The Internet has the potential to fundamentally change the structure of marketing channels, but only if consumers choose to adopt electronic channels. Thus, this paper aims to develop a more nuanced understanding of consumer channel choices. Specifically, it contends that it is important to examine consumers’ intent to adopt electronic channels, not as a monolithic decision, but as a choice they make at each of four stages in the purchase process: requirements determination, vendor selection, purchase, and after-sales service.

Innovation diffusion theory suggests that consumers make adoption decisions based on their perceptions of the relative advantage of the innovation. The relative advantage of electronic channels is conceptualized as a multidimensional construct involving a cumulative assessment of the perceived relative merits of channels on three dimensions: convenience, trust, and efficacy of information acquisition. Combining the multidimensional nature of relative advantage with the multistage purchase process, the central assertion, and intended contribution, of this paper is to show that the relative advantage of electronic channels, and the influence of each dimension of relative advantage on the adoption of electronic channels, will vary across the different stages of the purchase process.

Survey data were collected from faculty and staff at a large university about their intention to use the web for auto insurance transactions. The results provide support for the multidimensional nature of relative advantage, although the emergent factors do not align neatly with the hypothesized dimensions (convenience, trust, and efficacy of information acquisition) or stages. Results of the study support three conclusions. First, the dimensions along which consumers assess relative advantage blend hypothesized dimensions such as trust and convenience with stages of the purchase process. Second, consumers consider the relative advantage of channels at two distinct stages of the purchase process: gathering information and executing the transaction. Third, different dimensions of relative advantage are critical in predicting consumer channel choice at each stage.