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Press Release from the Journal of Marketing: Livestream Retailers: Why Hosts Should Sell with a Poker Face

Matt Weingarden

Researchers from University of Tennessee and University of California-Davis published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that investigates the sales impact of emotional expressions by the hosts of livestream retailing. 

The study, forthcoming in Journal of Marketing, is titled “A New Livestream Retail Analytics Framework to Assess the Sales Impact of Emotional Displays” and is authored by Neeraj Bharadwaj, Michel Ballings, Prasad Naik, Miller Moore, and Mustafa Murat Arat. 


Livestream retailing features hosts promoting and selling goods in real-time via screen-mediated sales presentations. It presents new opportunities for marketers to create, deliver, communicate, and capture value in ways not previously possible. It integrates shopping and entertainment to facilitate customers to purchase from wherever and whenever. Livestream retailing shortens the path to purchase by entertaining customers, demonstrating products, and describing why they are must-have items; conveying that only limited quantities are available; counting down the time remaining on an item before the next item is introduced; and injecting calls to action, such as “grab it before it’s gone.” Finally, it allows value capture via credit cards, non-cash payments, installments, and barter. Marketers only need to imagine how to integrate such value creation and capture via modern technologies. 
At the intersection of marketing and technology, these researchers develop a new technology to analyze livestream retail analytics data. Specifically, they investigate the sales impact of emotional expressions by the hosts. Do emotional displays help or hurt sales? 
Through a collaboration with a real-world livestream retailer who broadcasts shows 24 hours each day of the week, deploys multiple hosts to deliver live sales presentations of hedonic products, receives payments by credit cards, and ships orders by mail, the research team analyzed about 100,000 sales pitches. Bharadwaj explains that “To put this scale in perspective, the associated video footage exceeds two million 30-second TV ads. We apply two machine-learning algorithms, real-time face detection and real-time emotion classification, to unobtrusively extract six emotional displays: happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, and disgust.” 
Negative emotions (i.e., sadness, surprise, anger, fear, and disgust) exhibit negative U-shaped effects on sales, as expected. Surprisingly, the positive emotion of happiness also exhibits a negative U-shaped effect on sales. This counter-intuitive and provocative finding cautions salespeople to “sell with a straight face.”  
This study highlights the importance of monitoring and managing facial expressions. One implication is to train new hosts. The firm can analyze the video footage much like sports teams watch films of critical moments in previous games to learn what individual players did well and not-so-well. The resulting feedback could be used to modify the sales pitches. Another implication is to re-train experienced hosts. The firm can compare each host with the top performer and identify which emotions the hosts should alter. Happiness is the first one to be addressed. Ballings says that “Contrary to the popular belief of rendering ‘service with a smile,’ we advocate selling with a straight face. Smiling may be off-putting because it lacks authenticity and reduces trust in the seller. Subsequently, salespersons should address displays of anger, then fear, and other negative emotions.” Naik adds that “Another implication is for bot marketing. As bots mimic human facial expressions more closely, three-dimensional audiovisual bots can be designed to engage with customers in online as well as offline stores.” For example, HSBC Bank in Northern California employs Pepper, a social humanoid robot, to greet and transact with customers. Further technological advances will bestow bots with the ability to express and reciprocate emotions, thereby nudging prospective customers through the purchase funnel by explaining features and benefits, instilling urgency to buy, and providing entertainment along the way. 

Full article and author contact information available at:

About the Journal of Marketing 

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief. 

About the American Marketing Association (AMA) 

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what is coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.



Matt Weingarden, Vice President, Communities & Journals, leads the diverse team that supports the AMA’s network of community leaders from its three broad communities and four scholarly journals.