Electronic service quality (e-SQ) in tourism : development of a scale for the assessment of e-SQ of tourism websites

Abstract: Electronic service quality (e-SQ) is a new developing area of research, which has strategic importance for businesses striving to address consumers in the electronic marketspace. It is known that consumer behaviour in an online environment may differ substantially from the one displayed in the physical world. Therefore, it is important for practitioners to understand customer needs that are amenable to fulfilment in an online environment and strive to meet them. Website e-SQ, defined as "the extent to which a website facilitates efficient and effective shopping, purchasing and delivery of products and services" (Ziethaml et al. 2002, p. 363) is a powerful trigger of customer satisfaction with a website. E-SQ is what differentiates a good quality website from a customer point of view and facilitates the process of bringing customer and company together. The present study addresses e-SQ in the tourism context. The area of e-SQ in tourism appears to have been understudied, and there is clearly a need for further research. With growing role of websites as a customer contact point and virtual company office, tourism businesses are realising the strategic importance of a website as a tool for addressing consumers in electronic business environment. This study employs quantitative research paradigm to address the research problem "What constitutes tourism website e-service quality?" and hypotheses using the methods of multivariate data analysis. Empirical data are gathered through a five-month on-going online survey of potential inbound tourists of Norrbotten, the northernmost region of Sweden. The results indicate that proposed e-services fulfil online customer needs and can, therefore, form a tourism website e-SQ profile. Further findings indicate that website user demographics and online buying behaviour patterns can significantly affect users' perceptions of website quality features. The main outcome of the current research is the development of the scale for assessing the e-SQ profile of tourism websites (Meeting Online Needs of Customers or MONC scale). The scale has been tested in the follow-up study, the results of which indicated that the developed scale possesses good reliability (internal consistency) and validity (nomological and convergent). The study's managerial implications include the proposition of the consistent e-SQ profile for a tourism website, tourism e-SQ scale that can be used for evaluation of the tourism website quality, and recommendations to practitioners on how to improve website design in order to meet the online needs of tourism consumers. Further research in the area of e-SQ in tourism can be recommended, for example to follow up the current findings on the broader sample of tourism websites' visitors.