The popular expression “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is generally associated with job interviews, first dates, and business presentations, but it may even extend to your Airbnb profile.
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The prominence of sellers’ photos on sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb – on which people offer short-term rentals – triggered a team of Israeli researchers to investigate whether and how consumers’ decisions are affected by personal photos of Airbnb hosts. As it turns out, profile pictures have a greater impact on potential renters than the images of the properties up for rent.
“While the effect of product attributes such as apartment size and location is rather obvious, consumers’ responsiveness to seller attributes such as reputation and personal photos has yet to be studied,” Prof. Aliza Fleischer of Israel’s Hebrew University, who led the study, said in a statement.
The research, which was recently published in the journal Tourism Management, is comprised of two complementary studies. In the first study, researchers collected the public data of all Airbnb’s listings in Stockholm, Sweden, including property size and location, pictures of the property, price, and customer reviews.
They presented the personal photos of the Airbnb hosts to 600 research participants and evaluated their first impression of the photos. They performed a hedonic price analysis – a model that estimates the extent to which each of the factors comprising the selling good affects the price – combined with ratings of the hosts’ trustworthiness and attractiveness as perceived from their personal photos.
Renters are willing to pay more if the host looks trustworthy
The study found that hosts who are perceived from their photos as more trustworthy enjoy a price premium over their counterparts who are perceived as less trustworthy.
Surprisingly, the research also found that online review scores had no effect on listing prices or the likelihood of the consumer actually booking the property. The researchers suggested this may be the result of exaggerated reviews that neutralized their effect.
“Profile pictures of the hosts are critical to their business success”
“Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, the person is not the ‘selling product’ here,” Dr. Eyal Ert Of the Hebrew University said in a statement. “On Airbnb, the focus is on the property and its attributes, but even so — we found that the profile pictures of the hosts are critical to their business success.”
In the second study, researchers conducted a controlled experiment, where participants were presented with a series of made-up Airbnb profiles, using photos of actors. The study found that the level of hosts’ perceived trustworthiness, mainly as inferred from their photos, directly affects consumers’ choices. Its effect is stronger than that of other visual attributes, and visual-based trust has a stronger impact on consumers’ choice than reputation (which is based on reviews).
Another interesting finding is that the participants were not aware of the important role the photos play in their choice. When asked what the important factors affecting their decision were, very few mentioned the profile photographs of the hosts.
A pictures is worth a thousand… Airbnb guests?
With the rapid growth of the sharing economy, especially in tourism-related services, there is a need to further investigate the trust mechanisms upon which this economy is built, the researchers say.
“The results of our research imply a strong need for trust in sharing economy platforms,” Fleischer concludes. “Different rules and consumer decision-making are at play here, and a fuller examination of these is still needed to shed light on how this economy really operates.”
Photos and video: Airbnb