A guide to upselling & cross-selling in retail

Upselling and cross-selling in retail is the secret to a sustainable and successful business. Retail works on tight margins and any actions that boost the bottom line are essential. Every transaction that comes through the store is an opportunity. 

Once you have done the hard work of winning the customer, you then need to make sure they walk away with all that they need. Cross-selling and upselling works on the principle that it is harder to win this new customer than it is to sell to an existing customer. If you have the person in the shop, then you need to make it easier for them to buy everything they will need.

What is upselling?

Upselling is getting your customer to commit to buying a more expensive version of an item that they have already decided to buy. The individual may have selected your most basic model. By upselling, you encourage them to buy an upgraded version of the item. Lush cosmetics have a policy of pointing out to customers that the shower gel they sell is much better value if purchased in the larger sizes. A car salesperson might ask you if you could use electric windows and aircon in your car, pushing you up a model.

The act of upselling has to appear genuine to the customer. You need to present the new item as an authentic opportunity to have a better experience. Rapport in sales is everything. If you upsell using pushy or desperate strategies, you risk losing all sales from this customer.

What is cross-selling?

The best salespeople can make cross-selling seem like you are giving the customer a massive favour. For instance, a shop selling items that need batteries will likely have a display of the appropriate batteries close by – probably on the way to the till. A restaurant will offer ice cream or custard as an extra with a pudding – because it is a sensible extra. The added portion of food complements the original purchase and the patron is pleased to have this pointed out to them – and show their pleasure by spending more on the bill.

Successful upselling and cross-selling

Let’s begin our tips with a simple statement of fact. You are not tricking a customer by offering them these other items. You are providing excellent customer service.

To be successful, therefore, you need to understand the customer. You need to understand the pain points and how you can solve these for them. It might be that they want softer skin or higher quality music. It could be that they need a formal suit for a wedding and could do with a matching pair of shoes too. So, first, you need to know what people need.

Then you need to listen to the customer as they are making a purchase. What are they telling you about how they will use the product? What details are they sharing that will help build the rapport and the trust needed to be able to sell other items to them? Active listening will help you glean the details that will open those upselling and cross-selling opportunities.

When making your suggestions, be sensible about the budget; if you push the customer beyond the upper limit they expected to spend, they may back out of the sale full stop. Look carefully at the items they have already chosen to buy and what this suggests about how much the customer has to spend. If the customer has selected the £250 laptop, you are unlikely to sell them the top of the range model costing £1200.

If you have a chance, watch as the customer moves around the shop. You should consider the customer journey and then place your display if impulse buys in precisely the right place. This strategy is useful for cross-sales. If you have a display of dinner plates, then putting some beautiful placement mats close by could be the perfect cross-sale opportunity. This understanding of the customer journey needs to be matched with your knowledge of what items work well together. People often buy socks when buying new trainers, buy a handbag when purchasing shoes, and so on.

Cross-selling and upselling will increase your bottom-line. Indeed, it is the best way to boost sales, and it encourages greater rapport with your customers. However, you need to keep control over choice with your customer. You cannot succeed if they feel pressure – leave them feeling pleased by your thoughtfulness.