Business management Research Proposal


1. Title

Online and offline customer loyalty, and its presence amongst apparel retailers.

2. Research Questions

To what extent does customer loyalty among apparel retailers using both online and offline channels differ from those using only one of the channels?

To what extent does the brand image of an offline apparel retailer effect their online customer loyalty?

3.1 Customer loyalty

Customer loyalty is viewed by Dick and Basu (1994) as the strength of the relationship between an individual’s attitude and repeat custom. Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001), cited in Hung (2008) suggest that higher customer loyalty implies a higher market share; which results in the ability to demand higher prices than those of competitors in the same industry. In addition, Dick and Basu (1994) suggest that loyal customers encourage the development of positive wordof‐mouth promotion; and the importance placed on their loyalty is supported by Zeithaml et al (1996), who proposed that loyalty factors are the most reliable indicator of success within an organisation. However, factors influencing customer loyalty, which Hung (2008) describes as value, service quality, relationship marketing, corporate image, satisfaction and trust, may differ depending on the channel the customer is viewing from – online or in a physical store. For example, Srinivasan, Anderson and Ponnavolu (2002) proposed a different set of factors that were suggested to impact e-loyalty: customization, contact interactivity, cultivation, care, community, choice, convenience, and character; antecedents that they believe e-retailers need to have an understanding of in order to reap the benefits of a loyal customer base.

3.2 Brand Image

Brand image is defined as a ‘cluster of attributes and associations that consumers connect to the name’ (Biel 1993). Hung (2008) suggested that brand image as an ‘attitude’ has an influence on customer loyalty; an idea supported by Keller (1993), who proposed that loyalty is present when said favourable ‘attitudes’ are expressed in the repeat buying behaviour of the customer. Other scholars believe that the more favourable the image of the brand, the higher the perceived quality, value, satisfaction and customer loyalty (Johnson et al., 2001; Andreassen and Lindestand, 1998). Attitudinal and behavioural responses from consumers can also be provoked by brand image; these include responses such as customer loyalty, which in turn may create a willingness to pay a price premium, or lead to a strong affiliation with the brand (Dube et al., 1995; Merilees and Miller, 2001). This evidence highlights that there is a likely strong correlation between positive brand image and customer loyalty; however a gap in the literature is evident when looking specifically into apparel retail.

Kim (2000) notes that well-known, well-regarded brands can act as a ‘halo’ to the product that carries the brand name – a suggestion supported by Kwon and Lennon (2009), who believe that a prior offline brand image of a retailer using both channels exerts the said ‘halo’ effect, biasing customers perceptions of the retailers online channel. However, research has remained scant in the investigation linking the possible effect offline brand image has on the retailer’s online customer loyalty – specifically in the apparel industry.

3.3 Online and Offline/Physical Stores

Alba et al (Cited in Degeratu, Rangaswamy & Wu, 2000) highlight that a key difference between online and offline shopping is the capability of online customers to obtain more information about price and other attributes – a difference which may result in their own perception of the brand being formulated quicker than it may offline. When considering the relationship between brand image and online and offline retail operations, the synergy between the two channels is seen to enrich the customer’s experience with the retailer, strengthening the brand image and nurturing customer loyalty in both channels (Bailer, 2006, Gefen, 2000 & Harvin, 2000). It has been proposed that consumers faced with a lack of product availability in one channel (e.g. a physical store) tend to seek out an alternative through an affiliated channel (e.g. online), rather than a competing firm; if such an option is perceived to be easily accessible (Bendoly et al., 2005). This research suggests that there may be a link between customer loyalty and retailers who use both online and offline channels, however there is insufficient research investigating how strongly these two variables correlate – if at all in apparel retail. The more traditional, in store operations need to constantly adapt to the competitive rules put in place by online sales (Bendoly et al., 2005). However, in comparison to the smaller number of competition among these physical stores, e-retailers compete with millions of websites, not necessarily in the apparel industry, for the recognition of the customer; having only a tenuous hold at best on the customer’s attention (Srinivasan, Anderson & Ponnavolu, 2002). Thus, the more traditional, in store operations need to constantly adapt to competitive rules put in place by online sales (Bendoly et al., 2005); suggesting that retailers using only offline channels may struggle to keep pace – which in turn may affect the loyalty of the customer.

