Consumer reaction to flattering salespeople

Even if they believe a compliment is sincere, consumers tend to have negative reactions to salespeople’s flattery, researchers reported in the Journal of Consumer Research.

However, the study authors, from Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, noted that disliking a salesperson does not mean that the consumer walks out of the store without buying anything.

Study authors, Elaine Chan and Jaideep Sengupta wrote “Imagine overhearing a conversation in which a salesperson profusely compliments a nearby customer on the elegance of her outfit.” The consumer has already paid for her product and looks elegant – you assume it is a sincere compliment.

The researchers carried out four experiments in fashion shops to determine how consumer might react to flattery. In each case, the participants would hear a salesperson’s flattering remark about their sense of style.

The investigators concentrated on seemingly sincere compliments, although they were also examining customer-reaction to flattery that was deemed by the consumer to be insincere, such as when the salesperson flatters profusely before a purchase is made.

The authors wrote:

“We found robust evidence that observers form both positive and negative reactions towards a purveyor of sincere flattery.”

When the participants had time to form thoughtful, deliberate responses, their opinions of the flatterers tended to be positive. However, gut reactions to flattery were significantly more negative.

The authors added:

“These implicit reactions towards seemingly sincere flattery are as negative as when the observer has good reason to believe that flattery is actually insincere.”

The consumer spends more because of envy

The investigators found that when people are witnessing another consumer being flattered, they tend to compare themselves to that person, which may result in feelings of envy.

In a separate experiment, the authors explained that when the other person being flattered was a peer, perhaps a student at the same university for example, the feelings of envy were greater.

Chan and Sengupta also found that such envy would motivate consumers to go for the more expensive, stylish clothing in the shop.

The authors concluded “Over time, envy-based hostility towards the salesperson is no longer a part of the purchase decision; instead, this decision is influenced primarily by the wish to reduce envy – by appearing stylish oneself.”

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