Why Airbnb hosts need a great photo

airbnb-profileCountless studies have highlighted the crucial role reviews can play in our buying behavior online, with most regarding a positive review as arguably the biggest influence on how and what we buy.

A recent Israeli study suggests that, for the sharing economy at least, there may be something even more powerful.

Picture perfect

The researchers examined the selling success of a number of Airbnb users, and attempted to hone in on just what it was that made them a success (or not).  They analyzed everything from the reviews, photos, responsiveness levels and descriptions used to see which aspect of a listing was most influential.

“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,” the authors say.

The researchers conducted a couple of studies on Swedish properties listed on Airbnb, with the sample consisting of a wide range of different property types.

For each property, a group of some 600 participants were tasked with providing their first impression of the hosts on factors such as their trustworthiness and attractiveness.  These were used to perform so called hedonic price analysis, which estimates the extent to which these various factors influence the eventual sale price of a property.

Attractive proposition

It emerged that when people thought a host looked trustworthy, they experienced a considerable price premium over shiftier looking peers.

Interestingly, this was consistent even if their reviews suggested the opposite.  Indeed, the reviews given to the property seemed to have remarkably little impact on the likelihood of a booking, with the authors suggesting this may be because we perceive reviews as somewhat exaggerated.

“Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, the person is not the ‘selling product’ here. 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,” they say.

This was replicated when the authors mocked up photos, with customers continuing to favor sellers who were perceived as trustworthy on account of their profile picture.  Interestingly, this was largely a subtle influence, as participants didn’t reveal that the photo was playing any part in their choices.

“The results of our research imply a strong need for trust in sharing economy platforms. 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,” the authors conclude.

This desire for trust has seen a number of platforms emerge to try and better communicate trust, including Deemly, who I wrote about recently.  Suffice to say, profile photo isn’t a factor in any of these factors, so perhaps that’s a feature that needs to be built in.

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