Whitman Professor Enthusiastic for Digital Marketing, Virtual Fitting Rooms
Associate Professor of Marketing and Whitman Research Fellow
Marketing is exciting because there are always new and interesting things coming up in the market. Everything is marketing!
Guiyang Xiong’s enthusiasm for his field is palpable. The associate professor of marketing and Whitman Research Fellow may have started as a finance major in college, but early in his academic career, he began conducting research at the interface between finance and marketing and discovering the joys of his new specialization.
“Marketing is exciting because there are always new and interesting things coming up in the market,” he says. “Everything is marketing!”
Since completing a Ph.D. in marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in 2010, Xiong has made his name in the field by publishing in the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) and Marketing Science, as well as serving as a frequent reviewer, including in related disciplines such as management information systems and operations management. Xiong — whose active lifestyle includes hiking, visits to the gym and world travel–joined the Whitman faculty in 2017 after six years as an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, in search of new challenges and a change of climate away from “Hotlanta.”
In Syracuse, his research has focused increasingly on digital marketing, where online data — such as social media, online word of mouth and digital ads — has become more available. “I’m a data person,” he says. “When I see some interesting data pattern that’s counterintuitive, I get very curious and try to figure out why. It always feels rewarding to solve such puzzles, although the process is typically very challenging.”
Take Xiong’s research on virtual fitting rooms (VFR), which allow customers shopping online to virtually try on clothes on avatars (virtual models) before making purchase decisions. In a paper published in 2019, he showed that it could increase product sales by making the shopping experience more enjoyable and reducing perceived risks. The effect was even more pronounced when avatars were personalized with customers’ faces and body figures.
Xiong proceeded to examine how the impact of VFR varies across consumer groups. While overweight consumers (as determined by their body mass index) purchased fewer products and gave them lower marks when using VFR, they tended to buy more high-priced items. Intrigued, Xiong and his coauthors conducted a series of experiments to figure out why. They found that the avatar — reflecting the customer’s own body — posed a self-image threat to overweight individuals, who shifted the blame to the apparel. These consumers also coped by purchasing more expensive and therefore “high-status” clothes. This new study — including suggested solutions for retailers — was recently accepted for publication in JMR.
“These findings are important because overweight consumers make up the majority, nearly 74%, of the U.S. adult population, but they have traditionally been overlooked by fashion retailers and researchers,” Xiong says. “As VFR is becoming increasingly popular in retail, according to Goldman Sachs, revenue from virtual reality retail software alone may reach $1.6 billion in 2025. If retailers are unaware of such nuanced effects of VFR, they are likely to have suboptimal or even negative outcomes.”
Xiong brings his cutting-edge research into the classes he teaches on marketing strategy, product and service innovations, global marketing, and marketing research and analytics to students at all levels.
“The market and business world are changing rapidly, so I want to go beyond feeding students knowledge,” he says about his approach to teaching. “I try to help them develop thinking skills, an intrinsic interest to learn, abilities to collect and process new information and data, and problem-solving skills, so that after they graduate, they can constantly update themselves with the newest knowledge to solve new problems. And it’s always great to know if what the students learn from my classes has made an impact on them, is useful for their jobs or helps them start their own businesses.”
Some of his previous doctoral advisees have gone on to teach at major research institutions.
Xiong, in turn, finds inspiration in class discussions and work with his Ph.D. students for his ongoing projects. “I’m excited to continue conducting research on new technologies for digital marketing, not only on virtual reality but also on the application of artificial intelligence in retail,” he says. “I think the future of marketing will see even more and smarter digitalization.”
By Olivia Hall