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Abstract

While good return policies are suggested as one of the critical services for e-commerce, ambivalence between the burden of the cost and shoppers` satisfaction may prevent e-tailers from increasing their level of leniency. Based on the S-O-R model, this study has attempted to develop a grounded theory to explain how lenient return policies shape online shoppers` perceptions and responses, with a focus on cultural influences in the relationship. In order to check the cultural effects of the lenient return policy, thirty two female and eleven male undergraduate students in South Korean shoppers, who are accustomed to strict return policies, participated in the semi-structured interview. A series of open- ended questions were designed to explore consumers` reactions toward four different levels of the lenient return policy: from the strict type in South Korea to the lenient type in the U.S. Using qualitative research methods, this research has defined three types of dimensions of lenient return policy: return possible period, complexity of progress, and other restrictions. While previous researchers did not pay much attention, the last dimension, other restrictions, is shown to be the most significant in influencing online shoppers` perceptions, especially in South Korea. Also, the impacts on online shoppers` perceptions from the three types of sub-dimensions of return policy were somewhat different. Whereas a longer return possible period was considered more favorable, a medium level of complexity and restrictions were considered more desirable. In summary, this result showed that shoppers in Eastern cultures, i.e. South Korean online shoppers, seem favorable to a medium level of lenient return policies, while allowing for taking precautions against possible fraudulent behaviors and setting other restrictions. Therefore, most of retailers in South Korea recommended that e-tailers who adopt the most lenient return policies raise the bar to guard ethical shoppers from fraudulent users. Next, lenient return policies can enhance ease of use, usefulness, affect, and trust while relieving perceived risk, which is connected to intention to purchase, satisfaction, and loyalty. Interestingly, lenient return policies are more likely to change the behavioral responses of online shoppers, such as return and purchase, rather than change their attitudes or beliefs such as image, satisfaction, and loyalty. This tendency can be seen more clearly in the direct influences of return policy on responses. The reaction to lenient return policy is mostly the intention to return or to purchase. This suggests that return policy serves the e-tailers as a powerful tool in increasing online shoppers` purchase intention at the moment of purchase. Therefore, e-tailers who plan to expand their market to eastern countries, including South Korea, have to build a shield of restrictions around their lenient return policy, rather than immediately applying their original liberalized return policy. Also, e-tailers in South Korea need to review their strict and undifferentiated return policies to deal with the unsatisfied reactions of online shoppers toward their normal return policies. Although the present study was confined to the return policies currently being practiced by popular e-tailers, it would be worthwhile to develop effective return policies separately for each country, especially South Korea, keeping the culture of the relevant country in mind.

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