Consumer technologies have become pervasive and ubiquitous in modern societies. These technologies have moved from being luxuries to necessities for average consumers. Moreover, they have become more affordable, are easily accessible, and have significant value-propositions. Many of these technologies, e.g. Web browsers, are available on the Internet as shareware or freeware. Today, it has become an increasingly simple task for the average consumer to find, acquire, set up and use these technologies. Consequently, there is little in the way that prevents a consumer from abandoning these technologies once they are adopted, or switching over to competitive offerings. The focus of this article is to seek an understanding of what factors lead a consumer to abandon one product offering for another.
Scholars in marketing and consumer behavior have identified several factors that influence consumer switching in general, as illustrated in Figure 1. However, examining switching behavior between technology substitutes, especially in the case of consumer technologies, is salient for several reasons. First, the technology marketplace is extremely competitive. For most consumer needs, there is an abundance of technology choices and technology providers have to fight fiercely to introduce their products in an already saturated, and highly contested, marketplace. For example, in today’s mobile technology marketplace a consumer is offered choices from a wide assortment of products and services from existing technology providers, hence making it difficult for a new provider to carve out a niche. Second, most consumer technologies are relatively easy to acquire, try out, and even abandon. For instance, today, through portals such as CNET.com a consumer can find and download several dozen options of software products for any given task. These technologies are all available at little or no expense to the consumer and hence there is low if any switching cost. Third, there is often low differentiation among various technology options. For instance, consider the differences between Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox, both products offer very similar functionality, have similar user-interfaces, and may not be clearly differentiated by a novice user. Hence, the decision to switch from an incumbent technology solution to a substitute becomes even more interesting.
Why would one switch if the two products are highly similar, and there are no obvious differences. Finally, user switching between technology products is also interesting to study because it represents a form of post-adoption behavior that is generally unexplored in the Information Systems literature. While there is an abundance of studies on technology adoption,12 only recently have researchers started to examine post-adoption issues.7 Among the studies that have examined post-adoption behavior, we believe that we are one of the first to study the switching behavior that is associated with the abandoning of one technology product in favor of a substitute.
In this article, we examine switching behavior between technology options which exhibit almost identical technical features using the case of Web browsers. Through analysis of survey data from 306 users, we uncovered several factors that influenced their switching from Internet Explorer (IE) to Firefox (see Box: How we conducted the study). The rest of the paper is organized as follows: In the next section, we describe our technology artifact—Web browsers. Following this, we share our findings from the survey. We conclude with recommendations for practitioners and suggestions for future research.
Web Browsers: Gateway to the Internet
The first Web browser named World-WideWeb was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990. The first widely used Web browser was Mosaic developed in 1993 by Marc Anderson, who later developed the widely popular Netscape browser. Microsoft’s IE was introduced in 1995 and it has maintained its dominance in the Web browser market since the late 1990s, despite the existence of free alternatives including Opera, Mozilla, and Netscape Navigator.8 However, when the Mozilla Foundation released the 1.0 version of a Web browser called Firefox in November 2004, it posed an immediate challenge for IE. Within five months of its release, Firefox had reached 50 million downloads and achieved a significant market share.3 The usage share of Firefox reached 8.6% in October 2005, up from the 2.7% share a year ago, while the usage share of IE has declined from 92.3% to 86.5% in the same time period.10 More interestingly, the market gain of Firefox came at the expense of IE, which clearly indicates that many individuals had abandoned IE in favor of Firefox. There are a few reasons why we consider the switch from IE to Firefox as an ideal example for our investigation of why users switch between two highly sub-stitutable technology products.
First and foremost reason is the high substitutability between the two browsers. Although Firefox came with improvements over IE such as tabbed browsing and built in popup blocker, the similarities between the two browsers far outweigh their differences. After all, they are both applications that provide basic Web browsing features. Compared to other alternative Web browsers, Firefox also has a look and feel that’s similar to IE. For example, six of the seven top menu items in the 1.0 version of Firefox are identical to the six top menu items in the latest version of IE. Therefore, we believe that IE and Firefox are near perfect substitutes for the users. While Firefox is freely downloadable, IE comes at no additional cost with any version of Microsoft Windows operating system. Hence, a user must make a conscious decision to download Firefox and use it.
Second, as the main portal to the Web for most computer users, the Web browser is one of the most crucial and commonly used applications in the Internet age. This ensures the availability of respondents required for our study. More importantly, due to its popularity, the browser market is one of the most contested among consumer technologies. There are different complementary products such as search engines, pop-up blockers, and content aggregators that are developed as plug-ins to the Web browsers. Therefore, companies whose Web browser commands a larger market share will have an advantage in promoting more lucrative products and services such search engines to Internet surfers. Such a competitive environment in the browser market makes our study highly relevant to both practitioners and end users.
