In a multichannel environment firms interact with their customers through the design, evaluation, coordination and deployment of channels with the objective of enhancing customer value through effective customer acquisition, retention, and development. While the relative value of a multichannel customer over single channel customers is known, but several research and managerial questions like consumer behaviour, channel evaluation, allocation of resources across channels and channel coordination strategies require further study. The objective of this research is to gain further understanding of these issues.
In order to meet these objectives, literature on marketing channels, channel management and channel conflict were explored. The literature review provided assistance in developing the research methodology design (refer Figure 2-1). The exploratory research provided further areas for study in the following secondary and primary research. This methodology created the building blocks for a structured iterative research process that effectively related to the literature. The process balanced theory and practise to generate a comprehensive viewpoint on the subject.
In the process of creating the methodology the author consulted various journals and books. The remainder of this chapter discusses the methodology adopted to achieve the outlined objectives.
Figure 2-1: Research Methodology (Source – Author)
O’Leary (2004: p. 85) refers to Methodology as the “ framework associated with a particular set of paradigmatic assumptions that are issued to conduct research”. For this research a qualitative approach was incorporated and the author used the inductive exploratory research methodology to unearth the issues. The research process can be best described as a cross-sectional study and involved three phases –
PHASE 1: RESEARCH PREPARATION
This phase primarily involved setting the tone and direction of the main research by defining the parameters to the research questions and the key objectives of the research (based on Saunders et al, 2003).
After the initial discussion with the mentor secondary desk based research was conducted with the help of industry journals, online resources, annual reports, industry reports. As the author wanted to expand his exposure to the relevant domain of the research a review of the literature was performed to get a better grasp of the subject.
PHASE 2: REASEARCH APPROACH
2. 1 LITERATURE REVIEW METHODOLOGY
While devising the literature review the author addressed literature on Marketing Channels, Channel Management and Channel Conflict to determine particular concepts best suited to deal with managing conflict in a channel. The literature review was an iterative process that was continuously developed. This process can be depicted as follows (Figure 2-2):
Figure 2-2: The Literature Review Methodology (Source – Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2007). Research Methods for Business Students (4, Illustrated ed.). Prentice Hall, adapted by author)
The research methodology permitted the author to evaluate the relevance of existing literature in a specific real life scenario. The research methodology provided a structured guideline to a complicated enquiry.
2. 2 RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY
This research takes the view of an interpretivism philosophy which is based on the view that “ the social world of business and management is far too complex to lend itself to theorising by definite ‘ laws’ in the same way as the physical sciences” (Saunders, 2003). The author found that organisations cannot be generalised based on the challenges faced in the market place due to individuality hence it has been deemed necessary to discover the “ details of the situation to understand the reality working behind them” (Remenyi et al 1998, cited in Saunders, 2003).
The positivist view was not chosen as this type of approach adopts the “ philosophical stance of the natural scientist” in order to produce “ law-like generalisations” (Saunders, 2003) and was deemed inappropriate.
2. 3 RESEARCH APPROACH
In line with the research philosophy of interpretivism, the inductive approach is taken for the research as it focuses on theory building which follows the collection of qualitative data. Another reason why this approach was selected was due to the fact that the deductive approach tends to develop a methodology which does not allow for alternative explanations of what is happening (Saunders, 2003) which may limit explanations of why organizations experience certain challenges.
Inductive approach is particularly helpful as the author was trying to understand why something is happening rather than being able to describe what is happening. Although inductive approach can be much more protracted but often the ideas, based on a much longer period of data collection and analysis, have to emerge gradually. On the flip side the author was aware that with inductive approach there is a constant apprehension that no useful data patterns and theory will emerge.
