Understanding the Determinants of Service Channel Preference in the Early Stages of Adoption: A Social Cognitive Perspective on Online Brokerage Services

In today's increasingly technology-mediated world, individuals are often confronted with a decision of whether to obtain services through online, self-service technologies or traditional, nontechnological alternatives. Understanding the mechanisms by which consumers choose among these competing service channels represents an important concern for organizations, consumers, and Web site designers. This study develops a research model based on Social Cognitive Theory to explain and predict service channel preferences that arise in the early stages of adoption, before a consumer conducts business using a particular channel. The model is subsequently tested in the brokerage services context, using observations obtained via survey. Given the growing popularity of online investing combined with the challenging prospect of making optimal decisions in an inherently risky environment, the context offers insights of practical and theoretical importance. The results suggest that task-specific self-efficacy beliefs serve as the activating mechanism kicking off a chain of psychological events that entice consumers to favor a particular service channel. Higher levels of self-efficacy induce individuals to prefer the online approach. In addition to its direct effect on preference for the online service channel, higher levels of self-efficacy influence one's propensity to take risks and expectations of performance-oriented rewards, which, in turn, sway consumers to favor the online service channel. Furthermore, self-efficacy and perceptions concerning the credibility of online information interact to affect service channel preference. Consumers are more likely to prefer the online service channel when they view themselves as capable and perceive online sources to be credible. Implications for theory and practice are discussed in light of the findings.