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The influence of digital disintermediation on customer-based brand equity

A qualitative study



SUPERVISOR DR. R. HOLLEN | STUDENT NUMBER 12451347 | FINAL DATE OF SUBMISSION 29/01/2021 | WORD COUNT 17.198 | EC 20201102111131




This document is written by Student Vivian Loomans, who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.

I declare that the text and the work presented in this document is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.

The Faculty of Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.







2.1 Digital Disintermediation………. 10

2.2 The influence of digital disintermedation on retailer relationships…………. 12

2.3 The influences of digital sintermediation on the cost structure……… 13

2.4 The influence of digital disintermedation on customer information………… 13

2.5 Defining customer-based brand equity (CBBE) ………. 15

2.5.1 Brand Experience……….. 17

2.5.2 Perceived Quality………... 17

2.5.3 Brand Loyalty……… 18


3.1 Conceptual Framework……… 19

3.2 Research Design……..………. 19

3.3 Grounded Theory………. 20

3.4 Sample Composition………. 21

3.5 Data Collection Method……… 23

3.6 Data Analysis……… 23

3.7 Reliability, Validity and Ethical Considerations…..………. 24

4. RESULTS………..………. 26

4.1 Interview Results……… 26

4.2 Brand Experience……… 27

4.2.1 Feeling part of the community……… 27


4.2.2 Convenience……… 28

4.2.3 Personalized deals and recommendations………. 29

4.3 Perceived Quality………. 30

4.3.1. Advice, expertise and information ……….. 30

4.3.2 Exclusivity………. 31

4.3.3 Price…..………. 32

4.4 Brand Loyalty……… 33

4.4.1 Reward Programs……… 33

4.4.2 Buying the same product again………... 34


5.1 Research Question……….. 36

5.2 Theoretical Discussion……… 37

5.3 Conclusion……….. 40

5.4 Implications……… 41

5.5 Limitations and Future Research……… 42



Participation Information Sheet……… 51

Consent for Participation in Interview Research………. 53

Ethics Committee Approval……… 54


General Interview Script……….. 55

Interview Transcript with Customer M……… 57

Interview Transcript with Customer S………. 62





1.Principles of DTC-selling (Schlesinger et Al. 2020)……… 11

2. The Influences of Digital Disintermediation……….. 13

3. Roles DTC websites (Bashkin et Al. 2017 by McKinsey & Company)………. 14

4. Respondent Information……….. 22

5. Axial Codes and Clusters……… 26

6. Transcripts, Axial Codes and Clusters……… 67

FIGURES 1.The Dimensions of Brand Equity (Liyin 2009; Hong Quan et Al., 2019)……… 16

2.Conceptual Framework of this study……… 19



This research aims to capture the influences of digital disintermediation on customer-based brand equity (CBBE). By using a qualitative research methodology, fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with a group of customers who regularly buy cosmetic products and have both experience purchasing through the brand’s web shop as well as through physical retail stores. During the data analysis using Grounded Theory (GT), parts of the interview transcripts formed clusters as a basis for explaining the research question involved in this study. The clusters include brand experience, perceived quality and brand loyalty. The key findings of this study reveal that digital disintermediation positively influences the brand experience by feeling more part of the brand’s community, the convenience of shopping online and getting more personalized deals and recommendations through this channel.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) selling also positively influences the perceived quality by showing off exclusivity of the brand and it positively influences brand loyalty by

incorporating more brand-related reward programs. The price of the products, the amount of information and the expertise do not influence customer-based brand equity as a result of digital disintermediation.

Key words: Digital disintermediation | Direct-to-consumer-selling | Brand experience | Brand Loyalty | Perceived Quality | Customer-based brand equity



This section will provide a comprehensive understanding of what this Master’s Thesis will include. Background information on the topic and the corresponding research question will be introduced as well as describing academic and managerial contributions of this study.

In many industries and corporations, traditional retailers are dropping by the side as a result of disintermediation and manufacturers selling their products directly to consumers (Kotler and Armstrong, 2006). Disintermediation refers to a disruption in the process whereby an established intermediary, such as another buyer, seller, locator, advertiser or manufacturer, is eliminated from the market position (Maharg, 2016). According to Rosenbloom (2007), the disintermediation of the wholesaler as an institution has long been discussed and predicted in the past by Müller-Hagedorn et al. (2000), Mills et al. (2004) and Samli (2007). After the rise of e-commerce, the disintermediation concept has gained new attention in the academic literature (Toporowski 2000; Jallat et al. 2001; Smith et al. 2004; Morschett, 2012), which is where digital disintermediation comes in.

Although products are still being offered through traditional bricks and mortar stores, pay day loans for instance are already for more than fifty percent transacted directly online, further expected to grow at twenty per cent annually (Schantz et al., 2018). The digital disintermediation trend is not only visible with payday loans, as Nike, the well-known leader in the sports apparel business and other digitally native brands also pursue a direct-to-consumer strategy (Oberoi, 2019). Regardless of the reason why brands tend to enter the direct-to- consumer space, one thing is unquestionable: brands taking on this route are in relatively uncharted territory. This uncharted territory leaves many brands with the question of what


consequences the new selling strategy has on the brand value as viewed upon by customers (Gielens et al., 2019).

In previous research, incumbent, brick & mortar intermediaries have gained the most attention with respect to finding their ways in digital evolutions (Brynjolfsson, Yu, & Rahman, 2013;

Verhoef, Kannan, & Inman, 2015).There is relatively little theoretical work available on the threats, opportunities and implications for brand building as a consequence of disintermediation (Gielens et al., 2019). Shantz et al. (2018) agree by stating there is no academic business literature available on the motives of the relatively recent digital disintermediation trend. The combination of digital disintermediation and the influence on customer-based brand equity (CBBE) is barely present in the existing literature, and therefore, this paper puts emphasis on the following research question:

How does digital disintermediation influence customer-based brand equity?

By answering this research question, the study will have contributions to both the academic literature as well as managerial implications. Firstly, since there is little theoretical work available on the influence of digital disintermediation on CBBE, this thesis will contribute to the literature by combining the digital disintermediation field and the customer-based brand equity field. Next to the research that is already available on the influence of digital disintermediation on retailer relationships and the cost structure, this thesis will provide theory on how digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity as well. Therefore, this study will add brand-related motives to the literature for pursuing a DTC selling strategy.

