Upselling… we know, some of you shudder just reading the word! Perhaps it reminds you of a sleazy car dealer, or a scare-mongering tech seller who pestered you at point of purchase. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there!

But, upselling isn’t a dirty word. It can be a positive tool for marketers, if used correctly.

Here, we’ll look at the (slightly murky) concept of upselling, clean it up and show you how it can be an effective part of your content strategy. Enjoy!

What is upselling?

First things first, when people talk about upselling, they usually mean a combination of upselling and cross-selling. Here’s a quick definition of each:

  • Upselling – a strategy to sell a more expensive version of a product, or add extra features/accessories to a product. For example, upgrading a 27” TV to a 32” model with a movie package and extended warranty.
  • Cross-selling – a strategy to sell products that are different, but often related, to the item the customer is buying. For example, in the case of a TV, the salesman might offer an accompanying DVD player.

For this article, we'll mash the two together and stick with the following definition:

  • Upselling - when a brand persuades you to buy something additional or more expensive

We’re pretty sure you’ve experienced this, even if you didn’t realise it at the time! Have you been persuaded to upgrade to a pricier model, add on a security package, or buy something totally unrelated?

That means the upselling worked! It isn’t surprising – it can be an effective tool. However, marketers must realise that upselling isn’t always appropriate and can leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth.

What psychological impact does upselling have?

Upselling can put the customer in an awkward position.

Chances are they don’t want the extra product, but their polite British ways are stopping them saying ‘no’!

Putting customers in this situation by bombarding them with add-ons, extras and offers can cause stress and confusion. It can also take the fun out of the purchasing process.

In some cases, upselling can even scare your customer into buying additional items. Here’s an example one of our team experienced just last week:

Sarah went into a well-known store to buy a laptop. She knew the make/model she wanted, so she wanted to be in and out quite quickly. She’d seen a Microsoft Office/McAfee antivirus bundle online, so she'd already planned to spend some extra cash on that.

While she was at the checkout, the salesmen started trying to upsell, describing the horrible things that might happen to her shiny new laptop, including questions like:

  • “What happens if you spill your drink on it?” – Translation: pay £7.99 a month for a warranty
  • “What happens if your operating system crashes and you need to reset it? – Translation: pay £70 for a reboot key
  • “What happens if a virus removes all your data” – Translation: pay £50 a year for Cloud back-up
  • “What if you can’t fix a problem yourself” – Translation: pay £20 a month in tech support

If she hadn’t stuck to her guns, she’d have ended up paying more for the add-ons than the laptop! The whole scare-mongering approach put her right off, and she probably won't visit that store again.

So, while some emotional persuasion can be useful, when upselling it's probably best to avoid using fear!

Upselling can present your company in a bad light

You need to be careful with upselling – used correctly it can enhance your user experience; used incorrectly it can cause all sorts of trouble.

Firstly, your brand may be seen as aggressive or pushy – putting your customers off forever!

Secondly, upselling is often unnecessary. If your upselling doesn’t bring any benefits to the sale, there’s no point and your customers will become frustrated.

For example, if you’re going to a festival and want a pay-as-you-go ‘brick’ for emergencies, all you need is a decent battery and basic call package. If a brand tries to upsell snazzy gadgets or apps, you’ll just tune out.

One final thing to consider is your employees. If they hate upselling, they won’t be sincere – especially if they’ve had a bad experience with it themselves.

This can sometimes be remedied if you pay them commission, but they might still feel uncomfortable badgering customers to buy more.

It’s not just psychological, it’s physical too!

Upselling is making us fat – at least, that’s what the BBC is telling us!

We’re not surprised; restaurants, fast-food joints, bars and superstores just love upselling. Think about how often you’ve heard:

  • “Do you want fries with that?”
  • “If you add in that pack of (unhealthy) crisps, you’ll get the meal deal and save £1”
  • “Go large for 30p”

Too much, right? Well, a poll of 2,000 UK adults have put exact figures on this to illustrate the point:

  • 78% of people experience upselling each week
  • the average person experiences 106 upsells per year
  • 35% have added sides, like chips and onion rings, to a meal
  • 34% have bought a larger coffee

This adds up to approx. 17,000 extra calories per person per year. It’s little wonder there’s an obesity crisis!

So, should we stop upselling?

No, don’t stop upselling – just learn how to do it right.

There are lots of business benefits to upselling, so you should consider it part of your sales and marketing strategy. Here are just some of the ways it can help your business:

  • Build relationships and loyalty by suggesting relevant/helpful products at great rates. This makes customers feel like they’re winning, so they’ll return to your brand in future.
  • Provide value by offering more than just the product they were looking for (sometimes at very little extra expense)
  • Increase revenues by persuading customers to buy extra products

With upselling, timing is key. It must be close to the point of purchase, so the offer doesn’t seem intrusive or unnecessary. And it should be a seamless part of the customer journey.

Make sure your upselling is relevant, engaging and doesn’t put your customer in an awkward position. To be on the safe side, use A/B testing and other CRO techniques to assess the effectiveness of your upselling endeavours.

At FABRIC8, we believe in the power of upselling, and think it can be a good way to give your business a boost. However, for it to be effective, you need to make sure that your customer makes it a long way down the conversion funnel – right to the point of purchase. Otherwise, it won’t work.

So, make sure your CRO is up to scratch before you put your upselling procedures in place. Once that’s all sorted, you’ll start seeing results in no time!