Case 7e: Comparing UK and French perceptions and expectations of online
Marie Ashwin, Ecole de Management de Normandie and Alan Hirst, London South
How did I end up here? Daniel mused as he sat staring at his computer screen. Six months
earlier, as he left family and friends in France to complete his master’s degree on an
exchange to the UK, the future seemed bright. Hundreds of kilometres away from home,
with a deadline looming that could make or break his future career he did not know where to
start. He had left university with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management three
years before and, since that time, had been on a graduate recruitment scheme with one of
the largest supermarket chains in France. His performance in the early stages of a part-time
Master’s programme in Retail Management sponsored by his employer had been good.
This, combined with his high standard of English meant he had been offered the opportunity
to travel to the UK to study for one year on a full-time basis and obtain a double qualification
from both his French and a British institution. The taught classes in the first semester had
complemented his previous studies and he had soon identified the area he wanted to
investigate for his research project – online supermarket shopping. He decided the aim of
his project would be to compare and contrast UK and French consumers’ perceptions and
expectations of supermarkets’ online shopping offerings.
In class Daniel’s lecturers had identified the key problems faced by online retailers, in
particular customer concerns around security and trust (Koufari, 2004; Beldad et al, 2010).
They had also discussed in tutorials the impact of social networking sites and the ‘online
word of mouth’ interactions (Gruen et al, 2006) which were changing the way marketing was
undertaken. Organisations were initiating interactions by using blogs and notice boards
where customers could post their views of company products and service levels (Godes et
al, 2005). Almost every student he knew had bought something on eBay or Amazon, and
many chose to do their supermarket shopping online to avoid wasting time standing in
checkout queues. In addition many supermarkets had diversified their offer away from daily
consumables into white goods such as washing machines and even financial services
(Colgate and Alexander, 2001), meaning consumers were now looking to these
organisations for more than just the weekly household shopping. Against the advice of his
project tutor, Daniel had decided the results of his Marketing assignment on online buyer
behaviour, where his classmates had been his population, would be his pilot study.
It had been a revelation to him to see how well developed the retail websites were in the UK,
compared with those in France, and how different the webscape was in the two countries.
Statistics he had found showed that in June 2010 there were 51.4 million Internet users in
the UK, 82.5% of the population, an increase of 234% between 2000 and 2010. In France
the figures were 44.6 million users, 68.9% of the population, a 425% increase over the
decade (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2011).
Through browsing the Internet he observed French retailers seemed to have developed their
Internet sites as an advertising tool. Potential customers could browse the site to look at the
products but often had to send an email to obtain information. His mother had been very
frustrated when renovating the bathroom; she waited several weeks for a response to her
online request and then received brochures in the post. Although some companies, like his
employer, had moved towards offering a complete online shopping experience from first view
to receipt of the product, their sites were far less developed than those of the UK online
stores he accessed. A paper he read about French supermarkets had also identified
problems managing home delivery of purchases bought online (Durand, 2008).
Daniel decided he needed to identify his population, and from that draw a representative
sample. He thought his organisation’s database of existing online customers would be a
useful place to start, but he was unsure whether he would be allowed access. In addition, he
did not simply want to undertake a large-scale quantitative survey of existing customers as
he did not think it would produce a picture of the wider situation. One of his objectives was,
after all, to identify the French consumers’ expectations of these online offerings. How could
he ensure he limited bias in the respondents’ answers, which would be a threat to the
reliability of his findings?
His initial idea to use facebook to gain access to a bigger population had not been received
enthusiastically by his project tutor but he had anticipated the need to justify this suggestion.
He argued that by using this informal network, and building simple instructions and collecting
demographic data in an Internet questionnaire, he would be able to categorise respondents
and identify which supermarket website they were evaluating.
So here he was, with an interesting project that fitted perfectly with the needs of his employer
who wanted to develop its presence on the web. His intention was to get an overview of
online consumer perceptions and expectations of the online supermarket sites available in
the UK and France. He then planned to compare the data collected from the participants to
identify the differences between the online activities of the British and French supermarkets
and produce some guidelines to help his employer develop this side of their activities.
However, the problem he came back to again was how to select his sample.
Daniel thought a non-probability approach would fit this exploratory research but, if he was
honest, the research methods lectures had totally confused him. A great deal of time had
been spent on the explanation of the formula to work out the optimum sample size for a
survey, and the need to collect data from a representative sample to make statistical
inferences about the population. His concern was how to build the argument for using nonprobability sampling and be able to justify it to his project tutor, whose own research activity
involved large-scale marketing research projects run in conjunction with companies in the
So here he was preparing his argument to produce a questionnaire using SurveyMonkey and
post the link on Facebook. In addition, he would send the link via emails to other friends who
did not use Facebook. He would make the request that they all pass the link on to their
friends and family who fell within the parameters that would be defined in the message
accompanying the link.
One point he felt that was in his favour was he had been able to develop a network of
contacts during his time in the UK. As one of the few French students on campus he had
taken advantage of his gregarious nature and tried to meet as many people as possible. His
Facebook wall had thousands of postings from his ‘friends’. He was convinced this was the
place to start but really needed to get his head around non-probability sampling if he was
going to do it well.
1 Outline the problems Daniel is likely to face by using his Marketing assignment as his
2 Discuss how the distribution of a link to the Internet questionnaire using Facebook via
email might jeopardise the statistical representativeness of Daniel’s findings.
3 Identify a sampling technique that could enable Daniel to collect reliable data from
which he could make statistical inferences. Give reasons for your choice and explain
the steps you would take to select your sample.
Beldad, A., De Jong, M. and Steehouder, M. (2010). ‘How shall I trust the faceless and
intangible? A literature on the antecedents of online trust’, Computers in Human Behaviour,
Vol. 26, No. 5, pp. 857–69.
Colgate, M. and Alexander, N. (2001). ‘Retailers and diversification: the financial service
dimension’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.1–11.
Durand, B. (2008), ‘Les magasins de proximité : un atout logistique pour l’épicerie en ligne’,
La Revue des Sciences de Gestion, Direction et Gestio, Spécial Marketing, Vol. 229,
Gruen, T.W., Osmonbekov, T. and Czaplewski, A.J. (2006). ‘eWOM: The impact of
customer-to-customer online know-how exchange on customer value and loyalty’, Journal of
Business Research, Vol. 59, pp. 449–56.
Koufari ,M. and Hampton-Sosa, W. (2004). ‘The development of initial trust in an online
company by new users’, Journal of Information & Management, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 377–97.
Miniwatts Marketing Group (2011). Internet World Stats. Avaliable at
www.internetworldstats.com/stats/4.htm [Accessed 1 April 2011].
Case 7e: Comparing UK and French perceptions and expectations of online