Do customers find attractive store associates intimidating?
A new university study finds that physically attractive salespeople can cause shoppers to feel self-conscious and that they may consequently avoid making purchases, especially when shopping for “embarrassing” items.
Through a series of studies, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong generally found that consumers often react more favorably to physically attractive sales associates than to unattractive service providers as evidenced by their greater satisfaction with the service.
But an attractive sales person may deter purchases if the buyer gets apprehensive about making a good impression. In some cases, the apprehension is due to “chronic social anxiety or can be aroused by unrelated experiences that consumers have before being exposed to the service interactions.”
In other cases, the anxieties are activated by the type of product being sold, particularly “embarrassing” items such as feminine hygiene or weight-loss products for women, or condoms for men. The use of in-store coupons can also be embarrassing in certain situations.
The study found both opposite-sex and same-sex associate encounters can trigger such anxieties for different reasons. When working with an attractive salesperson of the opposite sex, the motivation may be sexual. With a same-sex attractive salesperson, shoppers may feel a sense of inadequacy through self-comparison.
When the associate is “of only average attractiveness,” individuals are likely to focus their attention on the product they are considering or service.
“Our research defies the conventional wisdom that physically attractive salespeople are more effective,” the authors wrote in the report. “While that may be the case in many contexts, there are certain settings in which they intimidate shoppers and may ultimately decrease sales.”
Time Magazine likewise pointed to a 2009 study from researchers at the University of South Australia that found that, regardless of whether the product was related to appearance (for example, a mobile phone vs. mascara), if the female customer perceived the staff member to be better looking than she, a purchase of the product was less likely.
- When Are Shoppers Turned Off By Attractive Salespeople? – Journal of Consumer Research
- Consumer Reactions to Attractive Service Providers: Approach or Avoid? – Journal of Consumer Research
- How Hot Salespeople Affect What You Buy in the Store – Time
- Good looks no guarantee of good sales – University of South Australia
What lessons, if any, should retailers take from the study about hiring based on appearance? Do retailers hire too much based on looks?