Besides that, this study has managerial relevance, since brands may want to know whether and how disintermediation contributes to an increase or decrease in brand loyalty, brand experience


and perceived quality in order for them to successfully deal with the digital disintermediation trend in their branding strategies. The Discussion section will further elaborate on the theoretical and practical implications of this study.

This qualitative study will gather data from fifteen in-depth interviews. These respondents are all Dutch and have recently bought cosmetic products, ranging from make-up and skincare to fragrances. They both have purchasing experience via traditional retailers as well as via the brand’s online web shop. The interviews will be analyzed and with the use of Grounded Theory the research question will be answered. A more detailed overview of the research methodology is written in the Methodology section.

The structure of the paper will continue as follows: In the next chapter, an extensive literature review will be given reflecting on the concept of digital disintermediation and the consequences on retailer relationships, costs and customer insights. Furthermore, the concept of CBBE will be reviewed including its three dimensions. After that, this paper provides a Methodology section, followed by the Results section. This paper will end with a Discussion and Conclusion section including limitations and directions for future research.



This section provides an overview of the existing literature relevant to this paper’s research.

The literature review consists of an overview of the concept of digital disintermediation and its consequences on retailer relationships and other aspects. Besides that, the concept of customer-based brand equity as presented in existing literature is given and will provide substance for the research question and analysis.

2.1 Digital disintermediation

According to Walters (2008), the internet has increased the likelihood of disintermediation in global business-to-business supply chains. Lee & Li (2018) state that this trend is especially true for creators of information goods, whereby advances in digital technology allow creators to sell directly to consumers and disintermediate the traditional publisher. This disappearance of a wide variety of intermediaries, and the creation of an enhanced sales network in which service providers sell directly to consumers, is supposed to be a “frictionless capitalism” that reduces both inefficiencies and costs (Jallat et al. 2001). According to Schantz et al., (2018), digital disintermediation refers to the firm’s strategy to find a direct pathway to its customers through the use of digital technology. In this way, the brand can escape the scrutiny of the general public, regulators and other actors in the field (Hudson, 2008). The authors mention that the escalation of digital disintermediation is a relatively new phenomenon, which explains the limited amount of academic business literature on this concept at this time.

By means of digital services, brands are enabled to arrange services to their customers in innovative ways (Peterson, Balasubramanian, & Bronnenberg, 1997). Digital disintermediation does not only impact the way in which customers buy their products, but also


the interaction between consumers and manufacturers, with today’s digital channels facilitating this direct engagement (Gielens et al., 2019). From a customer perspective on the one hand, the presence of digital intermediaries enables omnipresence. As such, customers have continual access to a large selection of products, improved information and added services (Riemer, Gal, Hamann, Gilchriest, & Teixeira, 2015). On the other hand, from the brand’s perspective, these intermediaries will establish themselves into powerful players in the parent company’s value chain. Therefore, these digital retailers tend to move more towards brand competitors rather than solely facilitators (Bond, 2018).

In a paper by Schlesinger et Al. (2020), four principles of direct-to-consumer selling were mentioned as shown in the table below.

Table 1. Principles of DTC-selling (Schlesinger et Al. 2020).

Omnichannel is a necessity Connecting all channels and creating a seamless experience for customers across all platforms.

Differentiate through community Ability to have one-to-one relationships with customers while simultaneously gathering valuable customer data that would have been impossible with traditional retail channels.

Customers on the other hand also communicate with brands in order to co- create new products and services.

Expand margins via vertical integration Any margins that digital disintermediation preserved by cutting out retailers was


eventually lost to expensive, individualized distribution. Customer acquisition costs (CAC) increases across the board, and therefore, brand must plan to vertically integrate. For instance, brand must create their own manufacturing operations for them to preserve margins.

Prepare for the voice revolution For companies not to fall far behind, they need to think ahead to the next platform shift.

In the next decade, voice interfaces stand to reshape commerce in much the same way that the internet did thirty years ago.

2.2 The influence of disintermediation on the relationship with retailers

Yoo, Lim and Kim (2009) speculated that disintermediation would be the most notable impact on marketing channels, believing that manufacturers would bypass existing independent physical retailers, reaching the ever-expanding market directly with greater market power and lower costs. They also state that disintermediation increases the threat to the independent retailer and that it causes a channel conflict with traditional retailers. The effect of disintermediation on the relationship with traditional retailers has also gained attention in the literature by Inkson & Minnaert (2012). Their study on the tourism distribution system shows that disintermediation has led to a very new kind of competition among traditional travel agencies and electronic agencies. Furthermore, Palmatier et al., (2009) add that disintermediation reduces trust and cooperation between vertical supply chain partners.


2.3 Influences of digital disintermediation on the cost structure

Next to the influences of disintermediation on retailer relationships, the academic literature shows that digital disintermediation also influences a company’s cost structure. In a study by Sampson and Fawcett (2001), a taxonomy of disintermediation was presented. They mentioned that they expected disintermediation to have an influence on cost reduction and the ability to provide greater value to consumers. Benjamin and Wigand (1995) also suggest that direct e- commerce between producers and their customers could indeed lead to lower coordination costs in the trading structure.

2.4 The influence of digital disintermediation on customer information

In a study by Sen & King (2003), direct e-commerce provides the manufacturer with the benefit of capturing more customer information. They are able to gather market intelligence and monitor consumer choices through customers’ revealed preferences in navigational and purchasing behavior online. However, they do think that digital disintermediation does not have any major impact on buyer’s purchase behavior, but that effectively providing services like customized advice (Amazon’s recommendations), advanced encryption (128 bit data encryption for creditcard information), user-friendly website navigation tools, would reduce a buyer’s discomfort with switching from physical retailer to the brand’s online website.

Table 2. The Influences of Digital Disintermediation

The influences of digital disintermediation Brands having greater market power,

threatening the independent retailer and causing a channel conflict.

Yoo, Lim and Kim (2009)


Digital disintermedation in the tourism industry has given rise to a new level of competition between traditional travel agencies and electronic agencies.

Inkson & Minnaert (2012)

Reduction of trust and cooperation between supply chain partners.

Palmatier et Al. (2009)

Cost reduction and ability to provide greater value to the customers.

