If you’ve ever stepped into a retail store and suddenly felt self-conscious, you’re not alone. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research [PDF] this month, the level of attractiveness exhibited by employees can sometimes intimidate shoppers and influence how much they spend—assuming they buy anything at all.
Authors Lisa C. Wan and Robert S. Wyer Jr. conducted five field and laboratory studies in Hong Kong examining the spending habits of shoppers while in the presence of same- or opposite-sex store employees they found attractive. Female customers were less likely to buy personal items like feminine hygiene, birth control, or weight-loss products from attractive male cashiers and opted to approach comparatively less handsome ones instead. When faced with attractive women, study subjects reported feelings of dissatisfaction over their own appearance.
The authors argue that anxiety over their own appearance or showing interest in personal care items can dissuade shoppers from interacting with employees, minimizing or skipping purchases altogether. In one of their studies, fewer customers stopped to look at a thermal waist belt purporting to help eliminate belly fat when the salesperson was pleasant-looking; twice as many bought one when it was being offered by a more plain-looking cashier.
In some cases, the paper says, people with existing social anxiety could be more worried about making a good impression. It might be something to consider the next time you find yourself wandering out of a store empty-handed—and yet another reason online shopping keeps growing.