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Upselling 101

Upselling 101

"Would you like fries with that?" Fast-food employees use this classic upselling question to move more mouthwatering products.

But upselling, also known as cross-selling, isn't just for fast food. Smart retailers are always eager for opportunities to remind customers about additional purchasing options or to explain why a higher-end item may make a more suitable purchase. And as retail performance consultant Andrea Waltz points out, upselling does more than merely increase margins; in fact, says the coauthor of Unlocking the Secrets of Retail Magic, it provides retailers with a great opportunity to improve customer relationships.

"Generally speaking, customers are more satisfied with higher-quality merchandise than they are with ‘value' merchandise," Waltz explains. "As a result, when retail associates upsell customers into higher-price point merchandise, they not only can increase profit but also customer satisfaction. And satisfaction, over time, results in loyalty, repeat business and referrals."

Communicate with Customers Early and Respond to Their Needs

Effective retail upselling is an art too few retail organizations seem to have mastered. One reason is that many store employees neglect to begin this conversation until the customer has reached the register. "This is usually too late to start upselling," Waltz says. "Besides, that is not customer-focused behavior; it is simply focused on the merchandise and selling more, and customers know that."

Unfortunately, as Waltz observes, many retail-store operators seem to think the best policy is to just let customers find their own way in determining what to buy.

"In many cases, they'll place signage all around the store but otherwise allow the customer to discover and ‘self-educate' on what products and services they can get," she says. "At the same time, retailers tend to say ‘we need to increase sales' or ‘we need to add on product,' but then they fail to actually teach their people how. Retail salespeople need to know what adding on looks like and sounds like."

To start, Waltz suggests, store employees should be taught to share information with customers much earlier in the buying process. Rather than simply showing the best merchandise first, associates should begin by asking good questions to determine customer needs, which will lead them to feel understood as well as more inclined to listen to all related options.

Upselling Dos and Don'ts

As for what retail salespeople should say to customers, Waltz notes that plenty of great upselling techniques are available. But she first offers a script from the don't file: "One of the key phrases that will end a large, multiple-item sale with a whimper rather than a bang is…‘Would you like anything else?' This is not proactive and does not put you in control."

Instead, Waltz says salespeople should take the lead. Some phrases she suggests include:

  • I've got something great to show you.

  • Let's take a look at the [product X] to go with your new [product Y].
    (Example: A blouse to go with a new jacket.)


  • Let me show you the things you'll need to operate and take care of your new [product]. (Example: A cable for a DVD player.)

"The key element that these have in common is that they are all statements rather than questions," says Waltz. "If the customer is not interested, that is fine, but you should never decide not to show a product just because the customer did not bring it up first."

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