How to Polish Your Online-upselling Program
One cataloger refers to online upselling as “one of the easiest things you can do to improve your revenue.”
That’s not to say that initiating online upselling is a snap. Rather, like many other e-commerce endeavors, online upselling is a balancing act between aggressiveness and subtlety in both offer type and presentation.
Because the level of communication between consumer and cataloger is less straightforward than it is with contact center upsells, the risk of alienating consumers while upselling online is greater. But with careful consideration and proper attention to detail, online upselling can become a viable source of revenue and a vital part of your online channel.
(For the purposes of this article, the term “upsell” refers to all incremental purchases added to the consumer’s intended purchase. For a more detailed list of applicable definitions, see sidebar, “A Sell by Any Other Name.”)
Begin with Brand
Experts say branding is the foremost consideration when designing an upsell program. “Customer expectations have to be managed,” explains Ken Burke, president and CEO of e-commerce consultancy Multimedia Live.
For example, if you sell higher-price-point merchandise, you may offend customers with aggressive upselling or discounting. You may get better results by keeping your upsells on a more subtle level.
Petra Schindler Carter, director of consulting services at Fry Multimedia, an e-commerce consultancy, recommends presenting the upsell from an angle of guidance rather than salesmanship. For example, she says, retailers selling apparel could offer a suggestion from a style advisor: “You’ve put that Prada suit in your cart; now how about this pair of shoes that matches it?”
Conversely, if you sell merchandise with lower price points, you can risk being more aggressive with your upsells. Regardless of price point, however, seek customer feedback and refine upsells around the information gathered from them.
The “how” of upselling online varies according to the “where.” That is, different upselling strategies can be used depending on where within the purchase process you choose to present them. Burke outlines several location possibilities:
Put it right on the product page. While product-page upselling offers the advantage of increasing your average order value, if done poorly it also carries the risk of distracting customers and prompting them to leave the site altogether. So if you’re upselling from the product page, make it a priority to maintain the customer’s focus of interest. The customer should be able to easily distinguish between the main product sale and the upsell, says Burke.
The add-to-cart process offers an easy upsell window, says Burke. Simply base an upsell on the last items placed in the cart. Additionally, you can opt to evaluate the entire cart at the time it’s displayed and determine an upsell based on its contents.
Upsell on the actual cart page. This gives you several advantages over the add-to-cart process. The customer is most receptive to an upsell at this point because the screen appears immediately after the “add-to-cart” button is clicked.
Additionally, the upsell often is most relevant to the customer at this point; Burke estimates that upsell conversions are highest in this area during the purchase process.
Items upsold on the cart page should appear on the right side or just below the subtotal, but always above the area of interest. Remember, you want to keep the focus on the intended purchase, says Burke. If you don’t, you may see abandoned-cart rates increase.
If your brand lends itself to it, try upselling on the “thank-you” page that appears after the customer completes a purchase. While this is a more aggressive practice, it carries no risk of abandonment, as the transaction already has been completed. Much as in the product page, don’t confuse the customer into thinking he or she just bought anything other than the intended product; this could result in a customer service call.
Keep Merchandise in Mind
Of course, upselling lends itself more easily to certain types of merchandise more than others. It’s one thing to suggest a pair of shoes to go with those pants, but it’s another to suggest a pair of shoes to go with that lawnmower.
Evaluate your upsalable merchandise in terms of overall merchandise profile rather than specific product categories, Schindler Carter urges. Following are three merchandise profiles she thinks upsell best:
- problem-solving merchandise such as home furnishings and home-improvement items; there’s great opportunity for Web retailers to recognize the affinities among problem-solving products, and to then upsell consumers;
- ensembles, outfits and kits, or anything that natively comes as an ensemble but isn’t necessarily navigable on your site as such (e.g., apparel, home furnishings, cookware, outdoor furniture); and
- core product plus accessory. “I can’t think of a more annoying user experience than putting the onus onto the shopper of locating an accessory,” says Schindler Carter. “Have you ever tried to find the printer cartridges that go with a new laser printer, or the garment bag that goes with your new carry-on luggage? These are no-brainer upsells that unfortunately, too many retailers still neglect.”
When upselling may not work, she continues, is with any product whose main purchase consideration is price — whichever end of the price spectrum it’s on. She cites the examples of stand-alone luxury items as well as highly specialized purchase items such as replacement parts.
Three Upsell Downfalls
1. As emphasized earlier in regard to the product page, the most important caveat when designing an upsell is: Don’t detract from the customer’s original product focus. Regardless of which point in the process the upsell takes place, keep a visual separation between the recommended product and the intended purchase, whether it’s a physical line drawn on the page or just some white space.
2. Irrelevant upsells comprise the second mistake to avoid, according to Burke. “If the upsell offer is not adding to the customer experience in some way, it shouldn’t be on the screen,” he cautions.
3. Selling competing brands at the point of upsell also is a bad idea, according to Fry’s Bridget Fahrland, executive creative director. While you might want to offer a brand comparison during the browsing process, offering one after the customer has committed to a purchase might make him or her doubt the decision.
Though it involves a lot of consideration, in the end your upsell program may yield enough success to validate the effort. Take small steps, test and always keep your customer profile in mind.
A Sell by Any Other Name
As the world of e-commerce grows increasingly specialized, so does the terminology for each of its components, including upsells. Following are definitions that Ken Burke, president and CEO of e-commerce consultancy Multimedia Live, uses to describe different types of additional online product sales:
Upsell: A sale (often including a discount) that occurs after the online shopper clicks the “add to cart” button.
Cross-sell: An alternate purchase featured on the product page, but before the cart page. It gives the customer the option of either adding the product to his or her cart, or just clicking on it to see more information. Typically, it doesn’t include a discount.
Family sell: This appears on the product’s Web page as a grouping of multiple line items that can be bought at the same time.
Recovery items: Another form of cross-sell, this appears as an alternative purchase suggestion when the requested item is out of stock.