How to Upsell and Cross-sell Like a Pro

6 min read
How to Upsell and Cross-sell Like a Pro

“Do you want fries with that?” It’s hard to think of better or more familiar example of a business trying to get us to spend just a little bit more than we planned to. These days, we’re all used to being asked if we want to add this or upgrade to that wherever we’re shopping, online or off. It’s just the way things are. And there’s a good reason for this—upsell and cross-sell work.

In fact, they can make a dramatic impact on your bottom line when done right. In the online space, different strategies can be measured at scale and some of them can be recommended based on the hard data they produce. With the tools available to today’s marketers, just about any idea can be put to the test and shown to be effective or a waste of time, so why not benefit from the experience of those who’ve already tried out different ways to upsell and cross-sell?

Whether it’s upselling to a more expensive item or cross-selling things like accessories, add-ons, replaceable components, protection plans, etc., both strategies lead to the same result—more sales, higher profits and more customer value. Given the effort and expense involved in attracting customers and finally getting them to the checkout page, it only makes sense that you would optimize the process by making sure that you’re doing everything you can to upsell and cross-sell your way to profits.

Explanation of what up-sell and cross-sell is

Also, getting more out of existing customers is a lot cheaper than acquiring new ones so, you know, there’s that. It’s also much easier. The choice between difficult and expensive or easy and cheaper should be an easy one.  

So let’s jump in to a list of tips and best practices that will boost cart values, increase average transaction size and leave both sides convinced that they got the best deal! 

Make it relevant 

I hope we can agree that it would be weird if, after placing a shirt or a pair of jeans in your cart, you were asked if you wanted to add some dog food or a frying pan to your order. This might seem like an obvious point, but upsells and cross-sells need to be directly related to the core item or items in the order. If you’re running some incredible promotion on dog food or frying pans, well, that’s great but this is not the time or place. Find a different way to tell everyone about it.

Banner with 4 products recommendation displays on the online grocery store website

When customers start viewing product pages and adding items to their carts, they’re telling you that their search is focused around a very particular area. The more you offer other items in that area, the more likely you are to gain interest. Save the dog food and frying pans for related items and searches.

Push “Frequently bought together” 

This is a standard, expected feature everywhere in e-commerce. It gives you chance to increase the sale without being too salesy about it. After all, you’re just showing customers what others have found to be a natural complement to a particular item, right? Social proof is a strong factor in any purchasing decision, but it can be especially effective on impulsive or unplanned buys. Using “frequently bought together” suggestions is letting the aggregated choices of all past customers serve as a guide to new ones. And thousands of previous customers can’t be wrong, can they?

Example of social proof banner presenting 5 products frequently bought with the main selected product

Give them a reason to do it now 

Just as with other forms of promotion, upselling and cross-selling benefits from an attached sense of urgency. A countdown clock for special prices on product combos, reminders of limited availability or anything that says “This deal might not be available later” can lead customers to pull the trigger on something they weren’t necessarily looking for when they walked in your virtual door.  

You have a small window to act when customers start reviewing their order before clicking “Buy” and forget about you until a package arrives a few days later. You have to concentrate all your efforts to persuade them to give your recommendations a look in those few seconds and adding something to make them act now can be just what you need.  

Give them a chance to do it later 

The product or checkout page may be the best chance to increase cart value but it’s not the only chance. You can always follow up later with the same offer in subsequent communications after a purchase is made. It might even be the order confirmation mail sent just minutes after the order is placed. If you have marketing consent for email campaigns, you can use dynamic content to promote the same cross-selling suggestions you offered when the product was selected.  

Often the passage of time after customers get their hands on an item shows just how useful or necessary complementary products are. Don’t limit yourself to one shot during the original order and give up on trying again. Also, remember that many verticals create upselling opportunities after the passage of time. Maybe it’s a software program with a storage limit or a seasonal product with greater benefits at certain times of the year. Whatever the case, play the long game and look ahead for opportunities.  

Banner offering 50 PLN off discount for all products from a new collection

Stay with a winner 

When you gather a big enough sample size, clear patterns emerge in your data that show you what works and what doesn’t. You’re able to see, for example, which upsells and cross-sells get a great response and which ones don’t. In retail, that means maximizing your chances by defaulting to proven winners when it’s time to make suggestions. When the wisdom of the crowd says that product A sells with product B way more often than product C does, give product A priority and make sure it’s front and center whenever product B gets attention.

Try different amounts 

The “extra” amount someone is willing to spend over what they planned will vary and a certain amount of experimentation is needed to find the sweet spot. With upselling, you can’t expect too many customers to make the jump from, say, a $300 television to a $3,000 model so make sure your suggestions are within a reasonable range of the original selection. The same general rule applies to cross-selling; complementary products shouldn’t cost nearly the same or even more than the original selection. Make it easy for customers to increase the amount of their final purchase by just a little if that’s what they want.  

Upgrade after you upsell 

When you can upsell a customer to increase the value of their cart by a certain amount or percentage, make it worth their while with a little something for them. It might be some kind of shipping upgrade, loyalty program points or something else relevant to the kind of business you have.


Banner offering one of the 3 gifts

Summing up

By responding to upselling suggestions, customers are increasing their lifetime value, so it only makes sense that you would make them feel rewarded and keep them coming back. Whatever incentives, freebies, upgrades or presents you have, make sure customers who respond to your suggestions by padding their cart value get them.  

Upselling and cross-selling are not only a must in terms of your bottom line but they are now an expected part of the online customer experience. Try finding any credible ecommerce operation that doesn’t prominently feature upselling and cross selling suggestions (good luck with that!). You could even argue that the lack of such products is a sign that you should probably find another online store to shop in.  

From a business perspective, the value of taking advantage of these strategies lies in turning one-time customers into repeating customers and then again into frequent shoppers. Increasing cart values deepens the relationship with any customer and makes them much more likely to return again. As mentioned earlier, selling more to existing customers is always easier and cheaper than attracting, acquiring and selling to new ones.  

Building upselling and cross-selling into the customer journey just makes sense for everyone involved. You have nothing to lose by making the offer and it’s likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a common discovery—customers really do want fries with that much more often than you think.