Purpose – The purpose of this study was to assess the utility of the homophily theory and the related concept of source similarity which predict that a male salesperson is more effective in serving male customers, and a female is more effective with females. For products designed to enhance female attractiveness, however, Darwinian theories of reproduction suggest that a male may be more effective than a female in dealing with female customers. This study of Hong Kong consumers examined the possibility and, in doing so, challenged the assumed utility of homophily in selling cosmetics. Design/methodology/approach – Two studies were conducted. The first was an experiment where female subjects were asked to report their responses to female and male salespersons selling cosmetics. The second study was a phenomenological study exploring the responses of female customers who had encountered male salespeople in cosmetics shops. Findings – The experiment found that a male salesperson tended to induce significantly stronger purchase intention than a female, and that salesperson credibility (specifically, trustworthiness and attractiveness) plays a significant role in mediating the impact of salesperson gender on purchase intention. The follow-up phenomenological study of female customers who had encountered male salespeople in cosmetics shops supported the experimental findings and offered additional support for their evolutionary basis. Research limitations/implications – Darwinian theories of reproduction and source credibility together offer a more complete explanation for the effectiveness of salespeople in the gender-sensitive cosmetics market. However, the experiment involved creating fictitious salespeople matched for trust, expertise and attractiveness. The artificiality of the treatments was necessary to construct a controlled scenario to uphold internal validity, but it may limit the generalizability of the results. Practical implications – To encourage a positive consumer response, retailers need to consider salesperson gender and training. In some specific contexts (such as the selling of products designed to enhance female attractiveness), male salespeople ought to be used ahead of female salespeople, and those male salespeople need to have high credibility to be effective. However, as such, salesmen may not be seen as more expert than saleswomen; expertise needs to be an area of focus in terms of salesperson training. Originality/value – The results of previous research testing homophily theory suggest that a salesperson of the same gender as the customer ought to induce stronger purchase intentions. This study has shown that for the selling of appearance-related products, gender heterophily may be more effective than homophily. Darwinian interpretations of intrasexual rivalry and courtship might help explain why males sell cosmetics more effectively.
Scopus Subject Areas
- Business and International Management
- Evolutionary psychology