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The Faces of Success: Beauty and Ugliness Premiums in Online Platforms

The Faces of Success: Beauty and Ugliness Premiums in Online Platforms

Ling Peng, Geng Cui, Yuho Chung and Wanyi Zheng

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The studies of seller profile pictures on C2C e-commerce platforms find a U-curve relationship between facial attractiveness and product sales, i.e., both beauty and ugliness premiums, hence a plainness penalty

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Consumer Behavior; Digital Marketing;​​

Full Citation: ​
Peng, Ling, Geng Cui, Yuho Chung, Wanyi Zheng (2020), “The Faces of Success: Beauty and Ugliness Premiums in e-Commerce Platforms,” Journal of Marketing, Forthcoming.

Article Abstract
Given the positive bias toward attractive people in society, online sellers are justifiably apprehensive about the perceptions of their profile pictures. While the existing literature emphasizes the beauty premium and the ugliness penalty, our studies of seller profile pictures on C2C e-commerce platforms find a U-curve relationship between facial attractiveness and product sales, i.e., both beauty and ugliness premiums, hence a plainness penalty. By analyzing two large datasets, we find that both attractive and unattractive people sell significantly more than plain-looking people. Two online experiments reveal that attractive sellers enjoy greater source credibility due to perceived sociability and competence, whereas unattractive sellers are considered more believable based on perceived competence. While beauty premium is apparent for appearance-relevant products, ugliness premium is more pronounced for expertise-relevant products and for female consumers evaluating male sellers. These findings highlight the influence of facial appearance as a key vehicle for impression formation in online platforms and its complex effects in e-commerce and marketing.

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Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Ling Peng is Associate Professor, Department of Marketing and International Business, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Geng Cui is Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing and International Business, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Yuho Chung is Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Marketing and International Business, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Wanyi Zheng is a doctoral student, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.