On sharing economy platforms, verification of the user’s identity through profile pictures are standard features since they are a powerful mechanism for creating the trust which these websites rely on. With people rapidly and subconsciously processing information from facial images, facial cues from profile pictures provide a useful supplement to other information such as reviews.
Using standard measures of attractiveness and trustworthiness, as well as deep learning to classify host faces for an extensive data set of Airbnb accommodation in 10 US cities, the researchers found that high-quality profile photos that make the host appear trustworthy and attractive are more desirable to guests and are more likely to command a price premium.
They also found that the impact of host images that convey trust varies by property type and is particularly important for small accommodation and where it is shared with strangers.
Stuart J Barnes, Professor of Marketing and lead researcher said: “The success of online marketplaces comes down to whether the buyers trust that the seller is acting in good faith in terms of information disclosure and their intention to fulfil contractual obligations.
“In advertising, physical attractiveness and perceived friendliness enhance credibility. The same principle applies to sharing platforms where these attributes in a participant’s photos can foster the impression of trustworthiness by signalling kindness, honesty, and politeness. Our findings suggest that it pays to pay careful attention to the picture that you use on your Airbnb profile to avoid being over-charged.”
Sharing economy platforms such as Uber have built-in algorithms to vary price according to demand, referred to as surge pricing. The research further suggests the need to build similar algorithmic mechanisms into accommodation platforms to translate increased demand, captured by high volumes of reviews, into higher prices in a more systematic way. This represents yet another aspect that accommodation platforms can improve using data science to increase revenues and profits.