not answer the question.

Males outnumbered female respondents with 70.5% and 20.5% respectively. Confidentiality is very high of the respondents in the sense that only the date and time of response is known to the researcher. Wrongful disclosure of survey data is a serious issue and is governed by laws. (Protocol on Data Access and Confidentiality: Statement of Principles. 2004). The following statement was provided underneath each question. “Thank you for your honesty and taking time to answer these questions. Please remember that these results are anonymous and cannot be traced back to you. I can only see the date and time you sent the information, nothing else”.

But it is to be added here that the IP address of the computer from which the respondent took part was visible. But this does not indicate the true identity since the computer could belong to someone else. Since it was an online survey, none of the respondents were met personally. Even their names were not revealed to the researcher. But whatever information collected will be kept confidential and will not be revealed to others.

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The role of the researcher in the methodology involves design of the questionnaire and posting the survey on the internet. The researcher will then have to collect the data, analyse it and present it for discussion. A conclusion will be given based on the discussions. It was proposed that only an online survey is required since only those who use the internet in the first place will have a chance to participate.

Data Gathering

It is proposed that data will be gathered using an online survey. This form of data gathering is becoming a very popular method for getting the required information. This form of getting information has certain advantages over traditional methods. It is relatively cheap (considering the geographical range and volume of data that can be received) when compared to other methods. Information can be gathered from places without geographical constraints.

It can be relatively fast and a large volume of data can be collected in a short period of time. The questionnaire can be made flexible depending on the technology used. In other words the researcher can automate which questions will be displayed to specific types of participants. Incorrect entry can also be prevented. For example, if an answer falls outside a given range or is given in incorrect format, the software can warn the participant of the error and make him to correct it. This is also useful in targeting special or isolated groups. For example if the research is about identical twins, the internet can be a good source to find the required number of respondents. (Data Collection Efficiency and Quality. 2008).

But there are certain disadvantages as well. A few dishonest persons may intentionally provide false information which can change the results of the survey. In effect it would be impossible to verify the correctness of the data provided. Problems of the same person inadvertently participating twice may occur. If the software has bugs, it will also lead to problems. Computers are also bound to stall or crash during sessions, though this is not too serious a problem. But on the whole, the inherent nature of this project makes online data collection an ideal choice. Sending mails to a sample population, newsgroups, purchasing mailing lists from organizations, advertising about the survey and offering incentives for participation and completion are some of the methods that can be used to reduce errors.

Data Analysis

There are many methods that are used to analyse research data. They include simple analysis using mean, standard deviation etc, ranking and regression analysis. A lot of software tools like SPSS and facilities in standard packages like Excel, Quatro Pro, Lotus 123 etc are also useful. (Israel, P. 5).

But the data in this case is simple and hence only a percentage or mean is required to analyse it. Each of the questions and their responses will be analysed here separately. The questionnaire has four parts namely decision function, exit options, background information and consumer and buying behaviour. The background information (Country or origin and residence, age group and income classification) has already been given in the earlier section.

Decision function (One question)

  • Whenever you want to shop online, do you?
Options Percentage Number
Use search engines 22.4 19
Go directly to site 27.1 23
Both 31.8 27
None 18.8 16
TOTAL 100.0 85
DID NOT ANSWER 0 0

Exit Options (One question)

  • Why is it that you do not shop on the internet? (tick all that apply)
Options Percentage Number
Will not give credit card no 40 6
Prefer to see before buying 80 12
Shopping online is complicated 26.7 4
Other 7 1
SKIPPED QUESTION 70

Background Information (five questions)

Already given earlier.

Consumer and Buying Behaviour: Only a brief overview will be given here since the survey is more related to security and not the purchase patterns or behaviour.

  • How often are you on the internet?
Options Percentage Number
5 to 7 days in a week 86.0% 43
2 to 4 days in a week 12 6
Once a week 0 0.
Rarely 2 1
TOTAL 100 50
DID NOT RESPOND 35
  • Of all the items below, what have you provided on the internet within the last 6 months? (Tick all that apply).

As with most registrations (whether for shopping, for signing up for mail etc) it is the practice to provide the basic details of the person. Hence, name, gender, date of birth etc rank high in the information provided (87% or higher). Most shopping sites also require addresses for delivery of the product unless it is something that can be downloaded (software, e-books etc). Surprisingly only 38% gave their credit card information, indicating that they used debit cards or some other online paying option (online direct banking). It is not understood why race and religion was asked of respondents. Other factors include social security number, hobbies, educational background etc.

  • Why is it that you shop online? (tick all that apply)
Options Percentage Number
Convenience 43.5 20
Saves time 45.7 21
Can get good bargains 26.1 12
Hard to find things 54.3 25
DID NOT RESPOND 39

Other options include feedback or reviews online of the products, avoiding middlemen etc.

  • Within the last 6 months what are some of the items that you have purchased/bought online? (tick all that apply)

Books (46.7) and airtime (42.2) were the main things that people bought online. Other items include cameras, DVD/CD movies, computers and accessories, cell phones and PDA’s etc.

  • How often are the purchases mentioned above from Qatar based suppliers/companies?

54.5% said that they never bought from Qatar based companies and 31% said that they rarely did buy. Only 11% bought things every month. This could indicate poor presence of online shopping facility in the country. it could also mean that the net is used to buy things that are difficult to get in Qatar (agrees with response in Question number three).