Third, most Internet users do most part of their Web browsing from their home computer, and organizations do not always endorse or recommend a particular Web browser. Therefore, unlike the use of products such as an office productivity suite, individuals’ choices of Web browser are much less likely to be limited by organizational mandates. In addition, unlike a product such as iTune, individuals are not likely to be locked into using a Web browser due to the purchase of a related product and/or contractual obligations. Moreover, network externality does not play a significant role in the choice of Web browsers as compared to products such as instant messengers. These factors ensure that the use of Web browsers is highly volitional and there are minimal effects from other factors that could confound or mask the effects from user perceptions.
Fourth, the near duopoly of IE and Firefox of the Web browser market means there is little confounding effect from other alternatives. The recent introduction of Firefox and its rapid surge in market share prior to our study also enables us to focus on the user switching from IE to Firefox and was an opportune time for conducting this study.
The above reasons led us to consider examining switching behavior between the IE and Firefox browsers as an instance of user switching between low cost technology substitutes. The primary interest of our study is to examine how user perceptions of the attributes and use of technology products influence their switching from an incumbent to a substitute product.
Switching from IE to Firefox
Our research model concentrates on users’ breadth of usage and satisfaction for the incumbent product and perceptions of the substitute product. We aimed to balance predicting power and parsimony of our model. Therefore, building on our review of extant literature, we identified five factors that could possibly affect users’ switching behavior, as illustrated in Figure 2a Three factors were included to measure user perceptions of the substitute. Two of them—relative advantage and perceived ease of use—were drawn from the extant IS literature and represent users’ expectancy on the performance of technologies, and users’ expectancy on the effort in using technologies, respectively.12 In addition, perceived security was included because it has lately been identified as a salient factor impacting IS user behavior, especially, user behavior related to Internet-based information system and applications.4 In this study we are interested in perceived rather than actual factors. We believe that it is user perception of specific features of a technology that lead to switching. For instance, in an exploratory study by Desouza et al., it was found that most users were not completely rational in their switching to Firefox. In other words, most of them did not carry out rational and thoughtful evaluation of the features and performance of Firefox in comparison to IE prior to their switching.6 Instead, their decisions to switch were purely based on their perceptions, which were influenced by external sources such as media coverage and peer recommendations.
User Satisfaction with the Incumbent Product. Individuals constantly make satisfaction judgments on products and services they have consumed. When product performance exceeds previously held expectations, positive disconfirmation occurs and consumer satisfaction increases, and vice versa. Consumer satisfaction has been studied extensively by marketing researchers for decades, and has been shown to be an important antecedent to repeated purchase intention and brand loyalty.1 Studies in consumer switching behavior have identified satisfaction as a reliable predictor to consumer switching intention or behavior in a variety of industries. User satisfaction is not a novel construct to IS researchers. However, many IS studies have treated user satisfaction as a dependent variable that represents IS success, rather than an independent variable that influences user behavior.5 In studies that have user satisfaction as predictors of post-adoption behavior, it has been found to be a predictor of system use.2 As we had hypothesized, user satisfaction with the incumbent product, in our case Internet Explorer, was negatively related with switching behavior. Users who had positive experiences with IE were less likely to try out Firefox and switch to it. One reason we hypothesize for this is that users are risk averse and will not try out new products unless they are dissatisfied with the incumbent product and perceive the alternatives to provide them with better experiences.
Breadth of Usage of the Incumbent Product. Breadth of usage refers to the degree to which a user engage with the features and options offered by a certain product or service. Technology products, especially software products, often come with a variety of features and options enabling the users to tailor the products to better serve their individual needs. These features and options differ in their usefulness and difficulty to master, and users often differ in how much they take advantage of these features and options. We found support for the hypothesis that the greater the breadth of usage of the incumbent product the lower is the proportion to switch to the substitute. In the context of Web browsers, the time and effort one spends on learning the features and customizing her Web browser can be considered as sunk costs. This can be significant depending on how experienced the user is and her breadth of usage of the browser. Expert users may take it upon themselves to customize the browser, integrate it with other applications, and install various add-ons or plug-ins to help ease their work. Therefore, higher breadth of usage leads to higher sunk costs for a user. The more features a user uses, the more time and effort she would have spent on customizing her browser, the less likely she will be willing to switch to a substitute.
Perceived Ease of Use of the Substitute Product. Perceived Ease of Use is one of the most researched constructs in the IS literature.9 Numerous studies have confirmed that technologies that are perceived to be easier to use stand a greater chance of adoption and acceptance. We would expect to see the same dynamics play out in the case of browsers switching. As expected, we found support for the fact that the perceived ease of use of Firefox was positively associated with switching behavior. However, it is not the simple perceived ease of use that is of concern here, rather it is the relative perceived ease of use of the substitute product in comparison to the incumbent product. Users who found IE difficult to use, might switch over to Firefox if they perceived it to be simpler to use. While, users who found IE easy to use, might only switch to Firefox if they found it to be easier to use when compared to Firefox.