3.4 Customer Loyalty and Apparel Retailers

Previous research into relevant literature has shown that within a multi-channel retail environment, online and offline brand images of the retailer seem to affect consumer loyalty (Kwon and Lennon, 2009); however, knowledge on the processes, and to what extent these effects occur remains limited; and is extremely scant within the apparel industry. Macintosh and Lockshin (1997) noted that research into relationships within retail is not extensive, despite many retail stores introducing schemes to enhance store loyalty (Zimmerrnan, 1992). This highlights the scarcity of research on the linkage between customer loyalty and apparel retailers.

Therefore it is necessary to propose a new idea, looking into online and offline customer loyalty, and its presence amongst apparel retailers by investigating the following two questions; to what extent does customer loyalty among apparel retailers using both online and offline channels differ from those using only one of the channels? And to what extent does the brand image of an offline apparel retailer effect their online customer loyalty?

4.1 Methodology

Research philosophy is described as the overall term that relates to the development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge in relation to research (Lewis & Saunders, 2012), and encompasses certain philosophical strands such as interpretivism and positivism, mentioned in the “philosophies” layer of the research onion (Lewis, Saunders & Thornhill, 2008). It seems appropriate to consider taking an interpretivist approach to this research; a method based on the idealism that the world exists, but people can construe it in different ways – where researchers search for constants in human behaviour, looking to interpret phenomenon’s through the eyes of others (Walliman, 2011). This relates to the nature of the research as customer loyalty and brand image are very much focused around the aspect of customer attitude (Dick & Basu, 1994; Hung, 2008); concentrating on the thoughts and opinions of the customers as opposed to the quantitative data they may provide. A positivist approach would not be appropriate in this circumstance as no hypothesis or predictions are being made, and quantitative methods are not being used for data collection (Walliman, 2011). With this in mind, data will be collected in a qualitative manner, where the aim is to understand views rather than predicting an outcome (Lewis & Saunders, 2012); a necessity for gaging an insight into the reasons for customer loyalty and consumers own views of brand image, information which may be difficult to analyse from quantitative data. An inductive approach will be used, which involves development of a theory as a result of analysing data already collected (Lewis & Saunders, 2012); the proposed research involves looking at previous literature related to customer loyalty, brand image and online/offline channels, and developing a new theory in line with these and their links with apparel retailers.

4.2 Method

An exploratory study, aiming to gain new insights and asses a topic in a new light (Lewis & Saunders, 2012) will be used in the form of focus groups, which are used for generating information on consumer views, and the meanings behind them (Chadwick, Gill, Stewart & Treasure, 2008). For this particular research, the key data to be collected will be the opinions of customers – and focus groups will enable the researcher to access group norms and gain an insight into the formation of said opinions (Lewin & Somekh, 2005); an important factor which will help to determine which elements consumers consider influencing customer loyalty in different contexts. Focus groups also concentrate in depth on a particular theme with an element of interaction – made up of people who have particular knowledge on the subject (Walliman, 2011). Using knowledgeable participants means the data collected is likely to be more relevant to the research, and the group atmosphere means participants both query and explain themselves to each other (Morgan, 1996); thus, creating more valuable data. The optimum size for a focus group, and the number which will be used within this research is six to eight; as smaller groups risk limited discussion, and larger groups can become chaotic (Chadwick et al., 2008). The study will aim to run 14 focus groups; totalling between 84-112 participants. This figure is appropriate in order to gain a general insight into the thoughts of customers. In addition, stranger groups will be chosen to participate as Chadwick et al (2008) suggests they speak more freely as there is likely to be little fear of repercussion, and challenges to other participants may be more inquisitive – leading to richer data.

Potential issues may arise when an individual’s view is different to that of the group; they may choose to conceal their opinions or exaggerate their opposing view (Barbour & Schostak, 2004). To overcome this, the observing researcher could choose to hand out notes on the topics of discussion prior to the event, in order to put participants at ease, and encourage honest, thoughtful answers.

