Virtual agents that flatter you: Moderating effects of self-esteem and customization target in e-customization services

Xueni Shirley Li, Wei Si*, Kimmy Wa Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


As e-customization services have grown in popularity, companies widely use virtual agents in such services to improve consumers' online shopping experience. However, extant research has not thoroughly clarified the best way to leverage the use of virtual agents and involve consumers in the e-customization process. Drawing on self-enhancement and self-verification theories, this research investigates the effects of an instrumental social influence tactic employed by virtual agents—specifically, flattering feedback—and the pivotal roles of consumers' self-esteem and customization target when evaluating and using e-customization services. Through four experiments that simulate e-customization experiences using different products, we find that the effect of virtual agents' flattering feedback on customization outcomes (i.e., word-of-mouth, product interest, and actual purchase) is contingent on consumers' self-esteem. Among consumers with high self-esteem, flattering (vs. generic) feedback from virtual agents in the e-customization process elicits more positive customization outcomes. In contrast, the opposite is true among those with low self-esteem. Moreover, consumers' process involvement mediates the interaction effects, and the interaction effects are attenuated when consumers customizing the product for others (vs. oneself). Our work contributes to online customization research by unveiling the mechanism and boundary conditions of the potentially double-edged effect of virtual agents' flattery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-363
Number of pages20
JournalPsychology & Marketing
Issue number2
Early online date22 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Marketing

User-Defined Keywords

  • customization target
  • flattery
  • involvement
  • online customization
  • self-esteem
  • social influence tactic
  • virtual agents


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