A good research design charts out a detailed research plan of how the entire research will be conducted (Manheim, 1977). As highlighted in the below diagram on the research onion process, one of the key decisions is to choose the right methods such as the “quantitative “or the “qualitative” which influence the design choice (Saunders et al, 2007).
According to Saunders et al (2007), the first layer of the research design, namely the research philosophy is dependent upon the way that the researcher thinks about the development of knowledge. There are three views about the research philosophy, positivism and phenomenology being the more prominent, and realism being the third. Each view differs in “the way in which knowledge is developed and judged as being acceptable” (Saunders et al, 2007). The phenomenological approach explains how people experience social phenomena in the world that they live in, and empirically seek to draw conclusions based on these experiences, whereas the positivist approach includes the world as an external and objective and focuses on fundamental facts and looks for causalities.
Given that the present research is largely exploratory in nature, the researcher plans to use the phenomenological approach, as it allows the broader view of the respondents’ experiences to be examined.
The next layer in the research process “onion” takes the research approach, which follows the research philosophy. Accordingly, the research approach adopted for this study is the inductive research approach because:
- It follows logically from the phenomenological research philosophy
- The use of e-commerce and other technological revolutions involves several complexities, given the myriad opportunities surrounding e-commerce and the Internet, hence relatively sophisticated deductive research techniques cannot be employed.
The next level is to select the suitable strategy that is practically feasible on the chosen research philosophy (Saunders et al, 2007). The research strategy chosen for this research is the case study approach. Case studies are often described as exploratory research, used in areas where there are few theories or a deficient body of knowledge (Yin, 2003). Saunders et al. (2007) argue that case study can be a very worthwhile way of exploring or challenging existing theory and also provide a source of new hypotheses.
A case study is a descriptive research, gathering a large amount of information from few participants (Gliner & Morgan, 2000), while a survey gathers limited information from many participants. Accordingly, one drawback of the case study is the assumption that it is representative of the larger population, which might be invalid (Gallin & Ognibene, 2007). Another related disadvantage is the element of bias among respondents belonging to one particular group, which is nullified in a survey covering a much higher number of respondents (Thomas et al, 2005).
As part of the research, the following activities have been undertaken:
Secondary Research – Review of literature on e-commerce and their impact on businesses:
Some of the means used to collect the secondary data are
- Text books and journals
- Online newspapers and other press reports on the companies covered
- Company brochures, annual reports and websites
- Mintel and Keynotes reports on the companies covered and the industries they operate in.
An exhaustive analysis and review of the literature available on the use of e-commerce by firms and its impact on these businesses will be conducted. Various frameworks and strategies available to these companies will also be reviewed.
Primary Research requires the researcher to allow personally collect the factual data, which allows the researchers to access the information regarding broad and unresolved issues. The phenomenologist approach taken for the research is an interview mode of enquiry, which is one of the best ways of data collection for exploratory research.
The sampling strategy used for this research was the purposive sampling, which is generally employed when it is appropriate to select a sample on the basis of knowledge of a population, its elements and how they are aligned with the purpose of the study (Babbie, 2005). Organisations at the forefront of employing e-commerce effectively have been selected as the sample to be covered for the present study. Further, these organisations, namely Royal Mail, Tesco and ASOS.com also render themselves convenient for applying the research methods of observation, which has been extensively used in the primary data collection process for the present study.
Data collection methods – Semi-structured interviews and Observation techniques
Semi-structured interviews will be conducted of personnel at Tesco, Royal Mail and ASOS.com, and the responses combined to draft a case study on the subject. Some of the reasons for the choice of semi-structured interviews as the data collection method were:
- For an exploratory research, questions should not be straitjacketed and should generate maximum information on the impact of e-commerce on these businesses.
- The secondary research will be conducted prior to the interviews, so that the author can ensure that the interview discussion does not meander into irrelevant aspects.
- Research participants would be given considerable freedom to express themselves as they wish (French et al., 2001). Semi structured and in-depth, or non-standardized, interviews are used in qualitative research in order to conduct exploratory discussions not only to reveal and understand the “what” and the “how” but also to place more emphasis on exploring the “why” (Saunders et al. 2000).
The process of observation is employed in situations where the researcher wants to gain an understanding of the underlying constructs on which a particular phenomenon is considered to be occurring. In the present case, this involves visiting the premises of these companies, and observing first hand, how e-commerce is employed in these firms.
The advantages of observation include higher accuracy and completeness, as the participants may not necessarily be able to explain the entire application of e-commerce since they tend to take a lot of interim steps for granted. The researcher directly collecting data through observation covers these. The limitations of observation include the fact that it is time-consuming and could suffer from researcher bias and the observed people being conscious of the observer and changing their behaviour (Sapsford & Jupp, 1996).
The questionnaires were logically grouped based on the research questions in a format that rendered continuity and ease of administering and responding. The following sections were covered under the questionnaire:
Section 1. Introduction to ease the respondent into the questionnaire
Section 2. Ways in which these firms applied e-commerce to their businesses
Section 3. Benefits and disadvantages of e-commerce
Sample questions from each of the above sections have been included in Appendix 1.
The combination of an elaborate literature review and interviews and observation sessions ensured that the author got the best of both worlds – the expedited responses from the secondary research on the one hand, and time-consuming, but highly qualitative and detailed information from the interview and observation sessions on the other.