Research Proposal

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Title: The role of trust in e-consumer behavior: A trust-building model


Research background: Trust is one of the areas within literature on e-marketing behavior that are still open for further research. Other important areas include e-interactivity, and the role of image in influencing e-commerce behavior. Furthermore, these areas are interconnected in terms of their impact on e-commerce behavior. In this paper, focus is on developing an integrated model of trust-building.

Research problem: There is a need for an integrated model of trust for e-consumers. The assumption at this point is that trust influences e-consumer behavior and purchase intentions. The critical position of trust arises from the fact that consumers are compelled to transact business with unfamiliar vendors via the World Wide Web. In this integrated model, the role of trust as an intervening mechanism between e-consumer attitudes and purchase intention should be examined and a trust-building model suggested.

Research methodology: A discursive approach will be adopted, whereby e-consumer literature relating to trust will be synthesized.


Trust is a multidimensional construct that encompasses two interrelated elements; namely, trusting beliefs and trusting intentions. Trusting beliefs are based on perceptions of the integrity, benevolence, and competence on the part of the e-vendor. Trusting intentions drive the e-consumer into a situation where he is willing to depend on or be vulnerable to the e-vendor. Before an e-consumer can develop trust, he looks at various factors, including perceptions of safety of the online environment, perceived reputation of the vendor, and perceived quality of the website (McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar, 2007). These considerations play a critical role in influencing the attitudes of consumers towards e-commerce. This study examines the role of trust in determining how consumer attitudes are linked to purchase intentions through trust-building efforts in e-commerce.

Research literature

A growing body of literature on the need to establish a model of e-commerce has been emerging since the early 2000s. This literature addresses different issues relating to e-commerce. Some of these issues include trust (McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar, 2002), customers’ attitudes (Dennis, et al, 2009), e-interactivity (Gummerus, 2011), role of image (Palvia, 2009), and purchase intentions (Gefen, 2010). In this literature, a lot of focus is on an in-depth analysis of the ways in which consumers and sellers relate in the web environment given the numerous ways in which it differed from the traditional offline business environment.


The starting point in the development of discourse on e-commerce involves the development of an e-commerce model. Different scholars have suggested different models, some of which attempt to integrate different factors affecting e-consumer behavior. For example, Dennis, et al (2009) suggest a model of e-consumer behavior that e-retailers can use to understand and satisfy e-customers. In this model, the factors that influence purchase intentions include attitude, trust, past experience, and image (Dennis, et al, 2009).

In contrast, McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar (2007) suggest a trust-building model that is based on initial consumer trust. McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar (2007) view trust as a strategic imperative in e-commerce because of its influence on intentions to transact business with unfamiliar e-vendors. In this quest, internet risk poses a major hindrance to consumers who intend to purchase products from e-retailers (McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar, 2007).

The model proposed by Yousafzai & Pallister (2008) also identifies internet risk as a major hindrance for e-trust among consumers. According to Yousafzai & Pallister (2008), two factors act as the main antecedents of consumer’s trust; namely perceived privacy and perceived security. According to Yousafzai & Pallister (2008), relational concepts such as loyalty, value, satisfaction, and loyalty should be incorporated into the unified model of e-consumer behavior.

In many studies on e-consumer behavior, a lot of emphasis is on differences between virtual and traditional consumers (Constantinides, 2007; Gefen, 2010). According to Gefen (2010), one of the preconditions for trust is familiarity. However, a major hindrance in e-commerce, unlike in traditional commerce, is that social presence is lacking (Gefen & Straub, 2006). The view expressed by Gefen & Straub (2007) is that e-retailers should focus on promoting interpersonal exchange with consumers in order to reduce social uncertainty and promote a perception of benevolence.

Research gap

Previous literature has not addressed the role of trust as a link between the e-consumer attitudes and purchase intentions. This is unlike in traditional commerce literature, which has addressed the issue of the relationship between consumer attitudes in offline business environments and intentions to purchase very comprehensively. The literature has also failed to address the importance of good relations with customers in building e-trust (Palvia, 2009). It does not highlight the unique aspects of relational exchanges between e-consumers and e-retailers.

Further research needs to be carried out to determine the unique ways in which trust can be promoted in web environments. According to Dennis (2009, et al.) e-interactivity is one of the open areas that should be subjected to further investigations. Few studies have specifically addressed the theme of e-interactivity (McKnight, 2007). The few that have explored this issue do not place it in the proper context of the attitudes of consumers towards virtual business environments and how this affects their purchase intentions (McKnight, 2007). The same thing may be said about other antecedents of consumer behavior such as trust and the role of image.

Research problem

There is evidence on the importance of trust in influencing e-consumer behavior. E-consumer behavior is conventionally understood in terms of consumer attitudes and purchase intentions. The mediating role of trust as far as consumer attitudes and purchase intentions are concerned needs to be defined. At the outset, a customer develops an attitude (either positive or negative) towards an e-retailer. The e-retailer understands the environment of uncertainty that governs the virtual business environment.

For the e-retailer, one of the best ways of converting the e-consumer attitudes into favorable purchase intentions is trust-building. Trust enhances the willingness by the customer to accept to be vulnerable in front of the e-retailer as well as to have a perception of benevolence. To understand the role of trust as a link between e-consumer attitudes and purchase intentions, an integrated model of trust-building should be created. This research study sets out to create such a model.

Research methodology        

This study is based on the theory of reasoned action (TRA). TRA provides the view that purchase intentions are direct outcomes of attitudes among e-consumers (Dennis, et al, 2009). In this theory, functional considerations are assumed to have an influence on e-consumers’ attitudes towards e-retailers (Dennis, et al, 2009). This, in turn, influences the intentions by e-consumers to shop with specific e-retailers and to continue displaying loyalty towards them. The choice of this theory is based on its wide-reaching acceptability as a useful theory in studies on consumer behavior. Its acceptability emanates from the simple basis it provides in terms of identifying where and how to target various attempts to change e-consumer behavior.


Constantinides, E 2007, Influencing the online consumer’s behavior: the Web experience, Blackwell Publishing, New York.

Dennis, C, Merrilees, B, Jayawardhena, C & Wright, L 2009, ‘E-consumer behavior’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 43, no. 9, pp. 1121-1139.

Gefen, D & Straub, D  2007, ‘Consumer trust in B2C e-Commerce and the importance of social presence: Experiments in e-Products and e-Services’, Omega, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 407–424.

Gefen, D & Straub, D 2006, ‘Managing User Trust in B2C e-Services’, e-Service Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 7-24.

Gefen, D 2010, ‘E-commerce: the role of familiarity and trust’, Omega, vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 725–737.

Gummerus, J 2011, Customer value in e-service: conceptual foundation and empirical evidence, Pearson Books, Boston.

McKnight, D 2007, ‘What Trust Means in E-Commerce Customer Relationships: An Interdisciplinary Conceptual Typology’, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 35 – 59.

McKnight, D, Choudhury, V & Kacmar, C 2007, ‘The impact of initial consumer trust on intentions to transact with a web site: A trust building model’, Journal of Strategic Information Systems, vol. 11, pp. 297–323.

Palvia, P 2009, ‘The role of trust in e-commerce relational exchange: A unified model’, Information & Management, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 213–220.

Yousafzai, S & Pallister, J 2008, ‘A proposed model of e-trust for electronic banking’, Technovation, vol. 23, no. 11, pp. 847–860.

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