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In Sales, Flattery Will Get You ... Somewhere

In Sales, Flattery Will Get You ... Somewhere Credit: Flattering woman image via Shutterstock

Buttering up customers with a variety of compliments won't necessarily get them to make any added purchases, but it could encourage those around them to do so, new research finds.

A study by researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology revealed that customers who observe other shoppers being flattered by a salesperson end up comparing themselves to that person, which leads to feelings of envy. Those feelings, in turn, motivate envious shoppers to choose expensive, stylish purchases over standard, cheaper ones.

"This decision is influenced primarily by the wish to reduce envy — by appearing stylish oneself," wrote the study's authors, Elaine Chan, of Tilburg University, and Jaideep Sengupta, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Despite the higher-priced purchases they may make, customers who witness flattery by salespeople are often left with a negative impression of the employee, the researchers discovered.

As part of the study, researchers conducted four experiments in clothing stores to investigate consumers' reactions to salespeople's flattery. They found that observers form both positive and negative reactions toward a purveyor of sincere flattery.

Researchers found that when shoppers had time to form thoughtful, deliberate responses, they tended to have positive opinions of the flatterers. But gut reactions to flattery were far more negative.

"These implicit reactions towards seemingly sincere flattery are as negative as when the observer has good reason to believe that flattery is actually insincere," the authors wrote.

The study, "Observing Flattery: A Social Comparison Perspective," is scheduled to appear in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.