Are you missing opportunities to increase sales and generate more revenue?
If you don’t have a retail upselling strategy, the answer is yes.
But here’s the tricky part: people don’t enjoy being sold. Pushing more products and services onto a customer who already committed to buying something from you can backfire and leave them feeling bullied, unappreciated, and downright annoyed.
The art of the upsell means taking a sale from a transaction to an interaction, from a conversion to a connection.
Doing so makes a big difference. It dramatically impacts your customer’s experience. Adding on to their original purchase or choosing a higher-priced item becomes their decision rather than a pushy upsell.
So how do you strike a balance between making no additional offer and driving customers away with overly aggressive sales tactics? How can you encourage an upsell without being overbearing?
By using strategies that provide more value, give the customer more benefits, and create a better overall experience. Your sales can actually make customers happier and feel more connected to your company and your brand.
Here, we’ll look at the difference between retail upselling and cross-selling, retail upselling techniques and examples, and how you can train your sales staff to successfully upsell.
Table of Contents
What is upselling in retail?
Upselling in retail is when you encourage shoppers to buy a higher priced item similar to the one being considered. You can upsell in-store with strategic retail product displays or pre-purchase upsells at your point of sale (POS).
You can upsell online during various stages of the buyer’s journey, including on the product page, cart page, and with post-purchase upselling email flows.
We’ll go into more detail about retail upselling strategies below.
Retail upselling vs cross-selling: what’s the difference?
Instead of persuading customers to buy a higher-priced item, cross-selling is used to encourage customers to buy complementary or related products to increase their basket size. Retail upselling and cross-selling have different benefits but, when used together, they can help you increase sales and improve customer experience.
For example, in a cross-sell you can recommend a three-pack of socks to a shopper who’s buying boots. To make it an upsell, offer a higher-priced pair of boots and ask the customer if they’d like to upgrade their purchase.
To up-sell or cross-sell successfully, it’s important to be strategic at the right moment. Upselling a product that’s unrelated or by being pushy can turn people away. You may fail to convert the customer, and you could lose the original sale.
The golden rule of upsells: provide value
Always provide value. Getting a shopper to upgrade their purchase or increase basket size can increase sales revenue. But the offer also needs to have perks for the customer.
Before you try to upsell any customer with any product, you first need to ask yourself if your upsell is even relevant. The goal is to generate more sales for your company. But in the long run, customer happiness and loyalty will create more revenue and overall success than a one-time sale.
“Successful retail upselling unlocks so much financial flexibility for any brand,” says Brandon Park, COO at Win Brands Group. “But to do it well, you must ensure that the upsold products form a common thread between each product and are first and foremost relevant to what the customer is looking for. If achieved, profitability and value creation for the customer can go hand-in-hand.”
Don’t randomly upsell products. Make sure the higher-priced item you’re suggesting is always relevant to the original item. Bonus points if your suggestion is not only relevant but also beneficial and helpful.
Retail upselling techniques
There are many retail upselling techniques that you can try in-store and online to increase your average order value (AOV).
Let’s take a look at a few:
The SPIN framework
SPIN is a marketing and sales framework that helps you adapt your selling process to your customer. Use it to deliver a more personalized experience that persuades shoppers.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- Situation questions help you understand your customers’ needs.
- Problem questions help the customer understand their needs.
- Implication questions uncover the effect of the problem.
- Need-payoff questions clarify how your solution helps the customer’s problem.
This framework for upselling your customers is a subtle way to bring their attention to a pain point or problem they weren’t aware of.
Let’s say you have a customer who wants to buy a new DSLR camera. You can start the upselling process by showing two cameras to the customer and explaining why the higher-priced item is a better solution.
Start by talking about the benefits of the more expensive camera. You can say, “Both cameras are great, but if you want high-quality images, it’s worth spending $100 more on this camera. You’ll feel like a professional!”
Once the customer chooses the higher-end camera you can try increasing the sale value with cross-selling. Recommend a camera bag that makes it easier to carry the camera, and also a comfortable camera strap.