Relative Advantage of the Substitute Product. Relative advantage can be interpreted as the degree to which a technology is perceived as being more beneficial than its substitute technologies.11 Benefits can be economic advantages or productivity increases. The more apparent the superiority of a technology, the easier it is for people to distinguish its relative advantage. Relative advantage has been found to be related to user decisions regarding adoption and usage in the IS literature.11 Regarding specific technology products, if users perceive more advantages by using one product compared to another, they are likely to want to use that product. Hence, we hypothesized that the greater the perceived relative advantage of Firefox compared to IE, the more positively people will be swayed to switch to Firefox. We found support for this hypothesis. Users who perceived Firefox to be more stable, for example, were more likely to switch from IE. It is important to note here that it is the perceived rather than the actual relative advantage that was found to be a significant predictor of switching behavior. In the exploratory stages of our research, we interviewed users who had switched from IE to Firefox, and we found that seldom did the users test our specific features of Firefox and then calculate the relative advantage. Most often, users were influenced by their peers, or by reading articles in the press, about the relative advantages of Firefox. They used these cues as a signal of the superiority of Firefox and decided to make the switch.
Perceived Security of the Substitute Product. The constant expansion of the Internet has not only brought rapid growth in Internet based commerce, but also new breeds of security threats such as viruses, spyware and phishing scams that specifically target individual users. Therefore, individual users are especially concerned about the security of on-line electronic transactions and the risk of losing their personal information such as social security, bank account, or credit card numbers to unscrupulous parties. As a result, end users’ perception of information security has become one of the most important factors when choosing Internet related products or services. Studies have also suggested that the effect of perceived security on individuals’ online behavior is mediated by their trust in the online environment to conduct electronic transactions.4 Given all the interest in Internet security, we were surprised to find that the perceived security of the Web browser one of the key component of the online environment—has not received much attention in the academic literature. Individual users are more vulnerable to security threats than organizations because many lack sufficient knowledge or resources to deploy and manage hardware or software to secure their personal computers. Users therefore try to mitigate this by preferring software applications that they perceive as being more secure. Specific to Web browsers, the security vulnerabilities of IE and Firefox have been documented in many industry journals.8 We found support for the fact that higher perception of the security of the alternative technology product (Firefox) will be positively associated with user switching behavior.
The main objective of this study was to understand what may influence users’ decision to switch from one technology product to a highly substitutable alternative. Findings suggest that individuals’ use and perceptions of the technology substitutes play critical role in their switching. As hypothesized, user satisfaction and breadth of usage of the incumbent are negatively associated with user switching while perceived easy of use, relative advantage and perceived security of the substitute (as compared to the incumbent) are positively associated with switching behavior. Among all factors in the model, user satisfaction with the incumbent product appeared to be the strongest predictor of switching behavior. This result is consistent with prior studies that examine the relative strength of different factors on consumer switching behaviors. It is also interesting to note that among the three perceived characteristics of the substitute product, perceived security was found to be the strongest predicting power on Web browser switching behavior.
The peculiarities of the technology chosen for this study imposed certain restrictions on our ability to achieve more generalizable results. The two Web browsers are different from many other technology products because they are both freely available, they are near perfect substitutes, and users can usually make decision on which one to use on their own. These distinct characteristics of Web browsers helped us in our research design to minimize potential confounding effects. However, it also means further research efforts have to be invested to identify and evaluate the relative strength of other salient factors influencing user switching under different settings, such as paid products, products that are not perfectly substitutable, etc. There are plenty of opportunities for researchers to extend our work and investigate user switching behavior under different settings. For example, Microsoft has recently launched Office Small Business Accounting 2006, challenging Quick-Books’ dominance at the small business accounting software market. A study based on the switch from Quick-Books to Microsoft’s new offering will give us insights on small business owners’ decision making on alternative technology products.
Our findings have significant implications for both practice and research. As technology vendors constantly vying for users’ support of their products and market share, it is essential to understand what users take into consideration when choosing between alternative products. Our results indicated that the best strategy for a technology vendor still lies in the product itself. Technology vendors should always strive to offer innovative products that are easier to use and has more valuable features. Since we studied perceived factors rather than actual factors, an interesting finding emerges technology providers need to pay attention to not only how their products actually perform but how are they perceived to perform. It does a technology provider no good to have the best product on the shelf, if the features of the product are not well understood by the customers.
For IS literature, our broader contribution is that we demonstrated the inadequacy in considering a single technology in studying how end users use technologies post-adoption. Our results clearly indicated that users’ experience of an incumbent product greatly influence their decision on whether to use an alternative. Therefore, we think when conducting studies on any IT usage related topics; scholars need to look beyond a single technology and give serious consideration to the more realistic situation of multiple alternative products available for one technology. Our results also confirmed the importance of users’ perception of a technology product’s security in their use of technologies, especially, Web-related applications. Information security has attracted tremendous amount of attention from popular media, practitioners, and researchers. However, to our knowledge our study is the first one to combine perceived security with other perceived characteristics of information technologies such as ease of use in a single study to understand users’ usage decisions. Our results not only verified perceived security as a factor unique from any other factors under consideration, but also provided empirical evidence for its influence on user behavior.
In conclusion, this study offers new insights into users’ switching between technology substitutes in general and Web browsers in specific. The finding should provide a more comprehensive understanding of post-adoption technology usage behavior for researchers and practitioners alike.