Sampson and Fawcett (2001)

Lower coordination costs in the trading structure

Benjamin and Wigand (1995)

Ability to capture great customer information.

Sen & King (2003)

Besides these researchers, McKinsey & Company (2017) has studied the different roles direct- to-consumer websites can play as shown in the table below.

Table 3. Roles DTC websites (Bashkin et Al. 2017).

Insights &

Innovation engine

Platform to control user experience

Omnichannel marketing & sales engine

Sales driver

Advanced analytics to generate

consumer and shopping insights

Brand strategy, with online as central component

Digital customer- acquisition strategies

User-experience design

Consumer Insights Sales Channel


Social listening and search scraping


development and management

Advanced analytics to generate

consumer and shopping insights

Advanced analytics (to anticipate SKU exhaustion,

recommend products) Test-and-learn


Predictive analytics for personalization

Technology integration with retailers

E-commerce operations (SKU- level replenishment) User-experience


As shown in the tables above, from the manufacturers’ perspective, the academic literature has covered the influence of disintermediation on the relationships with retail partners, the ability to gather customer insights and cost reduction in the trading structure. However, the influence of digital disintermediation on brand equity from a customer perspective has gained little attention. In the following paragraphs, the literature on the CBBE concept will be reviewed.

2.5 Defining customer-based brand equity (CBBE)

David A. Aaker, one of the most popular and well-known scholars on general brand equity, defined brand equity as ‘a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand, its name and symbol, that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or that firm’s customers’ (Aaker, 1996). Aaker introduced a five-dimension and ten-element model for brand equity, of which the dimensions include brand loyalty, perceived quality, brand association, brand popularity, and market response. Another popular scholar, Keller (1993) came up with the concept of “customer-based brand equity”, which he defined as “the


differential effect of brand knowledge on consumer response to marketing of the brand”. This concept will be central in the rest of this thesis. Furthermore, the brand equity model proposed by Yoo and Donthu (2001) consists of brand loyalty, brand awareness/association and perceived quality. Liyin (2009) enriched the theory of brand equity by specifically carrying out research on website brand equity. Since existing research mainly focused on normal product brands and rarely paid attention to website brands, he felt that a systematic theoretical research on website brands was needed. His findings state that brand experience, perceived quality and brand attractiveness are the major dimensions of website brand equity. According to a more recent study that was published last year, the brand attractiveness dimension was replaced by brand loyalty (Hong Quan et al., 2019).

Figure 1. The dimensions of Brand Equity (Liyin 2009; Hong Quan et Al., 2019).

Brand Experience Perceived Quality Brand Loyalty

Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE)


2.5.1 Brand Experience

Brakus et Al., (2009) defines brand experience as “a set of sensations, feelings, cognitions and behavioral responses that are evoked by many different stimuli, which occur when customers directly or indirectly interact with a certain brand. The concept of e-brand experience has recently reached attention in the literature and is linked to other concepts of which the essence remains the same, such as online customer experience (Rose et al., 2012), website experience (Constantinides, 2004; Lin et al., 2008) and online purchasing experience (Jin & Park, 2006).

According to Morgan-Thomas and Veloutsou (2013) E-brand experience is one’s internal subjective response to the contact with the online brand. Brand experience in turn affects attitudes, judgments and other types of consumer behavior (Same, 2014). Brakus et al. (2009) back this up by stating that a consumer’s experience with a brand can indeed further affect certain aspects of consumer behavior, such as satisfaction. Moreover, according to Khan et al.

(2016) brand experience is the strongest predictor of the overall satisfaction.

2.5.2 Perceived quality

Perceived quality can be seen as the extent to which a particular product will be able to meet a consumer’s expectations. It is not related to the actual product performance, but solely to the expectations of the quality of a product (Singh Gill and Dawra, 2010). Zeithaml (2018) defined perceived quality as the customer’s judgment about a product’s superiority. In addition, a high perceived quality gives customers reasons to purchase a product (Aaker, 1991), and therefore, according to Yoo, Donthu & Lee (2001), when perceived quality is high, brand equity is high. Like brand experience, perceived quality was also found to

positively influence customer satisfaction, as supported by several empirical studies (Cretu &

Brodie, 2007; van Riel et al., 2005)


2.5.3 Brand Loyalty

According to Yoo & Donthu (2001), brand loyalty refers to the tendency to be loyal to a focal brand, which is demonstrated by an intention to buy the brand as a primary choice.

Furthermore, Ballantyne et al., (2006) see brand loyalty as an ‘amicable attitude and commitment towards a particular brand, builds around customer satisfaction and leads to continued maintenance and purchasing of that brand. Linking this to e-commerce, Anderson and Srinivasan (2003) came up with a definition for e-loyalty being “a customer’s favorable attitude toward an electronic business resulting in repeat buying behavior.” In addition, Cyr (2008) sees e-loyalty as a commitment to frequently revisit a website for shopping without switching to another website. The essence remains the same.



This section will describe the conceptual framework and the method and methodology chosen in this study. Furthermore, this section will clarify how the empirical data was analysed and how trustworthiness and ethical considerations were taken into account.

3.1 Conceptual Framework

The research question involved in this study is as follows:

“How does digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity?”

This research question incorporates CBBE as the dependent variable, including its

dimensions brand experience, perceived quality and brand loyalty. Digital disintermediation serves as the independent variable as shown in the figure below.

Figure 2. Conceptual Framework of this Study.

Digital Disintermediation Consumer-Based Brand Equity:

Brand Experience Perceived Quality Brand Loyalty


3.2 Research Design

For this study, a qualitative research approach was used. According to Silverman, qualitative research methods are appropriate when a deeper understanding of people’s underlying thoughts and ideas is desired (Silverman, 2014). As such, it may uncover trends in thoughts and opinions and dive deeper into particular subjects (SAGE Research Methods, 2017). The purpose is to explore a phenomenon rather than testing hypotheses, and therefore, an

exploratory research design is in place for this paper as it allows for exploration without guaranteeing a final answer (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2007). The authors also mention that this research method is often applied to areas in which there is not much previous literature, which applies to this paper’s case whereby the influence of digital

disintermediation on customer-based brand equity is a relatively new phenomenon.