Present the problem to them—and then introduce an idea on how to solve it.
Suggesting a camera bag solves one of your customer’s problems, but they likely have many others that additional products can help relieve. If they’re new to photography, they don’t have the accessories they need to make their first experience even better.
Wrap up this framework and notify the customer of exactly what to do next by saying:
“You can buy this strap today with your camera so you can immediately be on the go. If you add it to your purchase today, we’ll knock 10% off the strap and any other camera accessories you want to bring home.”
This way of selling is more like storytelling, and it’s powerful. It allows you to bring your customer along on a journey. You paint a picture for them that they can imagine themselves in. From using their brand-new (expensive) DSLR at home to carrying it with them the next time they travel to a new city, they won’t have to worry about dropping or misplacing their new purchase.
Limited time offers
Nothing gets people in gear like a deadline. Drawing attention to a limited-time offer can encourage customers to take action to buy a more expensive item or add an item to their original purchase.
Set timelines for your deals and promotions. Don’t make open-ended offers. And be sure to inform the customer of the deadline once you put it in place.
Here are a few ways to create a sense of urgency and encourage people to take action (and buy more):
- Plan flash sales
- Schedule discount events around specific days
- Give “last chance” purchasing opportunities to customers who bought before or showed interest
This example from The Sill illustrates how to use a flash sale to upsell. I received this email on Friday for a limited time offer. If I shop this Saturday and Sunday, I will save on my next order.
The email advertises a two-day opportunity to buy now and save in the future. If I buy now and again when I receive a discount code for a future order, The Sill will have sold more.
It won’t directly increase my average order value, but it will convert me from a one-time shopper to a repeat customer. This strategy increases customer lifetime value and overall sales revenue.
This retail upselling strategy can also be used in-store. You can send an email blast with a special offer for in-store purchases during a specific time period.
Have doubts about using limited-time offers as an upselling strategy? Just think about the shopping madness on Black Friday.
We tend to want things more when those things become scarce. We place a higher value on items that aren’t widely available.
Offering deals—or even products themselves—for a limited amount of time drives people to take action because it triggers a sense of urgency. If we don’t act now, we could miss out.
When your customer makes a big purchase, they want to protect their investment. You can help them do that—and upsell them in the process. Suggest additional products for a small additional cost.
Best Buy makes most of its profit margin on add-ons and upsells for expensive technology.
They know customers are more willing to spend money after already making one purchase. And the store knows that customers don’t want anything to happen to the piece of tech they just spent hundreds of dollars on.
The original price of the technology itself makes an upsell item designed to protect that investment look like a deal and a no-brainer. Of course you want to protect your $800 iPhone with a case and screen protector:
These kinds of retail upsells can enhance your customer experience as long as the upsell products are a great match for the original purchase.
These offers generally don’t work for a customer who purchases a much less expensive phone. If the latest technology is not high on their priority list they likely don’t need high-end protective accessories either.
Gifts and rewards
To encourage customers to buy a little more than they originally planned to purchase, reward them for spending money with you. There are several ways to accomplish this.
Target provides a brilliant example with its line of teeth whitening products. There are several to choose from, all at various price points. But only one of the most expensive offers a $5 gift card when you make a purchase of a select product.
A customer who might have considered a cheaper product can easily justify upselling themselves when they see the offer for the gift card. If they choose to use the gift card on another Target purchase, it’s like saving $5 for shopping with the retailer.
It also keeps the customer loyal to the brand. You can incentivize customers to say yes to the upsell when you provide store credits or create some sort of loyalty program.
OpenTable, for example, rewards diners who book so many reservations through the app and shows users their progress toward the next reward.
Product bundling is a retail upselling strategy that takes the guesswork out of buying for customers. It makes their lives easier, provides more value, and increases sales.
“Choice is sometimes a detriment to conversion and we have also found the Gift Builder to be a great “focus” point for landing pages or campaigns for customers arriving at the site,” says Park.
