5 ways to improve online cross- & up-selling

We've all been cross- or up-sold to before. We reach for the magazines or sweets at the supermarket checkout counter. We purchase games the sales person suggests for our new game console. We gleefully pour over the options list for our new car.

Cross-selling is selling an additional product to existing customers, usually related to what they've already bought. Up-selling is selling a better (but usually more expensive) product to customers, after they've decided on a cheaper product.

Cross- and up-selling isn't difficult as you're selling to people who want to buy - probably the easiest job in the world next to selling petrol! The key however is to do it well. Here are a few tips on how to cross- and up-sell online more effectively.

1. Suggest the correct product

Customers are more open to cross-selling if the products that you're suggesting are products they actually need. Suggesting a DVD player after they've bought a digital camera isn't helpful. But, a memory card or a camera bag would be. Similarly, offering travel insurance or car rental after users have booked a flight is also helpful.

We're also seeing more and more sites recommending matching products (e.g. a matching hat when a customer purchases a shirt or a matching camera case for a pink camera). Users generally appreciate this thoughtful gesture.

2. Pick the right time

Customers tend to be very task-focused when they're trying to get something done, so recommending a product whilst they're doing this is usually ineffective. What you can do is recommend something to themonce they've completed their shop, or after they've put something into their shopping basket.

For example, don't try to sell your users a memory card when they're browsing your website for a digital camera. Do it after they've put the camera into their shopping basket. You can also recommend a tripod, camera bag or maybe even a camera bundle. They'll be far more likely to add some or all of these items then.

Apple Store, for example, recommends a whole list of products after users add them to their basket.

3. Show that you care

Customers tend to be very sale- or bargain-focused. Highlighting special offers will increase conversion rates and improve basket size. For example, if users put a regular chicken into their shopping basket, you can suggest an organic chicken on special that might cost a little more than the regular chicken, but one they might not normally consider at full price.

Some things you can consider are:

  • Place items on special at the top of any product listing
  • Highlight bulk buy offers (e.g. buy 10 of these and save £10)
  • Recommend bundles to customers

Bundles are an excellent way to boost online sales and increase customer satisfaction. Bundled products are usually cheaper than individual products bought separately. Recommending bundles will endear you with customers (as you're helping them save money), hence increasing customer satisfaction.

4. Don't be pushy

No one likes a pushy sales person. Up-sells and cross-sells should be recommendations, and not be forced onto site visitors. Phrases like 'We think you'll like this' or adding small items to users' shopping baskets will usually annoy them.

Here are a few appropriate phrases you can use:

  • Use 'popular items' to show the items most popular among shoppers
  • Use 'customers also bought' to highlight items that other people bought
  • Phrases such as 'you might like' gives the power and choice to decide back to the users without imposing
  • Avoid automatic opt ins

Amazon and the Apple Store's recommendations are successful as they're unobtrusive and don't impose on customers. On the other hand, most budget airlines sneakily add optional items such as travel insurance and equipment protection into passengers' itinerary. Unwary customers will pay the extra charges unknowingly, and are often quite annoyed when they find out.

5. Offer alternatives when customers search

Users will often use the site search when unable to find a product using the primary navigation. They are however likely to leave if the site doesn't return useful search results so offering alternative search termscan keep site visitors on your website and increases the chance of a sale.

For example, if users search for 'pink Macintosh' and the site doesn't return a valid result, prompt them to try searching for 'Macintosh' instead. This increases the chances of keeping them on your site.


Cross- and up-selling is relatively straightforward. Doing it well means that you'll not only sell more items, but will keep customers coming back to your site again and again.

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