When using a deductive approach, it is tested whether theories are valid or not (Saunders et al. 2016), and for an abductive approach, existing theories will be modified, and new theories are created. This is not applicable for this particular study as little theories exists on the influence of digital disintermediation on customer-based brand equity. Therefore, this study was analysed using an inductive approach. Therefore, the Grounded Theory approach was used in this study explained in the following sub section.

3.3 Grounded Theory

The focus of this exploratory study is to generate a theoretical framework explaining the relatively new phenomenon of how digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity. Grounded Theory (GT) is an inductive qualitative method that aims to create a theory explaining a certain phenomenon. Bernard (2013) explains the theory is built on empirical data that has been grounded through the repeated emergence of similarities and


patterns by the actor who experienced the phenomenon. This method provides a systematic technique to be able to collect and analyze qualitative data to construct theories grounded in the data (Charmaz 2006). In this study, H. Russel Bernard’s Grounded Theory method is used as the theoretical basis. He explains that one needs to begin with a small chunk of text and code line by line and identify potentially useful concepts. The detailed coding process is explained in sub section Data Analysis. After that, the researcher should identify how the concepts are linked to one another as well as validifying these emerging relations so that they are grounded by the data and their repeated occurrences (Bernard, 2013). He writes that the following elements are key to linking the emerging code into a theoretical model: (i)

Memoing: Constantly taking notes of the thoughts that arise from reading the transcripts, (ii) Constant Comparison Method: the codes that are created are constantly compared against other codes for differences and similarities, (iii) Finding Negative Cases: The researcher should also pay close attention to negative cases. That means, cases that discomfort parts or lead to new connections amongst the codes.

3.4 Sample Composition

Regarding the sample size, practical research illustrates that in general, a sample size of twelve to fifteen respondents is the point where data saturation occurs amongst a relatively homogenous population (Boddy, 2016). The researcher had placed a call for respondents on social accounts, emphasizing the conditions that customers need to have (recently) purchased their cosmetic products via both the brand’s online platforms and via physical retailers. After that, fifteen respondents were selected that made up one relatively homogenous group of respondents. That means firstly that the respondents were all Dutch. Secondly, the respondents have purchased cosmetic products in the past two months to ensure recent customer perspectives. Lastly, they all have experience with buying their cosmetic products, in this case make-up, skincare and fragrances, via a physical retailer as well as experience in


buying the same cosmetic products via the brand’s online web shop. Therefore, the

respondents are able to give insights into the comparison of the two means of shopping from their perspective, which is why this group of respondents is suitable for the research of this study.

Table 4. Respondent Information.

Customer Age Sex Nationality Cosmetic Brand

Customer M 21 Female Dutch Maybelline

Customer S 21 Female Dutch Clinique

Customer A 61 Female Dutch Dior Beauty

Customer R 49 Female Dutch Lancôme

Customer N 17 Female Dutch L’Oréal Paris

Customer O 27 Male Dutch Hugo Boss

Customer Y 34 Female Dutch Yves Saint Laurent

Customer D 29 Male Dutch Hugo Boss

Customer V 46 Male Dutch Chanel Homme

Customer I 24 Female Dutch NYX

Customer B 35 Male Dutch L’Oréal Paris

Customer T 18 Male Dutch Armani Beauty

Customer J 20 Male Dutch Chanel Homme

Customer U 21 Female Dutch Vichy

Customer L 57 Male Dutch Dior Homme


3.5 Data Collection Method

The main goal of the interviews is to investigate how the respondents feel digital

disintermediation, or direct-to-consumer selling, influences their perspective on brand equity.

The corresponding interview questions were based on the conceptual model in Figure 2.

By means of a mono-method approach, the data has been collected through semi-structured interviews, and thus, with a list of topics and predefined questions (Yin, 2009). The interview guideline is shown in Appendix B. Since the COVID-19 restrictions did not always allow the researcher to have face-to-face interviews with the respondents, the majority of the interviews were held by means of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These interviews provided the researcher with the same advantages as face-to-face interviews, as they allowed the interviewer to respond to a range of cues, e.g. face movements or changes of tone, and adapt the questioning to explore issues of particular interest to the participant more deeply than others. According to Rubin and Rubin (1995), this is an in-depth responsive interviewing approach.

The interviewees first received the Participant Information Sheet and the Consent Sheet as shown in Appendix B. After signing these, the interviews were conducted during the period of October and November 2020. The interviews lasted approximately 30-45 minutes each.

Two of these interviews are fully shown in Appendix B, randomly chosen to provide transparency on the interviewing process.

3.6 Data analysis

The interview recordings were transcribed and sent out to the respondents for approval. After final approval from all interviewees, the transcripts were uploaded to Atlas.ti, which is a powerful workbench for the qualitative analysis of large bodies of textual, graphical, audio and video data (Atlas.ti, 2020). The transcripts were interpreted by the use of Bernard’s


(2013) Grounded Theory approach as mentioned in the previous subsections. Bernard states that the very first step to creating a theoretical framework is to begin with a small chunk of text, code line by line and identify potentially useful concepts. Coding consists of three stages according to Bernard (2002). Firstly, open coding, whereby phenomena found in the text is identified, named, categorized and described (Blair, 2015). Secondly, axial coding, which involves the process of relating codes (categories and properties) to each other, via a

combination of inductive and deductive thinking. Lastly, selective coding, which is choosing one category to be the main category and relating all other categories to that certain category (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1990). In Appendix B, the entire coding process is shown and has resulted in three final clusters for this study: (i) brand experience, (ii) perceived quality, and (iii) brand loyalty. The findings will be discussed in the next section of this paper.

3.7 Reliability, validity and ethical considerations

In order to improve the quality of the research and the credibility of the results, several criteria must be met (Yin, 2003). Firstly, validity has to be ensured. Validity deals with whether the chosen research method accurately measures what it was intended to measure and whether the research results are truly about what they seem to be about (Saunders et al., 2012). Construct validity refers to identifying the correct operational measures for the concepts being studied. Linked to this study, a variety of customers, buying from different brands in the cosmetic industry, have been interviewed. According to Thurmond (2001), the same subject is viewed upon from different perspectives leads to stronger construct validity.

