Too close for comfort? The impact of salesperson-customer proximity on consumers' purchase behavior

Tobias Otterbring*, Freeman Wu, Per Kristensson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Across a series of lab and field studies, with a total sample of over 1200 participants, we investigate how the physical proximity between salespeople and customers can impact store loyalty, purchase intentions, and actual spending. An initial survey among a representative sample of retail salespeople reveals that they associate close physical proximity between employees and customers with positive consumer outcomes, an intuition that dovetails with prior research documenting the positive influence of such proximity on purchase intentions, particularly in nonexpressive consumption contexts. Contrary to this work, we demonstrate, across four studies in which proximity was both measured and manipulated, that store loyalty, purchase intentions, and actual spending behavior are negatively impacted when consumers encounter a salesperson who is standing close by (vs. farther away), particularly in expressive consumption contexts. Psychological discomfort mediates this effect, such that consumers experience greater discomfort when a salesperson is standing close by, which in turn decreases spending. Importantly, this phenomenon is moderated by identity relevance, such that the negative influence of salesperson-customer proximity specifically emerges when consumers think about products in terms of their ability to express their identities. These findings carry important implications for retailers operating in expressive consumption contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalPsychology and Marketing
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1576-1590
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 29.05.2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • discomfort
  • ecological validity
  • field experiment
  • identity relevance
  • personal space
  • proxemics
  • proximity

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Competition economics and service strategy - Service and customer-oriented management


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