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Subtle but spotted? Influencing factors of customer-perceived weight discrimination

Sonja N. Kralj (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany)
Andreas T. Lechner (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany)
Michael Paul (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 23 August 2019

Issue publication date: 27 September 2019



Studies report that frontline employees frequently discriminate against overweight customers, a group of vulnerable consumers that is growing worldwide. However, because most discrimination by frontline employees is covert, the authors ask whether overweight customers perceive discrimination and what influences this perception. Drawing on field theory, this paper aims to investigate how two environment factors (frontline employee overweight and frontline employees’ neutral treatment of other customers) and two person factors (customer pre-encounter affect and self-esteem) influence customer-perceived weight discrimination.


In a pilot study and three experimental studies, the authors examine the impact of covert discrimination of overweight customers by frontline employees on customers’ perception of discrimination and the influencing effects of environment and person factors. Hypotheses are tested using regression analysis.


The authors find that overweight customers perceive covert weight discrimination by frontline employees. Frontline employee overweight mitigates the effect of covert discrimination, and (state and trait) self-esteem amplifies this effect. Frontline employees’ neutral treatment of other customers is insignificant. Customer (state and trait) negative affect directly increases customer-perceived discrimination independent of covert discrimination.


While extant research focuses on marketplace discrimination triggers and consequences, the perspective of the discriminated customer and what influences his or her perception of covert discrimination has attracted much less attention. Moreover, research rarely addresses overweight as a discrimination trigger. As environment and person influences frequently shape service encounters, the authors contribute novel and relevant insights to the literature. This is of high value, especially in light of the harmful consequences marketplace discrimination entails for customers and service firms.



The authors would like to thank Verena Hartmannsgruber for her support in collecting the data for Study 1 of this research paper.


Kralj, S.N., Lechner, A.T. and Paul, M. (2019), "Subtle but spotted? Influencing factors of customer-perceived weight discrimination", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 532-546.



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