Yin (2003) defines internal validity as testing the causal relationship between variables and results, or the correctness of measurement. Linked to this study, all the variables from the conceptual framework mentioned earlier in this section are covered by in the interview


questions, and in turn, strengthens the internal validity. Besides, each participant was sent a full copy of the transcript after the interview to minimize errors of commission or omission resulting from poor data gathering. External validity refers to the generalizability of measured results to different domains, which is relatively infeasible for the scope of this thesis. Therefore, transferability should be ensured to provide a suitable support (Iastrebova, 2006). By clearly describing the context, time and place the external validity, or

transferability, are strengthened. Finally, the reliability of the study should be ensured.

Reliability refers to the repeatability of this study, stability, and/or precision of measurements (Yin, 2003). Reliability is ensured in this study by sending all the respondents a copy of the transcript for them to approve on the data. Furthermore, there is transparency in this study by providing a full overview on the parts of the transcripts and can be requested in more detail at any time. The transparency of the research process allows for repeating the research at all times. Regarding ethics, ethical approval was granted by the University of Amsterdam for this study, which can be found in Appendix A. Besides that, all participants received and signed the Consent Sheet and Participant information sheet. These can be found in Appendix A.



In this section, the results of the interviews will be presented answering the question how digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity from the customer’s perspective. This will lay the base for the discussion in the next section.

4.1 Interview results

During the data analysis, the interview transcripts were carefully studied in order to assign meaningful codes to parts of the transcripts. The participants’ general introductions about themselves were ignored in this stage for more meaningful results. While studying parts of the transcripts, axial codes were established and modified. These axial codes were then organized into meaningful clusters, or, groups sharing a common theme. The main clusters in this study include (i) brand experience, (ii) perceived quality and (iii) brand loyalty. In Table 4 below, the final axial codes and clusters are shown. Besides, Appendix B shows a full overview of the transcripts, axial codes and clusters.

Table 5. Axial Codes and Clusters.

Axial Codes Clusters

Being part of a community Brand experience Convenience

Personalized deals and recommendations Amount of advice, information and expertise

Perceived quality

Price Exclusivity


Reward programs Brand loyalty Buying the same product again

4.2 Brand experience

The first cluster created out of a series of axial codes was ‘brand experience’, which refers to the feeling customers have when directly and indirectly interacting with the brand. When a brand decides to digitally disintermediate itself from physical retailers, customers tend to feel more part of the brand’s community, they find it convenient and experience more

personalized deals & recommendations as part of the overall brand experience.

4.2.1 Being part of the brand’s community

The majority of the respondents feel like they are part of the brand’s community when the brand has digitally disintermediated itself from physical retailers. Customer Y who had recently bought Yves Saint Laurent make-up on their web shop states: “Compared to shopping at Douglas for instance, YSL’s website really encourages you to be part of the brand by motivating you to post a picture with their campaign hashtag.” The same goes for make-up brand NYX according to Customer I who says that customers had to upload a picture with their best Halloween make-up to win a free make-up package. Another well- known make-up brand Maybelline triggers this desire as well. ““On the bottom of

Maybelline’s website, they now have this feature where all the Maybelline make-up fans are shown. It is so smart using this user-generated content to make customers feel part of the community.” – Customer M. According to Customer S, who has said to be fan of skincare brand Clinique, the use of role models and influencers increases the desire to feel part of the community, since a famous Dutch influencer had taken-over the brand’s socials that makes others want to be part of the brand’s community as well. Customer N mentions: “It is a really


good experience through their web shop. The first things it says is something like ‘Especially for the L’Oréal Paris fans, so it makes you kind of feel part of the brand.”

Customer R, who has recently bought Lancôme cosmetics via physical retailer MOOI said:

“They do kind of make me feel like I am part of the community of MOOI, but not the

Lancôme community.” Customer A agrees, because when she bought a Dior mascara, she got a perfume tester from Versace, a completely different brand. Customer L who bought a Dior fragrance in the Douglas said he did not feel part of that brand’s community: “They are just a small piece of the store. Therefore, I think the brand experience is just neutral, not special in any way.”

4.2.2 Convenience

The axial code ‘convenience’ defines how easy and effortless this mean of shopping is for the customers as a result of digital disintermediation. Customer D buys Hugo Boss fragrances via their web shop, which he thinks is convenient: “It is just easier to go to Hugo Boss’ web shop directly because in that way I do not get overwhelmed by all kinds of other products when I already know what I want.” Customer M said that when you do not know what product you want exactly, brands have tools on their platform to help you making the right choice:

“Actually also if you do not know exactly what you want but you are certain this is the brand you want to buy the products from, they have great tools to find out what suits you best. I tested different shades of foundation through their app.” The ease of the brand’s tools and features was also mentioned by customer N who tried on different hair colors via the L’Oréal Professional App. Customer T mentions he has only recently found out he can also buy his perfumes directly on the web shop, because brands are making a lot of noise on their socials leading customers to their web shop directly. The convenience of the web shop in terms of navigation, order history and online payment were mentioned by Customer V, Customer J


and Customer Y respectively: “The web shop is really user friendly as I can easily navigate back and forward.” “It is so easy via their web shop, I easily click on ‘last orders’, then click re-order’ and there we go.” And “Definitely easy online. For my ING payments I do not even need this bank scanner anymore. Saves me a lot of effort and time.” Customer A and Customer O live in the city center and find shopping through a physical retailer equally convenient, only because they walk past those stores regularly.

4.2.3 Personalized deals and recommendations

Most of the respondents feel like digital disintermediation, and thus, online shopping via the brand’s own platforms provides them with more personalized deals and recommendations.

Customer U states: “I don’t know if you know the Vichy app, but you simply just take a selfie, after which the app scans your skin texture and recommends a certain eye mask, moisturizer, etc. How personal do you want it to be?” Customer Y and Customer D both mention personalized gifts on their birthdays. Customer Y received a small gift from YSL, and customer D got himself a birthday discount code. Customer M states: “If you have bought products from Maybelline in the past it also provides you with recommendations of what you might also like or they already know your foundation color.” Customer S says that whenever she buys her Clinique cosmetics online, notifications pop up about products that are usually bought together. She thinks this happens more often online compared to in-store.

