Jenessa Shapiro is an assistant professor of Management and Organizations at UCLA Anderson School; she joined the faculty of the UCLA Psychology Department after completing her Ph.D. in 2008 and then joined UCLA Anderson in 2011. Her research focuses on modern forms of discrimination that emerge in organizational contexts and how stereotypes can undermine performance.
Some of Shapiro’s recent work looked at the ways in which overweight or obese shoppers were treated in retail stores. She and her research colleagues set up an elaborate series of tests, sending shoppers in to stores both as themselves and also while wearing obesity prosthetics to gauge how they were treated. This methodology was used to ensure that everything other than size was the same between the "two" shoppers. Also, secret observers were used to watch the interactions and tape recorders were used to document the exchanges. What Shapiro found was that the overweight shoppers were subtly discriminated when shopping:
"In general, our overweight shoppers were treated with more of this “interpersonal hostility.” We did not see evidence of more formal types of discrimination. Nobody was turned away from the store nobody was refused help, but where these differences emerged was when we looked at these interpersonal forms and both the observers and the shoppers and the tape recorders revealed these interpersonal behaviors" were more negative with the overweight shoppers.”
(the quote above begins at about the 4:10 mark of the video)
The study also used certain "cues" to see if they increased the level of discrimination. In some cases, they did. For example, average weight shoppers who dressed "casually" or "sloppy" did not receive any additional negative treatment. But the overweight shoppers received increased levels of negative treatment when their dress was more casual.
Shapiro's research included '"real" shoppers as well. What she found was that the more overweight a shopper was , the more they reported more rudeness, less friendliness and less eye contact and the were less likely to make a purchase while being more likely to just leave the store without buying anything.
This last point suggests that a company hurts itself when these negative non-verbal behaviors leak into employee interaction with customers.
Please do check out the whole video as Shapiro details the research and some of the ways companies may work with employees to eliminate these negative behaviors.