  • If the company you own/work for has the capabilities to provide sale of goods and/or services to online buyers? (either in full or part)what is their field of specialisation?

This question has no direct relation to privacy and hence is skipped.

Skill

This is the most important part of the questionnaire which relates directly to privacy.

  • Are you aware that while you are online a third party may collect your browsing information for advertising purposes?
Options Percentage Number
Yes 82.2 37
No 17.8 8
TOTAL 100 45
DID NOT RESPOND 37

It is heartening to note that a large majority is aware of this fact.

  • Are you comfortable with advertisers using your browsing history to serve you with relevant ads, as long as their information cannot be tied to your name or any other personal information?
Options Percentage Number
Yes 33.3 15
No 42.2 19
Not sure 24.5 11
TOTAL 100 45
DID NOT RESPOND 37

Nearly half (43%) were uncomfortable with this situation. 33% did not mind and 24% were not sure.

  • Would you sign up for an online registry (DO NOT TRACK LIST) to ensure that advertisers are not able to track your browsing behaviours, even if it meant that you would receive more ads that are not relevant to your interests?
Options Percentage Number
Yes 44.4 20
No 26.7 12
Not sure 28.9 13
TOTAL 100 45
DID NOT RESPOND 37

It can be seen that 44% would be willing to receive more ads for the sake of advertisers not being able track their browsing behaviour.

  • To the best of your knowledge, what do you think HTTP cookies are?
Options Percentage Number
Spywares 8.9 4
Computer programs 17.8 8
Data parcels used to track browsing behaviours 57.8 26
Don’t Know 15.6 7
TOTAL 100 45
DID NOT RESPOND 37
  • How best would you describe your internet capability?
Options Percentage Number
Basic (i.e. checking emails) 4.4 2
Intermediate 68.9 31
Advanced 26.7 12
TOTAL 100 45
DID NOT RESPOND 37

Note:

Intermediate – i.e. social networking, forum participation, online shopping etc.

Advanced – i.e. web designer, programmer, blogger etc.

Discussion

As mentioned earlier a total number of 85 participants took part even though not everyone responded to all the questions. On an average the response rate is 69.4% (54 participants). But the response rate to the most important part (SKILLS) section was the lowest with 44% not responding. This could indicate a serious lack of awareness or casualness of the respondents.

Country of origin: It can be seen that participation of a wide range of geographical regions has been possible. The top three belong to one Asian, African and on European country respectively. Seventy two percent of the total respondents answered this question.

Frequency of internet use: Among those who responded, 86% were in the practice of using the internet 5 to 7 days a week. It indicates that a large majority of those who responded were very familiar with the medium.

Information provided: The usual information that is required for online registration (name, age, email id etc) were what majority of the respondents provided. Finance details were split between giving credit card details, debit card details and other online methods.

Reasons for online shopping: The net is used to find mainly hard to find things closely followed by convenience and time saving.

Collection of browsing information by advertisers: A majority of respondents (82%) were aware that advertisers can collect browsing information of the users.

Role of cookies: Here also users are quite aware with 57.8% knowing the one of the purposes of cookies namely tracking browsing information.

Level of expertise: As expected the majority (68.9%) of the participants (consideration that they are middle aged) fall in the intermediate category where online shopping is one of the factors shown. Quite a large number (26.7%) consider themselves to be advanced users.

It is unfortunate that only 45% of the total respondents (85) responded to this question. This could mean that the balance 44 % do not know the answers or did not take the issue of privacy seriously. The response to the “Skills” part of the survey was also the lowest among all the different sections of the questionnaire.

Ethics and validity

Research ethics is a very important factor in studies. The main factors like purpose, confidentiality, integrity, risks involved, coercion, harm etc should not in any way negatively affect the participants. (Background and Principles of the Research Ethics Framework).

But, the major issues that arise in person to person surveys do not really arise in this case. The participants are anonymous and have the option not to participate or even complete the survey. There is no question of racial/insulting behaviour since none of them will be personally met by the researcher. All effort has been taken to see that the questionnaire has validity. “Validity refers to whether the questionnaire or survey measures what it intends to measure.” (Questionnaire Validity. 2007). This is seen to especially in the skills section.

Conclusion

The majority of the users were in the 30 to 45 age group. Response rates for various categories ranged from 44 to 60% except for the first question (method of finding online shopping sites) which was answered by everyone. Majority of those who answered relevant questions about privacy issues belong to the majority age group (30 to 45 yrs). But since only 56% answered this section, it cannot be said that this is representative of the whole group. So, it can be concluded that as a whole a the participants did not care about or were not aware about privacy issues.

Bibliography

Protocol on Data Access and Confidentiality: Statement of Principles. (2004). National Statistics Code of Practice. National Statistics. P. 4. Web.

Data Collection Efficiency and Quality. (2008). ITS Online Surveys. Web.

ISRAEL, Glenn D. Analyzing Survey Data. End Notes, University of Florida, IFAS Extension. P. 5. Web.

Background and Principles of the Research Ethics Framework. Research Ethics Framework, ESRC – Economic and Social Research Council. P. 1. Web.

Questionnaire Validity. (2007). Evensen Web Design. Web.

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