Using the example above, The Sill could also encourage me to spend more by creating a product bundle. It could include three houseplants, pots to go with them, a watering can, and trimmers.
In-store, the plant bundle can sit on a display table. This way, the customer immediately understands the benefit of purchasing all the products together. And they can visualize it in their home.
The price of the bundle needs to be lower than the total of each item sold separately.
By packing the products together, it makes your customer’s life easier. They don’t have to search or go elsewhere for all the products they need for their houseplant collection.
The rule of three
Apply the rule of three to retail upselling by giving the shopper three similar options to choose from, in a range of prices. Be strategic and make the middle-priced item the one that has the best profit margin (i.e., the product with the highest markup).
The customer may not want to buy the highest priced product but is willing to pay the price of the product in the middle. It will still be an upsell from the lowest-ticket item.
It’s important to always be genuine and make sure you’re not offering products that might be outside your customer’s price point.
Retail upselling can happen at various different phases of the buyer’s journey. At your retail store, pre-purchase upsells can happen at your checkout counter or point-of-sale (POS) device. Right before the customer is going to pay, you can suggest a higher-priced item that they might like. Or you can highlight additional items that go well with the original purchase.
Create pre-purchase upsells online by adding a section to the bottom of your product pages that says, “You may also like” or “Wear with.” This encourages customers to increase their cart size and spend more. On your cart page, show similar or complementary products. That way it’s easy for the customer to add them before they check out.
Pro tip: Never try to upsell on your checkout page. At this point, let shoppers focus on completing their purchase. You don’t want them to abandon their checkout completely.
Post-purchase upsells are a way to generate additional revenue from existing customers. After a shopper completes their purchase, send them a post-purchase email flow to share special offers while your business is still top of mind.
For example, you can invite them back to your store to redeem a 10% discount in the next two weeks. Or, online, you can show them similar products and offer 10% off for a limited time.
High shipping threshold
A disadvantage of shopping online is that you have to pay for shipping and sometimes returns, too. However, if you let your customers skip shipping costs, they might be more likely to buy higher-priced products (and buy in general).
You can do this by creating a free shipping threshold. If a customer spends a certain amount on their purchase, it will ship for free. This encourages shoppers to spend more per purchase to activate the free shipping incentive.
Pro tip: Make sure you build free shipping into your margins and that it’s either completely or partially covered in your retail prices. If you don’t, you may lose a lot of money on shipping expenses.
Examples of upselling in retail: 3 brands that do it well
There are many retailers to turn to for retail upselling inspiration.
Three of our favorites are:
Knix designs wireless bras, period-proof underwear, sports bras, loungewear, and more, with the customer’s comfort in mind. Its leakproof underwear kits are a perfect example of upselling done well.
Image source: Knix Leakproof Underwear Kits
Shoppers can find an assortment of period protection underwear that fits their needs no matter how heavy or light their flow is.
Knix creates incentive by helping customers save 25% if they buy an underwear kit. Its kits also make the decision process easier for customers.
Brooklinen is a direct-to-consumer brand that makes high-quality sheets and towels at an affordable price.
Image source: Brooklinen Hardcore Bundles
Its Hardcore Bundles include one sheet set, one duvet cover, and two extra pillowcases. And you save 25% when you buy a bundle. It also has Move-In Bundles that include one comforter, two pillows, and one Hardcore Bundle. You save up to 17% when you choose a Move-In Bundle.
These product bundles not only make life easier for Brooklinen’s customers, it also helps the brand sell more and increase average order value.
Homesick makes soy-wax-blend scented candles and fragrance oils. Its Gift Builder product bundle helps shoppers easily find gifts and increases average order value at the same time.
Image source: Homesick Gift Builder
Customers can build a three-candle gift set and save. The three candles together would usually cost $34, but as a gift bundle, the cost is $25.50. There’s also an option to add three more candles and save more.
“The key benefit of our Gift Builder is increased basket size. However the knock-on effect is multi-fold and allows us as a seller much greater flexibility in terms of managing our business,” says Park.
