How to Upsell in Retail: Get Employees to Do It Effectively


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When it comes to the easiest sales technique you can use to grow your average sale, there is nothing that works better than a product upsell.

This cross-selling sales technique is where a salesperson invites the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades or other add-ons than they originally intended.

For the retailer, a product upsell is an attempt to increase product margins. But a good upsell means the customer has a greater opportunity for success with the main item they purchased.

That's because after the customer says, "Yes, I'll take it," it is much easier for the customer to say yes again to a product upsell . The customer journey begins with a need, but it doesn't end there.

How to upsell any customer

After the customer has made the one big decision, it is time for you to suggestively paint a picture of how another product or upgrade might extend their pleasure, save time, or save another trip to the store.

For example, you have just presented several hammers to a customer for his framing job and he said, Yes to a Stanley® Fat Boy Hammer. Start to think what the opportunity might be for an upsell.

  • Would it be another product to help with the project?
  • A new power saw to cut the wood?
  • Galvanized nails for the garden fence?
  • A new level?
  • What would you choose?

Don’t prejudge whether customers can afford it. Remember: you are selling wants, not needs.

The add-ons are products you present to the customer that will help them enjoy their first product even more because of the complementary products.

Once the customer has stated Yes to spending the money—they can easily be convinced to treat themselves to something extra. Suggest only one add-on.

If you present a laundry list of options, you most likely will confuse the customer and throw the whole sale into uncertainty. Instead of admitting they are overwhelmed, the customer will say, "I'll look around". I hate when that happens.

This is why inexperienced salespeople miss big sales - they are not listening and are trying to cover all the options. The customer, overwhelmed, goes somewhere options are not presented—the big-box.

Pre-printed list of common items needed to complete a job

For example, a paint store could have one small checklist the size of a credit card. On it would be listed everything needed to do a great indoor paint job including masking tape, paint thinner, razor blades, etc.

After the type of paint and color were chosen and the paint was mixing, the salesperson could simply hand the customer the list and ask:

“Have you ever gotten home and forgotten something, making you need to return again? We came up with this list you might want to check over before we ring you up.”

The add-on, in this case, would be the one list—not the salesperson asking, “Do you need masking tape?”, “Do you need razor blades?” etc.

The product recommendations would lead to higher customer loyalty because they got everything they needed, not just what they thought they needed.

So why don't more retail employees do well when it comes to the upsell ?

Many retailers demand a one-size-fits-all upsell

Let me explain...

I was buying a small electronic item when the cashier asked me in a don't-care tone, "Do you want to buy the extended warranty?" I replied, "No." She then continued, "I didn't think so but my boss makes me."

That is the germ of why employees don't upsell.

It's like their parents telling them to clean up the room or mow the lawn. No one likes to be told what to do. Especially when they don't see the point of whatever product recommendations are demanded they ask about.

Rarely does anyone connect the dots - that retail manager to the part-time employee, or the parent to the child about why they should do it.

Because I told you to doesn't work to get people to do the right thing

You want your employees to understand your features and benefits so well they use their own creativity to cross-sell.

Upselling can mean taking someone from a bargain, sale, or standard product or service to a similar one that has more features. That means a better product and yes more expensive items that deliver more benefits to the shopper.

The product suggested should make life more convenient, deliver better results, or have less maintenance. And yes, those additional benefits cost more.

Before you try to figure out how to train your employees about upselling, a caveat…

If your hiring process is little more than "What shifts can you work?", coupled with no sales training program, you’re screwed.

You don't care about them. They won't care about you. Don't expect their frontal-cortex brain to engage in creative ways how to upsell customers and get shoppers to buy something better than what they came in for.

On top of that, employees who are only there part-time a few days a week probably have few social skills and don't give a wit about your job much less your KPIs .

So the first way to get more upsells and increase revenue is to upgrade your employee selection.

  • Ask them during their potential employee interview if they know what upselling means.
  • Ask if they have been trained on how to do it.
  • Ask if they like to use the sales technique and if so, why. If they don't know what it is, give them an example.

The crucial point in training upselling is to be able to get your retail sales people to see that they upsell themselves all the time.

Start with something you know they use or do.

Take coffee

If they come in with a Starbucks cup, ask them what drink they purchase and its price. Let's say it is a Zombie Frappuccino that cost $4.50. Ask them why they purchased that instead of just getting an iced coffee for half the price.

Then let them know they upsold their selection on novelty, Instagrammability, or taste.

If that example of how to upsell doesn't work, how about a time they purchased dessert based on a server suggestion, got a belt with the jeans they purchased, or when they purchased a warranty for their phone. Those are all examples of how to upsell.

However, you are showing them to upsell, make it clear you're just doing what they, as shoppers, do on their own.

You could do the same if you are a salon and ask what your stylists use to shampoo their own hair. If they already use your brand, ask if they use a conditioner and how often.

Challenge them a bit

Ask why not just buy something from the grocery aisle with a coupon offer? They upsold themselves based on performance and their own knowledge of haircare.

Then make the point their clients trust them to make them look their best. Their loyal customers don't have that knowledge and not upselling them to a system of haircare means their current customers walk around looking less than their best.

And that affects how much they return to your stylist for more work as well as customer loyalty. After all, if they walk around not looking their best, how does that reflect on their skills as a stylist?

When it comes to stylists, upselling is also smart marketing.

Whatever you sell, you need to make it clear upselling is part of everyday life - all you're asking is for your team members to proactively help shoppers who are just like them.

See also, How To Boost Retail Sales With Suggestive Selling

The key to upselling is helping the customer complete the job

When it comes to how to upsell, the key is helping your crew understand the main goal is for the customer to get everything they might need or want to complete their project, their outfit, or their gift.

When you hone in on the skills necessary to suggest complementary products after a customer has decided on their main purchase, you'll have one of the best tools to overcome e-commerce sites - customer service.

As you connect the dots during your retail sales training to upselling and reward your crew for doing it consistently, you're bound to see your average sale key performance indicators (KPIs) increase and your loyal customers return more often.

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