2. 4 RATIONALE FOR QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
Creswell (2003) observes two research paradigms: Qualitative and Quantitative as described in Figure 2-5. Qualitative research stems from the social sciences and is utilised to understand, “ why people behave as they do (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005) this would include knowledge, attitudes, beliefs etc. Whereas, quantitative research is more concerned with measuring things (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Figure 2-5: A Comparison of Qualitative and Quantitative research (Source – Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches)
As the purpose of the research was exploratory in nature, it was felt that the best approach was to conduct qualitative research through one to one interviews. It has been pointed out by Cooper and Schindler (1998) that the qualitative approach is best suited while undertaking exploratory research and enables the identification of emerging themes within the research process. Moreover, as has been pointed out by Saunders et al (2003), a qualitative approach allows us to understand the reasons for decisions taken by participant as well as enabling an understanding of their attitudes and opinions. Furthermore, as Saunders et al (2003) point out it also enables the discussion into areas that had not previously been considered but may be significant for understanding the issue. As observed by Henderson (2005) qualitative research by its very nature centres on perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes. Creswell (2003) further recommends the use of the Qualitative approach, for problems that are context specific with unknown variables requiring exploratory research. Moreover the research is reliable and verifiable due to the context bound specific scenario. (Creswell, 2003; Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2007).
Although it was planned that, wherever possible interviews would be conducted in person but considering the time limitation of the research and the nature of the retail business, the author had to resort to telephone interviews with the pre-determined point of contact. As suggested by Saunders et al (2003) telephone interviews are an appropriate medium in cases where the interviewer has been able to establish their integrity and competence.
However, as pointed out by Saunders et al (2003), the lack of standardisation in these interviews may lead to concerns regarding the reliability of the data. As has been observed by Easterby-Smith et al (2002), in qualitative research, reliability is concerned with whether alternative researchers have revealed similar information. However, the data from the interviews were cross checked along with data derived from interviews conducted with the key stakeholders in the company, as well as secondary research material such as the industry specific research reports available in the public domain. Moreover, the data collected was analysed after the interviews for any inconsistencies in what was said by the interviewee. These steps allowed a multiple triangulation of the data which enabled a higher degree of consistency in the data recorded as well as greater reliability.
Each interview was tape recorded as it was felt that note taking may have lead to loss of quality information. The recording enabled the author to listen to the interview any number of times to produce a transcript which facilitated a better analysis of the responses.
As pointed out by Saunders et al (2003) reliability of the data could be affected if there was interviewer bias (i. e. wherein the author could have imposed his personal beliefs while interpreting the data) as well as interviewee bias (i. e. wherein interviewee’s may choose not to reveal information if they perceive them to be ‘ probing’ or sensitive in nature). These were kept in mind during the interview process.
2. 5 MULTI-METHOD APPROACH
Since each method has its unique strengths and weaknesses (Smith, 1975) hence the results will be affected by the method used. Thus, it makes sense to use different methods to cancel out the ‘ method effect’ leading to greater confidence being placed on the conclusions (Saunders et al, 2003). The author employed the case study methods which involved interviews with the key stakeholders in the Organisation, in order to get a feel for the key issues. The author then embarked on the grounded theory approach where data and observation from the semi-structured interviews with the customers was used to develop the research theory. This gave the author the confidence that certain key issues were addressed with relevance to the research.
The multi-method approach also enabled triangulation to take place, such that different data collection methods within one study ensure that the data are telling you what you think they are telling you. As in this case, the semi-structured interviews with the key managers in the Organisation.
2. 6 DATA COLLECTION METHOD
The authors primary desk based research approach had its limitations in terms of the data collection and authenticating the validity of the data from the online resources. In order to prevent this bias in collection and interpretation, the author also resorted to qualitative research technique. The author found the Qualitative approach to be more effective due to the importance of perceptions of channel members in the problem, which needed to be revealed and understood through personal interaction.
The data for the research was collected using primary data collection techniques i. e. interviews as well as secondary data sources i. e. company publications, reports, journals and the internet. Based on the analysis of the various data collecting techniques the interview method was chosen. While conducting the interviews with the stakeholders, semi-structured interviews were used wherein some basic themes relevant to the research objectives and open ended questions were developed to investigate responses and ask follow up questions. This allowed the opportunity to ‘ probe’ answers and where necessary the interviewee’s could be requested to build on and explain the reasoning behind their statements (Saunders et al, 2003).
