Pleasantly Plump: Offsetting Negative Obesity Stereotypes for Frontline Service Employees

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Obesity, Frontline service, Employee, Customer satisfaction, Retail strategy, Service quality


Obesity is described as the fastest growing public health challenge facing developed nations (Prentice, 2006). This research introduces the topic of obesity to the retailing literature by examining the interplay between obesity in frontline employees and customer evaluations of service transactions. Baseline effects are established that show customers evaluate employees and firms more negatively if the frontline worker is obese compared to average weight. Two follow-up studies identify means by which firms may offset the negative obesity effects. Specifically, signaling theory is drawn upon in Study 1 to justify the introduction of observable quality cues as a means to offset negative stereotypes. Results indicate that the presence of unambiguous quality cues attenuate unfavorable judgments of the obese employee and the affiliated retail store. In Study 2, a countervailing, jovial stereotype is primed as a means to offset the more prominent negative ones. Retail managers can use this research as a means to understand an important caveat to frontline service evaluations and as the basis for managing a prominent negative stereotype.

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Journal of Retailing, v. 90, issue 3, p. 365-378

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