13 Aug 2021
The latest talk in the Sasin Research Seminar series looks at salesperson attractiveness and the relative advantages or disadvantages of looks in relation to bargaining behavior in a retail context. The lecture, given by Apiradee Wongkitrungrueng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marketing at Mahidol University International, was based on an article published by her (and co-authors) in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2020. The use of attractiveness in salespeople is incredibly common. But is this always a good strategy for a business? Numerous studies have shown people tend to perceive more attractive people in a positive light. However, research on consumer-salespeople interactions shows that trustworthiness is also a significant factor. Studies on bargaining have found that initially, people may make higher initial offers to attractive people, but this can change depending on perception. Research has shown that better-looking salespeople are compensated more than other staff. This might lead to some buyers associating higher goods prices with the compensation for the salesperson, so if the seller is attractive, the price might seem less fair. Consequently, a salesperson’s attractiveness has a potential adverse effect – consumers may trust them less due to perceived labor costs. To better understand the effects of labor costs-to-price (LP) ratios on bargaining levels, Assistant Professor Apiradee and her co-authors conducted a series of tests and posed some hypotheses. Three pretests were conducted to assess people’s attitudes. The first looked at the ‘beauty compensation premium’ – the belief that attractive salespeople are paid more. 73% believed they earned more. The second test was to see how much the public thought labor costs contributed to the overall price. The final test looked at the relative effects of attractiveness, the LP ratio, and price perceptions. These tests led to the development of four hypotheses. The first was that consumers who hold higher LP ratio beliefs are likely to reach a final lower price with a more attractive salesperson. The second was these consumers would bargain harder. The third was they would ascribe lower trustworthiness to the better-looking salesperson. The fourth was that trustworthiness perceptions and bargaining stance would mediate the interactive effect of LP ratio beliefs and salesperson attractiveness on the final price. To test these hypotheses, Assistant Professor Apiradee and her colleagues devised a series of studies. Each test varied considerably and analyzed different aspects of the hypotheses to see how well they held up. The studies assessed the relationship between factors such as LP ratio beliefs, bargaining stance, bargaining index, perceived trustworthiness, and final prices. Assistant Professor Apiradee described the tests, how they were conducted, and the results of each one before moving on to the overall findings. The study found two basic insights into the previously unexamined role of salesperson attractiveness in consumer bargaining behavior. The first was that the attractiveness of a salesperson matters. Consumers bargain differently depending on how good-looking the seller is. The second finding was that the strength of bargaining depends on the consumers’ price-related beliefs – how much they think the cost of labor affects retail prices. If the consumers’ LP ratio beliefs are higher, they tend to bargain harder with a more attractive salesperson. Whereas, if their LP ratio beliefs are lower, they will negotiate harder with a less good-looking seller. This moderating effect seems to be based, in turn, on attractiveness-induced variations in consumers’ perceptions of salesperson trustworthiness and their consequent bargaining stance. The talk then looked at both the theoretical contributions of the paper and the implications for management, including suggestions and recommendations. This was followed by a lively Q&A that looked at a wide range of issues and further research areas such as discrimination, how attractiveness is determined, natural versus enhanced beauty, and the role of personality.