Serving with a Smile on Airbnb: Analyzing the Economic Returns and Behavioral Underpinnings of the Host’s Smile
53 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2021
Date Written: September 14, 2020
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
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