“First, increasing basket size means increasing profitability most simply. We acquire a customer for $X and if they spend $80 instead of $20, that’s more profit per customer. The additional impact is that we are able to be more flexible in promotions or discounts as a result of that increased profitability.”
How to train your retail employees to upsell
There’s an art to retail upselling. To make sure you and your sales staff don’t come across as phony and pushy, keep these suggestions in mind.
Treat the customer like a friend
The point of having a retail business is to sell a product and make a profit. However, if the customer feels like you’re pouncing on them the second they walk in the door, chances are they won’t stay very long. Treat shoppers like a friend. Welcome them into your establishment first. Ask them how their day is going. Make them feel comfortable before you put your sales hat on.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking your customers open-ended questions can get them talking. If their responses are “yes” or “no” there’s no opportunity to start a conversation. You won’t be able to learn about them, what products they’re interested in, or what their budget is.
Use this process to uncover products your customer doesn’t want, so you can sell them what they do want.
For example, if you’re selling houseplants, you can ask questions like:
- Does your house get a lot of light?
- Do you have a price point in mind?
- What types of houseplants do you currently have?
- Do you have any pets that might eat the plants?
- How much time do you have to take care of your houseplants?
Listen to the customer
Pay close attention to the customer’s responses to your open-ended questions. By asking these questions, you can steer customers in the right direction and also present the higher-priced houseplants that fit the customer’s needs and desires.
Walk customers to the checkout counter
The journey from a corner of your retail store to the checkout counter can also present upselling opportunities. After your customer picks a houseplant, walk them through an area of your store that has plant accessories like pots, watering cans, and trimmers.
Gently suggest that they take a look at accessories that can help them take care of their new plants. Talk about the benefits of having plants that live longer and look great in their home.
Offer incentives for staff sales
Incentivize your sales staff to sell more by rewarding them when they do. You can gamify the sales process and set weekly or monthly goals. Shopify POS PRO has features that allow you to attribute sales to staff members.
Then you can reward employees that reach their goals with a commission or other bonuses like a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
Shopify apps that can make upselling and cross-selling easier
There are a number of apps available to Shopify merchants that make upselling and cross-selling easier. Here are few:
Frequently Bought Together
Frequently Bought Together lets you upsell product bundles. This AI-powered app helps you display personalized product bundles on your product pages. This form of upselling can help you increase your conversion rate and order value.
Cross Sell Related Products
The Cross Sell Related Products app lets you do just that. You can cross-sell related products on your product and cart pages. It’s easy to customize so it fits your theme. It also has an add-to-cart upsell funnel so you can recommend products in a popup when your customer clicks Add to Cart. It tracks clicks and conversion rates so you can see which personalized recommendations help you increase average order value the most.
SELLY lets you offer multiple and stackable discounts. You can offer various discounts to your customers including gifts, free shipping, BOGO, or buy X get Y. This can help you increase conversions, boost average order value, and improve customer retention.
Bundler lets you cross-sell products and boost sales with bundled discounts. For example, you can create a bundle with three products and offer a 20% discount on all items if they’re purchased together. The bundle gets displayed on all three product pages with the discounted price. This can help you sell through less popular products and increase your average order value.
Also Bought is an Amazon-like intelligent app that tells your customers what other customers also bought, based on the item they’re currently looking at. Its automatic recommendations appear when a customer visits a product page. A slider with products frequently purchased together appears and says, “Customers who bought this item also bought.” It’s a powerful way to upsell and increase basket size.
Find these and other retail upselling apps that integrate with Shopify POS in the Shopify App Store.
Get started with retail upselling
Again, the art of the upsell is about providing your customer with something of value. Yes, you increase your sales. And you can increase your revenue.
But your priority should be to increase the happiness and satisfaction of your customer above all else. Providing them with suggestions, ideas, and offers that are relevant to them is a good start.
Recommending products that fit their needs and help protect their purchases and investments shows that you understand them—and want to make sure they get the most from what they buy.