Customer B experiences the same: “When I was about to check-out my basket this

notification popped up saying ‘Don’t you forget something?’ and then they showed the items I had marked as favorite.” Customer O and Customer J think they get more personalized deals and recommendations via the brand’s web shop as a result of customer data. They state respectively: “Have you seen this documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma? That’s exactly what is happening when I am shopping online and then it makes total sense I get


more personalized deals and recommendations through that mean.” and “It is probably because all the data they have on us that they come up with more personalized deals &

recommendations than physical stores.” For the same reason, Customer L thinks deals and recommendations in-store are less personalized, probably because they do not have data on the customer like it is possible to have online. Customer A also thinks that she is not provided with many personalized deals and recommendations in-store: “I feel like I am ‘just a

customer’ and it’s not that they have all kinds of recommendations for me.”

4.3 Perceived quality

Perceived quality was formed as the second cluster in this study, which refers to the quality customers expect the products to be when the brand has digitally disintermediated or when shopping via a physical retailer. Respondents link the perceived quality to the advice, expertise and information they get. Besides that, they mention a feel of exclusivity of the brand and the price to contribute to the perceived quality.

4.3.1 Advice, expertise and information

The amount of advice, expertise and information customers get via the brand’s platforms and physical retailers differ for the group of respondents. Customer A mentions: “In store, they always give me the best advice on which products or brands to go with, as I am not

ridiculously fan of one particular brand as I said before.” And Customer T says: “In the MOOI, I think they have quite some expertise on Armani perfumes. I do know other retailers such as Douglas or the Stadsdrogist where they don’t know much about the brand itself.”

Customer R argues that store employees work for the retailer and do not represent the particular brand, which is according to her sometimes visible in the amount of information they can provide on a certain brand. Customer J says he gets an equal amount of information


by both means of shopping. Customer S agrees by stating: “Both the web shop and the pharmaceutic store provide me with enough expertise and information I would say. The employees tend to care more about providing you with the right information than for instance at Douglas so that is different for the retailers.” Customer V said he got good advice on which perfume to buy for his wife in-store. On the other hand, respondents argue they get more precise advice and information through the brand’s platforms. “If you click on one of the products it gives a clear overview of who it is for, so think of different skin types, what it does, how to apply in steps etcetera. Great amount of information.” - Customer U. Customer N argues that because of the chatbot and several apps where you could try out make-up shades, she feels like she gets the most information on what purchase to make. Customer O thinks that when clicking on a certain product on the brand’s web shop, a lot of information pops up regarding the products details, such as ingredients, how-to-use the product. The brand’s Instagram plays a role as well according to Customer M: “Well via Maybelline’s Instagram for instance which leads you directly to their website it’s all about the brand and providing lots of information, which makes me feel that I get more from them directly, yes.”

Besides that: “Through their own platforms, definitely. NYX socials for instance provide you with so much information and recommendations for Christmas for instance. So nice!” - Customer I.

4.3.2 Feel of exclusivity of the brand

Some of the respondents mentioned exclusivity of the brand as a result of digital

disintermediation. Customer M comes back to the tools the brand uses on its platforms and argues that whenever a brand keeps these tools to itself it is less interesting and less exclusive to buy via a physical retailer. Customer J and Customer O argue exclusivity through the online web shop as well by stating respectively: “I feel like it is very exclusive this way,


through the online web shop.” And “They also make you want to feel this way if they be like

‘exclusive discount if you sign up now.” Customer U mentions that she gets exclusive deals via Vichy’s own platforms. The overall feel customers get from the website plays a role as well according to some of the respondents. “The YSL website shows off luxury and exclusivity compared to the YSL section in the Douglas” – Customer Y. “I think Lancôme’s website looks super fancy and exclusive” – Customer R. Customer T states: “How Armani offers their products on their website makes it feel so much more exclusive than when you run into it at an ICI Paris” and Customer I says that NYX also hosts events for members and

influencers that all lead back to their own platforms and show exclusivity.

4.3.3 Price

All respondents mention prices are the same with and without digital disintermediation. Yet, they tend to have different opinions on price and perceived quality. Most respondents feel like price in general, regardless of the shopping medium, influences their perceived quality of the brand and products. “The brand’s overall price is relatively high for a student like me and that also kind of makes me perceive it as high quality brand” – Customer U . According to Customer N, who argues she is only 17 and therefore the prices are relatively high and show of quality. Customer V says higher prices show off quality to him: “If you ever tried to buy a Chanel product you probably know as well that it is very expensive, but yes it shows off quality to me. It just does not differ for buying it online through the brand or in-store via a retailer.” Customer L says: “Price is a very important sign of quality for me and Dior prices are quite high. A friend referred this perfume to me and I was in shock when I saw the price, but I figured it would just last really long.” Customer A, Customer R and Customer B all mention that prices are the same for both channels and high, which they link to a higher quality. Customer S and Customer D still perceive the quality to be higher when they are


shopping on the brand’s own platforms. Customer S states: “I believe the price is the same right for when you buy this face cream on the Clinique web shop and in store. I do have to say that I still expect the quality to be higher via the brand itself. In the Douglas for instance it is surrounded by other products in lower price ranges as well, which makes the whole quality feel drop a little.” Customer D agrees: “Not sure about the difference in price

between Hugo Boss’ web shop and Douglas or any other store that sells them, but when I see other lower prices in store I think the quality to be higher on their web shop.”

4.4 Brand loyalty

The third and final cluster that was formed during the data analysis phase as a result of digital disintermediation is brand loyalty. Brand loyalty refers to how loyal customers are towards the brand in their future purchases and interactions with the brand. The respondents

mentioned reward programs and buying the same product again as links to their brand loyalty.

4.4.1 Reward Programs

The majority of the respondents is very happy with the brand’s own loyalty/reward programs, especially after digital disintermediation. Customer Y states that she loves YSL’s reward program and that she thinks physical retailers have these systems as well. However, if you are fan of a brand their web shop loyalty programs offer more brand-related stuff. Customer R is very enthusiastic about Lancôme’s online loyalty program: “They have a pretty funny loyalty program where you can earn points. Depending on how many points you’ve earned by purchasing through Lancôme’s online web shop you will be either placed in the ‘Smart’, ‘A middle level thing, I forgot the name’, and ‘Genius’ reward box with all different options, think of discounts, free products, sneak peeks, free express delivery and those kinds of


options.” Vichy does this as well related to their own web shop according to Customer U

“They have this Vichy elite rewards system where you get rewards for different interactions.

