AUSTRALIA: Good-looking staff alienate customers

A new study from the University of South Australia has shown that hiring beautiful sales staff may not be the best business model for clothing retailers.

Bianca Price, the PhD researcher heading the study, found that women were less likely to make a purchase if they thought the sales woman was more attractive than them.

"I suppose this study was inspired by my own experiences," said Price, a body image and beauty specialist at the Adelaide-based university. "I, like most women, enjoy shopping. However, often my enjoyment of shopping has been impacted on negatively by my interactions with female salespeople."

"I have never been the most confident girl nor do I have the highest self-esteem and so when I go shopping for clothes and items that will hopefully make me feel better about myself, and ideally make me more attractive, I am placing myself in a context of esteem risk.

"Needless to say when I walk into a store and see a woman standing there, flawless and stunning I can't help but think 'WOW she is beautiful, gosh I wish my figure was as good as hers - look at how good the clothes look on her! I am never going to look that good! I look terrible compared to her!! I am so not going near her in fact I am not going in there at all.'"

For the study, Price focused on higher-end boutiques and surveyed more than 300 female university students between 18 and 26 to determine their shopping patterns. The results were compelling, suggesting that retailers need to hire a wide range of sales staff to encourage women to buy.

"I think if retailers, particularly retailers that focus on women as their dominant customer base, want to increase their sales, then understanding the range of constraints to customer behaviour, including avoidance behaviours where potential customers don't enter the store to avoid a potential context for upward social comparison, would be one critical avenue to consider," Price said.

"Let's face it - competition for the consumer is at an all-time high and people are more aware than ever of how and where they will spend their money."