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Michel Ballings, University of Tennessee; Neeraj Bharadwaj, University of Tennessee, and Prasad Naik, University of California, Davis

(THE CONVERSATION) The research dossier is a brief overview of interesting academic work.

The big idea

Smiling or exhibiting other positive emotional displays while selling a product on a live video – known as a live broadcast – makes people less likely to buy it, we found in new research published in the Journal of Marketing.

Streaming live through channels such as Amazon Live and QVC is an increasingly popular way to sell products online. In segments that are typically 5-10 minutes long, someone is presenting a product. Viewers can then easily purchase it by clicking on a link.


We analyzed 99,451 sales pitches on a live retail platform and matched them to actual sales transactions. In terms of duration, this equates to over 2 million 30-second TV commercials.


To determine the seller’s emotional expression, we used two deep learning models: a face detection model and an emotion classification model. The face detection model discovers the presence or absence of a face in a frame of a video stream. The Emotion Classifier then determines the likelihood that a face exhibits one of the six basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, or disgust. For example, smiling signals a high likelihood of happiness, while a scowl usually indicates anger.


We wanted to see the impact of emotions expressed at different points in the sales pitch, so we calculated the probabilities of each emotion for the 62 million frames of images in our data set. We then combined these probabilities with other possible variables that might drive sales – such as price and product characteristics – to isolate the effect of emotion.

We have found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, when salespeople convey more negative emotions, such as anger and disgust, sales volume decreases. But we also found that the same thing happens when the sales pitch involves high levels of positive emotional displays, such as happiness or surprise.

A likely explanation, based on previous research, is that smiling can be off-putting because it lacks authenticity and can reduce trust in the seller. The happiness of a seller can be taken as a sign that the seller is winning in the negotiation at the expense of the customer.

We have found that the negative effects on sales are strongest when people express their emotions in the middle rather than at the beginning or end of sales pitches. One potential reason for this result is that viewers can expect more emotion at the start of the pitch, when a salesperson presents a product, and at the end, when they close the sale. The middle is usually when the salesperson offers more details about the product, and viewers are likely to be emotionally disheartened at this point in the pitch.

Why is this important

Business majors and aspiring salespeople usually learn to provide service with a smile. Service providers such as bank tellers and waiters are encouraged to smile in order to achieve good results for customers.

And even in our data, sellers were smiling almost a quarter of the time. Our research challenges this notion and replaces it with a new maxim: Selling with a straight face.

To our knowledge, this marketing study is the first to assess the impact on sales of the presence of a salesperson’s face and emotional displays.

What is not yet known

We don’t know if our findings translate into in-person sales.

The main reason why this is unknown is that it is very difficult to observe business interactions in the field. For example, we cannot go and record how salespeople at an automobile dealership sell cars on a large scale.

There is smaller-scale in-person evidence based on surveys that appear calm – perhaps with a straight face – build relationships, which in turn drive sales performance results. It remains to be seen whether these results translate into a natural experience on the ground.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/why-livestreamers-should-sell-their-products-with-a-poker-face-not-a-smile-162804.


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