For instance, when I first signed up to their newsletter it also gave me discount options and activities to choose from, such as getting a nice desktop background option and things like that. Amazing.” When looking at the convenience of reward programs, Customer O mentions Dior’s online reward system to be more appealing, because in physical retail stores he knows there is often a paper reward systems, if they already have a reward system, which he does not always carry around and they are not related to a particular brand. Customer V (46) says:

“Yes they have that kind of thing in store with a stamp card, but they have it and you get like a certain amount of € of your next purchase, so it is not related to the brand itself.”

4.4.2 Buying the same product again

For some of the respondents the physical retailer would be an option, only if they have to go there for something else or if they already happen to be around. “I will buy it again this way if I run out of it, but it is not that I necessarily have to. I could also buy it in-store when I happen to be there. I prefer directly through their web shop if I have to choose” – Customer O. Customer A mentions that it does not matter for her and that what is most convenience is going to be where she purchases the next cosmetic products. However, the majority of the respondents would prefer buying their product again via the brand’s online platforms. One of the reasons is earning points according to Customer N: “Yes, I would buy it again online via their web shop. How else do I get to earn my free sample package?” This applies for

Customer R as well: “I would buy again this way, because it saves me time and comes with a lot of fun benefits. You get it delivered for free if you sign up and get the chance to save these points, which is fun.” Customer Y also buys again online as she is getting really close to free YSL samples and Customer U says it saves a lot of time buying products online and comes


with many more fun discounts. Other respondents say they will buy online again next time, because they can simply re-order the last order. “Online again, because I always have the same facial wash so it’s the easiest” – Customer S, “Probably online again, more

convenient” – Customer J and “Online payment has become so easy, so most likely online again” – Customer V . Customer T says he will also buy the same products online again via the brand’s web shop as he does everything online these days and he can simply re-order his last order.

The results show that the respondents feel that digital disintermediation influences the overall customer-based brand equity in several ways. Considering the brand experience, after digital disintermediation the respondents feel more part of the brand’s community when shopping through the brand’s own platforms. They find it convenient as well when they can purchase directly through the brand’s web shop and they experience more personalized deals and recommendations through that mean of shopping. The majority of the respondents has also mentioned exclusivity as a result of digital disintermediation and an increased brand loyalty by taking part in brand-related loyalty programs. According to the respondents, the price of the brand’s products and the amount of expertise and information as a result of digital disintermediation does not necessarily influence customer-based brand equity. A more thorough discussion of the results will be provided in the next section.



This section will discuss the results of the interviews and apply to them to the central research question of this paper. Besides that, an overall conclusion of the results of this master’s Thesis will be given. Furthermore, the academic and managerial contributions will be described and the limitations and directions for future research will be mentioned.

5.1 Research question

As mentioned in previous sections, the relatively new phenomenon where brands are digitally disintermediating from physical retail stores has several consequences. It has been researched that this trend may lead to conflicts with retailers, that it might cut costs for the brand and that it provides them with the ability to gain more useful customer insights. However, from a customer point of view there was only little academic literature available on the influence it has on the customer brand equity. This gap has led to the central research question:

“How does digital disintermediation influence customer-based brand equity?”

In the previous section, the interview results were described, in which it is shown that customers link feeling part of the brand’s community, convenience and personalized deals and recommendations to the overall brand experience. Advice, information and expertise, exclusivity and price were linked to the perceived quality of the brand. Besides that, reward programs and buying the product again were linked to brand loyalty.


5.2 Theoretical discussion

For the cluster brand experience, it has become clear from the interviews that the majority of the respondents feel like the overall brand experience is improved by digital

disintermediation. According to Gielens et al., (2019) this is the brand’s goal for pursuing DTC strategies. The authors state that digital disintermediation allows brands to directly engage with their customers also by using social media, mobile and other digital channels, whereby the customer journey can be enhanced. It allows brands to adapt to changes in customer behavior and different the brand experience, which is in line with this study’s results. Customers feel like they are more part of the brand’s community when they shop through the brand’s direct-to-consumer website. They feel like they have more to say by this mean of shopping. Schlesinger et Al. (2020) also mention that digital disintermediation provides the brand not only with the ability to have one-to-one relationships with the customers, but from the customer’s perspective, feel like they are part of a community and are more able to co-create new products and services with the brand. Besides that, the interview results show that most respondents find it very convenient shopping directly through the brand’s platforms. Furthermore, brands tend to provide customers with specific tools to try on cosmetic products through their own web shops that make it more convenient for them to make purchase decisions. Another aspect the respondents linked to the overall brand experience is personalized deals and recommendations. All respondents agreed that they get to experience more personalized deals and recommendations through the brand’s own platforms. According to some of the respondents this is the result of the ability of the brand to interact one-on-one with consumers and gather useful insights. These findings are in line with Schlesinger et Al. (2020) and the research by McKinsey & Company (2017) who stress out the advantage of generating consumer insights and shopping insights and predictive analytics for personalization. From the customer’s perspective the personalized deals and


recommendations are seen as a positive influence, as they for instance receive gifts or

discounts around their birthday or notifications when a product needs to be used with another product. It can thus be concluded that the overall brand experience is positively influenced by digital disintermediation according to a significant majority of the study’s respondents. These findings are in line with Sen & King’s (2003) expectations that effectively providing

customized advice, advanced encryption and user-friendly website navigation tools would reduce a buyer’s discomfort from switching from a physical retailer to the brand’s online web shop.

Regarding the perceived quality cluster, the amount of advice, expertise and information was mentioned by the respondents. Customers argued that they mostly received the same amount of advice, expertise and information across both means of shopping. By some respondents it was mentioned that for information or advice regarding the brand specifically they do not know all the details in a physical retail stores as a consequence of representing many more brands. On the brand’s own platforms they always have accurate information through social media, chatbots and product information pages. These results are in line with (Gonzalez- Benito, Martos-Partal & San-Martin 2015), in which the authors argue that in online settings, the opportunity to interact physically with the products, being a crucial source of information, disappears. However, the online settings provide consumers with detailed product

descriptions. The authors also state that the brand’s role should therefore become more relevant in order to compensate for the absence of physical contact with the products.

