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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Telematics and Informatics, Volume 35, Issue 1, April 2018, Pages 122-135
Embodied virtual agents have been increasingly implemented in e-commerce websites to provide a more natural, social, and engaging way to deliver product information to online shoppers. The media equation theory posits that usersâ responses to computer agents adhere to human-to-human social rules; hence, effective designs of embodied virtual agents should be based upon social psychology rules. One such rule is the notion of specialisation. While the concept of media specialisation in terms of TVs, computers, websites, web agents, smartphones, and voice assistants have been examined; no studies have yet to explore the effects of specialists and generalist embodied virtual agents in a multi-product category online store. To bridge this research gap, an experiment was conducted in which university undergraduates (nâ¯=â¯132) were randomly divided to interact with either a multi-product category website that incorporated specialist virtual agents or a multi-product category website that deployed a generalist virtual agent. Consistent with the hypotheses of this study, it was shown that the use of specialist virtual agents (as compared to a generalist virtual agent) enhanced perceptions of agent expertise, information credibility, website trust (ability, benevolence, integrity), and purchase intention. Meditation analyses revealed that the effects of agent specialisation on purchase intention were mediated by perceived virtual agent expertise, perceived information credibility, and website trust (ability, benevolence, integrity). Finally, the effects of agent specialisation were shown to be more evident for females than for males. Theoretical and practical implications related to virtual agent specialisation in the context of multi-product category online stores are discussed in this paper.