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What is an upsell?

Upselling is a sales technique that is used to persuade customers to make a higher value order than originally intended. This could mean buying an additional item, opting for an upgrade, or buying a package deal rather than purchasing only the original, lower-value items.  

You’ve most likely come across upselling online.

Maybe an eCommerce store prompted you to spend another $20 to qualify for free shipping or upgrade parts of your order to more exclusive products. An airline might have offered to upgrade your seats to premium economy for a discounted price. 

Upselling is widely used in B2C eCommerce, which is why you might be Googling around for an upselling definition. However, it’s common in the world of B2B eCommerce, too. 

A good example of an upsell in a B2B environment would be a wholesaler offering a discounted single unit price for a bigger stock order.

So, while the retailer is buying more products and technically spending more money on an order, they get a discount on the price per unit. 

This means that the retailer can sell the products to the end-customer (the consumer) with a bigger profit margin. 

Why upselling is important (and profitable)

Sales techniques are commonly seen as dirty and dishonest ways of tricking customers. 

Most people have a negative perception of salespeople in general, so you need to avoid coming across as that stereotypical pushy used car salesman. 

When done right, upselling and cross-selling help to enhance and streamline your customers’ shopping experience overall. 

You’re offering them a better-value solution to their original problem, creating a win-win situation for both the buyer (the consumer) and the seller (your eCommerce store).  

Upselling enables you to: 

  • Build relationships. By helping your customers find the best deals and add-ons on your eCommerce store, you aren’t coming across as a shady salesperson. Instead, you’re offering solutions and expert advice to your customers, building trust. 
  • Sell more to your existing customers. It’s much harder to acquire new customers than running great promotions for existing ones. If you already have a customer at the checkout of your store, you should try your best to sell as much as possible to them, since they’re already showing an interest in buying. 
  • Get your customers to return. Consumers are always looking for the best offers. If they know from the start that your eCommerce store has the best discounts, they will keep coming back for more. Make sure to use email marketing tools to remind your newly acquired customers of new offers and discounts they can use in your store. 
  • Increase customer lifetime value. Being able to identify those customers that are profitable for your business can make a real difference in your bottom line. Knowing the customer lifetime value (CLV) helps to identify how much your customers are spending on your product or service. The higher your CLV is, meaning each customer spends more money on your product, the easier and cheaper it will be to acquire new customers.

What is the difference between cross-sell and upsell?

There’s an easy way to explain how upselling differs from cross-selling. 

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Would you want to super-size your meal?” at one particularly famous fast-food chain. McDonald’s used this upselling strategy to offer customers a bigger meal for a small extra price. 

So while the customer was already ready to pay $6 for a Big Mac meal, for an additional $1 they could get a bigger portion of fries and a bigger soft drink.  

In this context, cross-selling, on the other hand, refers to the cashier checking if you’d want fries or a soft drink with your order. 

In short, cross-selling means that you’re selling related items (fries, soft drink, or a dessert) to the customer who originally wanted only a cheeseburger. 

In the world of eCommerce, cross-selling could mean showing suggested items from the same collection to the customer at the checkout page or on the product pages. 

If the customer ends up adding a matching set of mittens to their basket, to go nicely with the scarf they originally came to buy, you’ve succeeded in upselling (increasing the purchase value) and cross-selling (selling another, related item in the same transaction). 

What is the difference between downsell and upsell?

Downsell is another sales technique that allows you to counter a rejected upselling offer with a cheaper alternative. 

Let’s take your eCommerce store as an example. 

Your customer is browsing your eCommerce store and is greeted by a pop-up showcasing the package deal your store is currently offering. The customer is not interested and closes the pop-up or clicks away from the offer. 

Another pop-up appears with a different offer for a cheaper product, instead. 

So, if you’re still offering the customer a lower-priced alternative after they rejected the main upselling offer, you’re down selling to them. 

While the customer isn’t buying the product or service you’d like them to buy, at least they buy something and will hopefully have a great experience. 

Gaining them as a new customer means you can try upselling to them in the future. 

Down selling can, however: 

  • Be annoying. The customer is already constantly bombarded by sales messages online. Having indicated no interest in your upselling offer, having another offer come their way can be annoying and take away from the shopping experience as a whole.
  • Encourage unwanted shopping behavior. You won’t be able to upsell anything if your customer is always looking for a better and cheaper deal and says automatically no thanks to your offers. 

Down selling can work wonders for acquiring new customers, but make sure your sales process is discrete and follows the best practices. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time selling your product or service to your customers again.   

7 great upselling examples

Use these upselling techniques as inspiration to unlock bigger order value from your customers. 

Chances are that you’re already using some upselling strategies at your eCommerce store without even realizing it. 

Supersize their order

Let’s say your store offers products in different sizes. The smallest size is the cheapest, so usually, it’s the most popular option for your customers. 

To upsell, you can offer a supersizing option on the checkout page: for an additional $10, the customer can supersize their order to the biggest product size. They will still save money compared to the product listing price, but you will have higher value orders. 

This works particularly well for products like supplements and subscription-based products. 

Rather than having the customer buy a 10-pack of vitamins, you could offer to supersize their order to a 50-pack for a slight discount. 

A sports nutrition shop ProteinWorks embraces this upselling technique, offering to double the customer’s order for a great price.

Offer upgrade options

This is particularly popular in the electronics market. If your product consists of multiple individual components, you can upsell by offering the customer the chance to upgrade some or all of the components to better ones. 

The better components could save the customer’s time or give them a more powerful or longer-lasting product. Many online computing stores have intricate upgrading options available, for example: 

Whether curating outfits or kitchens, showing the customer items related to their purchase both on the product pages as well as at the checkout is a powerful upselling technique. 

Creating collections of your items is useful because you can show the buyer how the product should be used, and which other products go well together with it. 

This is a great option for someone looking for a more discreet and less aggressive way to give upselling a try. It will also support your marketing campaigns since you can use the same product photos across your product pages, too. 

Offer more for a higher price

Ever opted for the slightly more expensive subscription or product, because it came with more features than the cheaper or free one? 

Many markets use this technique to upsell their preferred product to a consumer. Lots of companies make use of a table format to highlight what features the buyer will miss out on, if they choose a cheaper product. 

Spotify’s premium subscription is a particularly clear example of this: 

Create urgency

Combining your upselling with a limited-time offer or campaign can work wonders for your eCommerce business. You could offer cash back for purchases over $50, or offer a freebie or a tester when customers buy a certain product. 

The beauty of an urgency-focused campaign is that you can use it across your sales process. It can be a great reason to reach out to your existing customers in an email marketing campaign. 

It works well as a countdown banner on your landing pages, and even as a pop-up reminder on the checkout page. 

Personalize your recommendations 

For a successful upsell, you should offer the customers offers that suit their tastes and needs the best. 

A mother who frequently buys children’s clothing at an online clothing store might not care for 50% off on men’s dress shoes but will not think twice about 3 for 2 deals on baby bodies. 

Remember to also address your consumers by their name, remind them of what they bought in the past, and base your recommendations on the past order history. 

With so much data available online, you can easily set up tailored recommendations on offers that interest the consumer. 

Power of testimonials

Showing the consumer social proof of other people recommending the product or service is another great way to upsell. 

Maybe your eCommerce specializes in double-glazed windows. Let’s say your customers are hesitant to buy the more expensive package that covers the replacement of all windows at once. 

Testimonials highlighting the ease of getting the renovations done in one go and the overall savings made can turn the upsell to your favor. 

After all, 95% of customers say that reviews influence their buying decision.  

Written by

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Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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