Due credence was also given to the manner in which the questions are ordered was taken into consideration as it can affect the information collected (Lubin, 2005).
In order to collect the secondary information company reports, academic journals and internet were used. Textbooks were used to provide the background information on multichannel approach and other relevant areas which can be seen in the literature review. A key limitation was the accessibility to appropriate information from the net can be costly when attempting to acquire journals from website requires a fee.
PHASE 3: DATA ANALYSIS
3. 1 DATA COLLECTION: METHODS AND TOOLS
O’Leary (2004: p. 85) refers to the Methods as, ‘ the techniques used to collect data’ and Tools as ‘ the devices that help in collecting data’. For the qualitative research methodology discussed the direct research technique was used, as below:
Exploratory research was conducted in the first phase for greater understanding of the situation. This was followed by an extensive in-depth study of the literature from various publications. In order to authenticate these findings in-depth interviews through an inductive technique were conducted with all respondents, to probe the conflict causing issues. The interviews were developed to encourage the respondents, to express their detailed viewpoint. A semi structured (Adams & Schvaneveldt, 1991) interview format was used to incorporate parameters specific to the area of author’s research. Furthermore, throughout this process the Author took into account ethical considerations to prevent respondents from being misled in anyway.
In order to conduct the research activities for data collection Saunders has introduced ‘ research onion’ as a useful framework to illustrate the idea that there are several layers which needs peeling off before the researcher decides the choice of data collection method (Figure 2-3).
The following subsections explain research sampling, philosophy, approaches, strategies, and time horizon of the research study.
Figure 2-3: The Research Onion (Source – Saunders, Thornhill, A and M, Lewis, P., 2003)
3. 2 RESEARCH SAMPLING
A conclusion can be made from the sample about the population to achieve the research objective” (Saunders et al. 2003). It is, therefore, uncommon for a research to survey the entire population due to time and financial constraints, especially, when the population is very large.
The research followed a five-step procedure for drawing a sample based on Churchill and Iacobucci’s (2002) and Wilson’s (2006) suggestions. (Figure 2-4)
Figure 2-4: Procedure for drawing a sample (Source – Based on Churchill and Iacobucci 2002 and Wilson 2006)
In order to obtain a broad and holistic picture, certain key individuals and stakeholders were identified who could provide and in-depth and unbiased view of the challenges being faced by the organisation in multichannel environment. Stakeholders identified included company owners, retail managers and trade counter employees.
3. 3 RESEARCH ANALYSIS
As Saunders et al (2003) observe while conducting qualitative research it is important to use a conceptual framework for organising the data. The analysis of the data was inductive; because of the exploratory nature of the market research there was no pre-determined hypothesis to direct the analysis (Saunders et al, 2003). The author started with the use of mapping technique to organize and collate all the data gathered through primary research and to understand and analyse the issues, key themes, and patterns and question how an argument fit together.
The data was analysed using Thematic Analysis (Matthew & Huberman, 1994). A conversation analysis was conducted, which evaluated the words, contexts and non-verbal cues in order to find emerging themes. The data was analysed and interpreted through a step by step process as depicted below (Figure 2-6):
Figure 2-6: Data Analysis Methodology (Source – Author)
The findings were then compared to the data collected from secondary sources and the literature review after which conclusions were drawn. It thus enabled the author visualize the inter-relationships of the issues and give a sense of strategic direction while drafting the recommendations. Due to the use of ‘ in-depth’ and semi-structured interviews, it was felt by the author that a narrative style for discussing the findings would be the most appropriate method. As has been pointed out by Saunders et al. (2003), this approach is suitable where in-depth and semi-structured interviews have been used to collect data as it allows the interviewer to retain the integrity of the data (Coffey and Atkinson, 1996).