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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Customers’ self-disclosures to online virtual advisors Al-Natour, Sameh


Business-to-consumer e-commerce has experienced unparalleled growth since its inception a decade and a half ago. Yet, customers’ concerns about providing personal information to online vendors, and their discomfort when having to do so, continue to be the chief obstacles to further growth over the same period of time. The research described in this dissertation is motivated by a simple question: What are the factors that encourage or inhibit customers to self-disclose personal information to online IT artifacts? To answer this question, we conducted an exhaustive literature review of self-disclosure, and developed a number of theoretical models of its determinants. A series of empirical studies were conducted to test the proposed models of self-disclosure determinants in the context of interacting with an online virtual advisor that assists customer in finding a suitable skin care solution. The results highlight that self-disclosure is not only the result of a rational cognitive process, where the benefits to be gained from self-disclosing are compared to the costs. Rather, self-disclosure is also an interpersonal situated practice, where the customer’s experience and his/her perceptions of the advisor during the interaction with it significantly affect his/her intentions to self-disclose to the advisor and provide accurate information. Unlike most of the past studies on self-disclosure in consumer contexts, the research described in this thesis adopts a broader approach to conceptualizing self-disclosure. Combined, the three studies described in this thesis present a complete picture of the different types of antecedents that affect customers’ willingness to self-disclosure to online IT artifacts, and specifically virtual advisors. The research described in this thesis makes a number of contributions to theory and practice. In terms of theory, this research offers a comprehensive view of the different factors that affect self-disclosure, and highlight the important role of the interaction experience and contextual factors. In terms of practice, this research highlights the need to design online virtual advisors so interactions with them are clear and enjoyable.

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