Serving with a Smile on Airbnb: Analyzing the Economic Returns and Behavioral Underpinnings of the Host’s Smile

53 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2021

See all articles by Shunyuan Zhang

Shunyuan Zhang

Harvard University - Business School (HBS); Harvard University

Elizabeth Friedman

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Xupin Zhang

University of Rochester

Kannan Srinivasan

Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business

Ravi Dhar

Yale School of Management - International Center for Finance

Date Written: September 14, 2020

Abstract

Non-informational cues, such as facial expressions, can significantly influence judgments and interpersonal impressions. Past research has explored how smiling affects business outcomes in offline or in-store contexts, yet relatively little is known about how smiling influences consumer choice in e-commerce settings. This paper explores the effect of smiling in the growing sharing economy context, specifically examining how a smile in an Airbnb host’s profile photo affects property demand. The study uses a facial attribute classifier to determine whether the host is smiling in their profile picture or not, and estimate the influence of a host smile in a longitudinal dataset of Airbnb bookings, controlling for a rich set of variables such as reviews, property characteristics, and the host’s age and gender. A smile in the host’s profile photo increases property demand by 1.9% on average. Further, gender moderates this effect, with smiling increasing demand for male hosts by 6.8%, compared to an insignificant increase for female hosts. An online experiment confirms this pattern, and explores the underlying mechanism. In particular, a moderated mediation analysis shows that smiling increases perceptions of the host’s warmth—to a greater extent for male than female hosts—which increases the likelihood of booking their property.

Keywords: E-commerce, Sharing Economy, Smile Effect, Gender Bias, Machine Learning, Facial Attributes, Airbnb Demand, Controlled Experiment

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Shunyuan and Friedman, Elizabeth and Zhang, Xupin and Srinivasan, Kannan and Dhar, Ravi, Serving with a Smile on Airbnb: Analyzing the Economic Returns and Behavioral Underpinnings of the Host’s Smile (September 14, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3692623 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3692623

Shunyuan Zhang (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Elizabeth Friedman

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Xupin Zhang

University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

Kannan Srinivasan

Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Ravi Dhar

Yale School of Management - International Center for Finance ( email )

Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
287
Abstract Views
1,372
rank
149,178
PlumX Metrics