Since both channels are found to provide an equal amount of information according to this study, this aspect does not significantly influence customer-based brand equity. An aspect that has positively been linked to the perceived quality is a feel of exclusivity. A large group of respondents feel like the brand appeals more exclusive through their own platform. For


instance, YSL is presented much more exclusive through their web shop than in the physical retail store next to other brands. Parker & Koshman (2018) also mention that the manner in which assortments are organized online differs dramatically from offline shelf presentation.

Furthermore, in the physical retail store, the brand’s product is most likely surrounded by a greatly variety set of products, differing in brand name, type and price tier. Broniarczyk &

Hoyer (2010) mention that in these larger and mixed assortments, disorganization benefits the perceived variety of the assortment. However, it may actually inhibit the consumer from making an actual purchase (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000). Respondents in this study have mentioned this as well as they feel like it is much more organized on the brand’s web shop with a higher feel of exclusivity and not being surrounded by other brands and products.

They have also mentioned to get exclusive discounts, events and gifts from the brand’s platforms directly. Gielens et al., (2019) also mention that brands try to increase the appeal of their website by featuring exclusives and special services to distinguish itself from retailers. , Besides the exclusivity, the respondents think price influences the perceived quality. For most respondents however, this is not influenced by digital disintermediation. Prices are mostly the same on the brand’s web shop and in physical retail stores. According a minority of the respondents, the perceived quality as a result of price is lower in brick-and-mortar stores since they are surrounded by lower quality and lower price brands dropping the overall perceived quality. Therefore, regarding perceived quality, only the feel of exclusivity tends to be significantly and positively influenced by digital disintermediation.

For the cluster brand loyalty, respondents mentioned reward programs and buying the same product again through this mean of shopping. The majority of the respondents mentioned the joy in saving loyalty points. Via the brand’s own platforms these loyalty programs are more focused on the brand itself and provide the customers with a lot of interesting benefits, such as


discounts and free samples. In store, these loyalty programs are less convenient, since according to the respondents they are not linked solely to the brand and not always asked for when checking out. Even though digital disintermediation increases the brand loyalty from the customer’s perspective, Wang, Bell & Padmanabhan (2009) argue that digital disintermediation may only be possible when a brand has reached the point where they already rely on a large and loyal customer base. The authors write that DTC-selling is expected to be attractive for brands that already have high loyalty. In this study, the majority of the respondents would buy the same product again through the brand’s online channel and make use of the brand-related reward systems. Therefore, brand loyalty is positively influenced by digital disintermediation.

5.3 Conclusion

These results were gathered by using an exploratory approach and interviewing customers who regularly buy cosmetic products. The respondents both have experiences in buying the product via the brand’s web shop directly as well as via a physical retail store. These face-to- face and Skype Interviews have provided the researcher with great possibilities to dig deeper into the phenomenon. After the interviews, the transcripts were sent back to the respondents to assure validity. The final transcripts were then carefully studied and downloaded to Atlas.ti for the coding process. After carefully linking the emerging codes into a theoretical model, it can be concluded that from the customer’s perspective digital disintermediation influences the customer-based brand equity by:

- Feeling more part of the brand’s community;

- The convenience of shopping through the brand’s online web shop;

- More personalized deals and recommendations;


- Showing exclusivity;

- Increased loyalty as a result of brand-related reward systems.

It cannot significantly be concluded that digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity by:

- The price of the products;

- The amount of advice, information and expertise related to the brand and its products.

5.4 Implications

The findings presented in this study both contribute to the academic literature as well as to managerial implications. There is little theoretical work available on how digital disintermediation influences the threats, opportunities and implications for brand building (Gielens et al., 2019). Shantz et al. (2018) also states there are no brand related motives for the recent digital disintermediation trend available in the academic literature. Therefore, the results of this study firstly contribute to the literature by combining the fields of digital disintermediation and customer-based brand equity. Next to the researched influences digital disintermediation has on channel conflicts (Yoo, Lim and Kim, 2009; Inkson & Minnaert, 2012; Palmatier et al., 2009), cost reduction (Sampson and Fawcett 2001; Benjamin and Wigand 1995) and gaining customer insights (Sen and King 2013), this study explains how digital disintermediation influences customer-based brand equity by increasing customer’s brand experience, perceived quality and brand loyalty in the cosmetic industry. Therefore, an important consequence of digital disintermediation will be added to the literature.

The findings lead to implications for the practitioners’ field as well. This study has portrayed that from a customer’s perspective, the overall view on the brand significantly changes on


certain aspects when brands digitally disintermediate. Therefore, the results provide companies with brand-related motives to either pursue digital disintermediation or remain the retail channel structure. In 1997, it was already mentioned there is no denying that disintermediation creates unprecedented opportunities for all kinds of companies, branded manufacturers included. (Peterson, Balasubramanian & Bronnenberg, 1997). To learn how digital disintermediation influences the brand equity provides brands with the opportunity to adjust their branding strategies in order to increase brand loyalty, the overall brand experience and perceived quality.

5.5 Limitations and Future Research

The main limitation of this study is the period in which this research has been conducted.

Throughout this entire study, COVID-19 has massively changed the way in which people consume their products, as a result of closed stores and shopping restrictions. From physical stores being closed to being the only sector that is allowed to open their doors and back to entirely closing their doors again. Although none of the respondents have mentioned COVID- 19, it could be that respondents have unconsciously answered the interview questions with these restrictions in mind. This limitation creates direction for future research, whereby the same research could be conducted without the presence of COVID-19, and therefore, with normal shopping circumstances. Besides that, only a few cosmetic brands have been mentioned by the respondents and it could therefore not be entirely generalized to the cosmetic industry as a whole. Directions for future research could include more or different cosmetic brands or even look at different industries to see if the outcomes apply to other industries as well. Furthermore, this study has not taken the age aspect into account.

Iplementing the age aspect into the research and whether respondents are digital natives could be another future research direction to find out whether age itself already influences the


shopping channel. The literature has mentioned multiple other influences of digital disintermediation. Future research could take into account the previously researched influences and this study’s results to see what weights more. That means, does increased customer-based brand equity outweigh the retailer conflict digital disintermediation could cause? Comparing these outcomes should be on the research agenda.



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