The Art of the Upsell: Get Your Customers to Buy More By Pressuring Them Less

Upselling your customers | Shopify Retail blog

Are you missing opportunities to increase sales and generate more revenue?

If you’re not upselling your customers, the answer is yes.

But here’s the tricky part: People don’t enjoy being sold. Pushing more products and services onto a customer who already committed to buying something from you can backfire and leave them feeling bullied, unappreciated, and downright annoyed.

The art of the upsell means taking a sale from a transaction to an interaction, from a conversion to a connection.

Doing so makes a big difference. It dramatically impacts your customer’s experience. Adding on to their original purchase becomes their decision rather than a pushy upsell.

So how do you strike a balance between making no additional offer and driving customers away with overly aggressive sales tactics? How can you encourage an upsell without being overbearing?

By using strategies that provide more value, give the customer more benefits, and create a better overall experience. Your sales can actually make customers happier and feel more connected to your company and brand.

Only Make Relevant Offers (That Are Also Helpful and Beneficial)

Before you try to upsell any customer with any product, you first need to ask yourself if your upsell is even relevant. Yes, the goal is to generate more sales for your company — but in the long run, customer happiness (and their lifetime value) will create more revenue and overall success than a one-time sale.

Don’t randomly upsell products. Make sure your additional offer is always relevant to the original purchase. Bonus points if your suggestion is not only relevant, but also beneficial and helpful.

On its sales page for a pair of Converse shoes, Zappos doesn’t just suggest a customer buy more shoes. They specifically point to socks specially made to be worn with Converse sneakers so they are both comfortable and hidden from view.

New socks are relevant for anyone who just bought a pair of new shoes. But this upsell is even more effective because Zappos offers a product with a specific benefit to the customer who bought this exact pair of shoes.

Converse, Zappos upsell | Shopify Retail blog

Sell with the SPIN Framework

Borrow a strategy from your friends in marketing to bring some artistic flair to your upsell.

If you’ve done any copywriting, you may be familiar with frameworks that you can use to make your writing more persuasive. The SPIN framework is one of these. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Spell Out the Situation
  • Present the Problem
  • Introduce an Idea
  • Notify Them of What’s Next

This framework for upselling your customers is a subtle way to bring their attention to a pain point or problem they may not even know they had.

Let’s say you have a customer who wants to buy a new dSLR camera. You or your salesperson can start the upsell conversation by explaining the situation: “This is a great camera to help you get into photography! I’m excited for you to get started.”

This solves one of your customer’s problems, but they likely have many others that additional products can help relieve. If they’re new to photography, they don’t have the accessories they need to make their first experience even better.

Present the problem to them — and then introduce an idea on how to solve it.

“If you want to use this for your son’s soccer games, you’ll get tired of holding this camera at the ready for hours on end. But you don’t want to pack it away and make it hard to get to when you need it for a quick shot!”

This is your customer’s problem. It’s hard to hang on to a big clunky camera they’re still learning to use, but putting it away isn’t a good option either because they could miss an important moment.

“In addition to getting a camera bag, you might like this camera strap. This way you can keep it on you but it won’t be in your way if you need to free up your hands to help out on the sidelines during the game.”

This is the idea. Wrap up this framework by notifying the customer of exactly what to do next:

“You can buy this strap today with your camera so you can immediately be on the go. If you add it to your purchase today, we’ll knock off 10% the strap and any other camera accessory you want to bring home.”

This way of selling is more like storytelling, and it’s powerful. It allows you to bring your customer along on a journey. You paint a picture for them — and they can imagine themselves in every part of it, from the stressed-out parent on the sideline trying to juggle their brand-new (expensive) dSLR to relaxed mom or dad who doesn’t have to worry about dropping or misplacing their new purchase on the bleachers.

Remember: situation, problem, idea, what’s next. Spin it!

Use Limited-Time Offers

The end of our last artistic upsell strategy gave us another idea to work with: the limited time offer.

Nothing gets people in gear like a deadline. Drawing a customer’s attention to a limited-time deal can encourage them to take action and add on to their original purchase.

Design deals and promotions with timelines. Don’t make open-ended offers. And be sure to inform the customer of the deadline once you put it in place.

Here are a few ways to create a sense of urgency to encourage people to take action (and buy more):

  • Plan flash sales.
  • Schedule discount events around specific days.
  • Give “last chance” opportunities to make purchases to customers who made previous purchases or showed interest.

Here’s an example of that last strategy. This conference sent out an email blast to people who previously expressed interest in attending but didn’t buy a ticket. The email advertises a one-day opportunity to buy a pass for half the current purchase price.

Forbes Under 30 Summit | Shopify Retail blogHave doubts about using limited-time offers as an upselling strategy? Just think about the shopping madness on Black Friday.

For the last several years, the media has covered how Black Friday “deals” aren’t really deals from a price-saving sense. And yet every November, hoards of people descend on retail stores (or stay home and shop on Cyber Monday) because it’s a once-a-year, limited-time shopping event that plays with our cognitive biases.

We tend to want things more when those things become scarce. We place a higher value on items that aren’t widely available.

Offering deals — or even products themselves — for a limited amount of time drives people to take action because it triggers a sense of urgency. If we don’t act now, we could miss out.

Provide Peace of Mind

When your customer makes a big purchase, they want to protect their investment. You can help them do that — and upsell them in the process — by providing additional products and services for a small additional cost.

Best Buy makes most of its profit margin on add-ons and upsells for expensive technology. They know customers are more willing to spend money after already making one purchase. And the store knows that customers don’t want anything to happen to the piece of tech they just spent hundreds of dollars on.

The original price of the technology itself makes an upsell item designed to protect that investment look like a deal and a no-brainer. Of course you want to protect your $800 iPhone with a case and screen protector:

Best Buy phone accessories upsell | Shopify Retail blog
These kind of upsells can enhance your customer experience — if your products or services are a great match for the original purchase.

A customer who purchases a much less expensive phone and expresses technology is not high on their priority list is unlikely to need high-end protective accessories in the same way.

Give a Little Gift

To encourage customers to buy a little more than they originally planned to purchase, reward them for spending money with you. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Target provides a brilliant example with their line of teeth whitening products. There are several to choose from, all at various price points. But only one of the most expensive offers a $5 gift card when you make a purchase of a select product.

Crest gift card | Shopify Retail blog

A customer who might have considered a cheaper product can easily justify upselling themselves when they see the offer for the gift card. If they choose to use the giftcard on another Target purchase, it’s like saving $5 for shopping with the retailer.

It also keeps the customer loyal to the brand. You can incentivize customers to say yes to the upsell when you provide store credits or create some sort of loyalty program.

OpenTable, for example, rewards diners who book so many reservations through the app and shows users their progress toward the next reward.

OpenTable rewards | Shopify Retail blog

Always Look to Provide Value

Again, the art of the upsell is about providing your customer with something of value. Yes, you increase your sales. You can increase your revenue.

But your priority should be to increase the happiness and satisfaction of your customer above all else. Providing them with suggestions, ideas, and offers that are relevant to them is a good start.

Recommending products or services that fit their needs and help protect their purchases and investments shows that you understand them — and want to make sure they get the most from what they buy.

What are your tips for upselling your customers? Share your advice in the comments below.