We often assume physical attraction will be an advantage in life. The same assumption goes to attractive sales people that they will be able to increase shoppers’ purchase intention and satisfaction. However, a study by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School suggests that this may not always be true.
There is a common belief that people have more favorable reactions to physically attractive individuals than to physically unattractive ones. So it is assumed that when we go shopping and see a highly attractive salesperson, we will be more willing to spend time interacting with the salesperson and be more likely to buy the products. Past research on consumer behavior also qualified this assumption, as evidenced by consumers’ greater satisfaction with the service and their intentions to purchase the products being sold.
However, an attractive salesperson may actually keep people from wanting to buy his or her products, and consumers may react more negatively to a highly attractive service provider than to an average looking one, according to a new study1 conducted by Lisa Wan, an assistant professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management and Director of Center for Hospitality and Real Estate Research at the CUHK Business School and her colleague, Robert Wyer, a visiting professor from the Department of Marketing in CUHK Business School.
In their published paper titled Consumer Reactions to Attractive Service Providers: Approach or Avoid? The researchers study the consumer reactions to physically attractive and average looking salespeople through a pilot study and five experiments.
The study reveals that attractive salespeople can sometimes lead consumers to have self-presentation concerns about their ability to make a good impression on others.
“We predicted that when consumers’ self-presentation concerns are heightened, they often avoid interacting with physically attractive salespeople, hence making it relatively ineffective for the salespeople to sell their products,” says Prof. Wan.
According to Prof. Wan, individuals with high social anxiety have stronger self-presentation concerns than those with low social anxiety. So to an extent, consumers with chronically high social anxiety should react less favorably to attractive than to unattractive salespeople in an actual retail environment.
The research team found such predictions in a pilot study. The study was conducted at a store in a Hong Kong shopping center that specializes in Japanese figures, models and gifts, a popular palace for Otaku to shop. Originated from Japan, Otaku refers to a group of people who have an obsessive interest in online games and amines, who are socially inept in interpersonal interactions. So these individuals are regarded as those who have high social anxiety and self-presentation concerns.
In the study, two female fellows with different levels of attractiveness – one highly attractive and the other average-looking – were posted as salespersons. The highly attractive female wore makeup to accentuate her attractiveness while the average-looking female did not wear any makeup. Then, two observers were asked to stay in the shopping center to collect the data. They recorded the total number of male consumers who stopped to take a look at the window display; the number of consumers who entered the store and took a look at the products; the number of consumers who interacted with the salesperson; the duration of interaction time between the salesperson and consumer interacted; and the amount of consumers’ purchases.
The results of the study show that fewer male consumers entered the store when the salesperson was the attractive one than when she is the average-looking one. Only 40.8 percent of consumers interacted with the attractive salesperson but 59.2 percent of consumers interacted with the average-looking salesperson. Finally, fewer males made a purchase from the attractive salesperson as compared to the average-looking one, and the average cost of the products they purchased was also less than the latter.
Obviously, the pilot study provides evidence when consumers have chronic social anxiety, they are less willing to interact with a highly attractive service provider, according to Prof. Wan.
“Shoppers’ avoidance of attractive salespersons in the pilot study was a result of their chronic social anxiety and how they presented themselves to these attractive persons,” She says.
Embarrassing and Non-embarrassing Consumption Situations
Apart from high social anxiety, these self-presentation concerns can also be induced by the differences in the consumption situations.
According to the research, the consumption of some products or services such as condoms, medical checkups and weight-loss services can generate embarrassment. These embarrassing consumptions are likely to endanger the positive self-image a person is motivated to convey in social situations, particularly when others are attractive and the ones he or she wants to impress. If this is the case, consumers may wish to avoid interacting with attractive providers in an embarrassing consumption situation.
In one of the experiments, a total of 132 female participants were told that a company wanted to receive feedback about their new product, a thermal waist belt, and the likeliness of the sales representative. Each of the participants was placed in a room where she could touch the waist belt and see some advertising posters about the product. But the posters were manipulated to show the waist belt as an embarrassing or a non-embarrassing product. In the embarrassing condition, the posters indicated that the primary function of the waist belt was to reduce weight. In the non-embarrassing condition, the posters showed the waist belt was intended to relax their muscles, improve circulation, and relieve lower back pain. Continue reading