The World Wide Web is at once a stimulating, challenging, and confusing information environment containing both commercial and non-commercial material. Already, commercial WWW activity is established and increasing, but at a more modest rate than that predicted by many. Web marketers are in an experimentation phase in which practice tends to lead theoretical and academic knowledge. A key element of WWW commercial activity is the need for the consumer to search for information, since the Web is a consumer driven information environment. Knowledge of WWW consumer search behaviour will allow improved Web site design, which will in turn facilitate the adoption of WWW consumer purchasing. The field of consumer behaviour is well established and has a history of studying the consumer behaviour effects of new technologies. In addition, consumer external information search behaviour research, which reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, has a rich literature of laboratory and field studies. This exploratory research adapts elements of previous research methodologies to the new consumer information environment of the WWW in order to answer the research question, "How do consumers search for and acquire information in the electronic interactive marketing environment of the Web?"
This research commences with an investigation of some of the characteristics of the WWW environment and considers the challenge of consumer information search. During the discussion applicable theory from other disciplines is introduced. This includes wayfinding, hypertext navigation, and learning behaviour. Consideration of these issues leads to the realisation that two issues underlie a consumer's behaviour in the WWW information environment. They are the consumer's ability to search (i.e. navigate purposefully) in that environment (which is dependent upon facilitating factors such as Web browser skills and Web use experience) and the consumer's response to the search activity and the information retrieved from the medium. An explanatory model of consumer Web search behaviour is developed, and a research program designed and undertaken to investigate the research question. In addition, a number of hypotheses are proposed that test existing consumer behaviour theory in the WWW environment. Original methods of recording, analysing, and illustrating information search in an uncontrolled information environment are also presented. A pilot study and a large-scale major study are conducted using an innovative methodology live on the WWW The experimental design adopted allows the investigation of many commercial WWW issues including variables associated with the arrival at a purchase decision and factors that affect post-search satisfaction. The results make a contribution to WWW consumer behaviour knowledge. The findings are also of commercial import to Web marketers, to Web searchers, and to Web search trainers. The results of this research are also discussed in relation to a future research agenda.