4.3 Sampling Strategy

Field (2005) describes sampling as a “smaller (but hopefully representative) collection of units from a population used to determine truths about that population”. The sample of this study will be those in the age range to be considered a Millennial; born in or after 1980, up to the year 2000 (15-35 years old), who use both online and offline apparel retailers (Burke, 2014). This sample was chosen via purposive sampling, the most common form of non-probability sampling, where the researcher chooses their sample based on who will best be able to answer the research questions (Lewis & Saunders, 2012). This particular age range was chosen on the basis of the finding that 45% of Millennials spend at least an hour a day browsing retail-orientated websites, with 47% shopping for clothing more than two times a month (Burke, 2015). The younger generation are also known for their online activity, and those at the lower end of the spectrum are likely to have additional free time – increasing the likelihood of their participation in a focus group discussion. A potential problem of the use of purposive sampling may be the chance of inaccuracy in the researcher’s criteria and resulting sample selections; better data may have been collected from a different or smaller age range.

5. Ethics

Ethical considerations must be taken into account before conducting any primary research. Participants must be informed fully about the purpose, method and intended uses of the research, what their participation involves and made aware of any risks (Research Ethics, 2015). An important aspect as to whether participants take part is the quality of information they receive, which enables them to make a fair assessment on giving informed consent (Walliman, 2011). It will be made clear to participants that their contribution is voluntary, within consent forms delivered to participants prior to their involvement. Where appropriate, methods for preserving anonymity should be used, which includes the removal of identifiers (Statement of Ethical Practice, 2002). Participants will be assigned numbers as opposed to names in order to retain privacy. Threats to confidentially should be anticipated (Statement of Ethical Practice, 2002), and any data collected will be stored in a password protected computer file.

6. Reference List

Bendoly, E., Blocher, J., Bretthauer, K., Krishnan, S., & Venkataramanan, M. (2005). Online/In-Store Integration and Customer Retention. Journal of Service Research, 7(4). Retrieved from

British Sociological Association. (2002). Statement of Ethical Practice for the British Sociological Association. Unpublished intranet document.

Burke, C. (2015). Understanding how millennials shop online. Retrieved from

Chadwick, B., Gill, P., Stewart, K., & Treasure, E. (2008). Methods of data collection in qualitative research: interviews and focus groups. British Dental Journal, 204(291-295). Retrieved from

Chung, L., & Hsieh, A. (2008). The moderating effect of brand image on public relations perception and customer loyalty. Marketing Intelligence and Planning, 26(1). Retrieved from

Degeratu, A., Rangaswamy, A., & Wu, J. (2000). Consumer choice behavior in online and traditional supermarkets: The effects of brand name, price, and other search attributes. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 17(1). Retrieved from

Dick, A., & Basu, K. (1994). Customer Loyalty: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 22(2). Retrieved from

Research Ethics. (2015). Retrieved from the University of Portsmouth website

Hung, C. (2008). The Effect of Brand Image on Public Relation Perceptions and Customer Loyalty. International Journal of Management, 25(2). Retrieved from

Kim, H. (2000). Examination of brand personality and brand attitude within the apparel product category. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 4(3). Retrieved from

Kwon, W., & Lennon, S. (2009). What induces online loyalty? Online versus offline brand. Journal of Business Research, 62(5). Retrieved from

Lewin, C., & Somekh, B. (2005). Research Methods in the Social Sciences. Retrieved from 31VLBrJmh&sig=1Nb8rK1g9lRfHqgtrAvOAJHYhos#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lewis, P., & Saunders, M. (2012). Doing Research in Business and Management: An Essential Guide to Planning Your Project.

Lockshin, L., & Macintosh, G. (1997). Retail relationships and store loyalty: A multi-level perspective. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 14(5). Retrieved from

Lohse, G., & Spiller, P. (2006). Internet retail store design: How the user interface influences traffic and sales. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 5(2). Retrieved from

Morgan, D. (1996). Focus Groups. Annual Review of Sociology, 22(129-152). Retrieved from

Srinivasan, S., Anderson, R., & Ponnavolu, K. (2002). Customer loyalty in e-commerce: an exploration of its antecedents and consequences. Journal of Retailing, 78(1). Retrieved from

Walliman, N. (2011). Research Methods: The Basics. Retrieved from AgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=walliman+nick+2011&ots=_QszxlOA6S&sig=FRn9tCf1o9tG4bX4bDsSI7eW1rk#v=o nepage&q&f=false

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