9 Best Practices for Ecommerce Upselling

Ryan Baum
Ryan Baum
Last updated on 
June 7, 2022
June 7, 2022
9 Best Practices for Ecommerce Upselling

Does your business have an ecommerce upselling strategy in place?

If not, you’re leaving money on the table.

Ecommerce upselling is perhaps the simplest way to sell higher quantities and more expensive products, with minimal investment and upkeep required. It nudges customers, encouraging them to buy larger quantities or more expensive items, spending more than they intended and getting more value than they expected. It can be a crucial part of a broader email marketing automation strategy or a standalone marketing strategy that exists at the point of sale.

Whether you’re just starting to explore upselling or it’s time to retool your current efforts, these nine best practices can improve your efforts and help you reach greater results.

What is ecommerce upselling?

Ecommerce upselling is the process of giving customers the opportunity to purchase a higher-priced item instead of the item they selected from your ecommerce store, with the goal of convincing the customer to spend more money. When successful, ecommerce upselling provides additional perceived value to the customer and nets your store a higher sale price (and higher profits).

Ecommerce upselling is the digital equivalent to old-fashioned, in-person upselling. The concepts are the same; the only thing that’s changed is where the effort takes place. Now, instead of a pushy IRL salesperson, customers generally encounter friendly prompts directly in the ecommerce purchase pipeline, either at the sale page, in the cart, or at checkout.

Here’s an example. Say you’ve launched an ecommerce venture that sells high-end, farm-to-table toothpaste. A customer adds a single tube of toothpaste to their cart and heads to checkout. At the checkout page, an offer pops up:

Buy 3 tubes, save 20%!

Or perhaps:

Try Our Variety Pack, Get One Tube Free!

You could create an endless variety of deals here, but you get the idea: You’re offering customers more (usually with some kind of discount or value proposition), and you’re also enticing them to spend more (increasing your average order value).

What is ecommerce cross-selling?

Ecommerce cross-selling is a similar sales tactic where you strategically recommend add-ons related to whatever the customer has put in their cart. The goals are the same: higher ticket value, greater sales, and greater customer satisfaction.

Let’s go back to our toothpaste company. A great example of cross-selling would be something like this:

Got toothpaste? Don’t forget the brushes! Add 3 bamboo brushes for just $5!

In this space, other great cross-selling opportunities could include floss, electric toothbrush heads (assuming you sell an electric toothbrush), and maybe even night guards.

Amazon is one of the heavyweights of cross-selling. No matter what you buy — or even look at — you’ll inevitably be shown a “People also bought…” section. It’s usually full of on-topic and useful add-ons, like battery packs or chargers for phones or cables and USB mice for laptops.

What is the difference between cross-selling and upselling?

Upselling and cross-selling are similar concepts, but the terms aren’t interchangeable.

With upselling, you’re offering the customer more of a product or a better version of a product at a higher price point. If the customer bites, the upsell item replaces the original item in their cart.

With cross-selling, you’re offering the customer related items, things they might want in addition to whatever they’ve chosen or that work in tandem with that original item. Cross-selling opportunities don’t replace the original item but stack on top of it.

9 quick ecommerce upselling tips to drive more revenue

Whether upselling is new for your ecommerce business or you’re looking to retool your existing upselling strategies, check out these nine quick tips that can help you drive more revenue more effectively.

1) Use a tool specifically built for ecommerce upselling

For small and medium ecommerce businesses, using a tool that’s already done the work of building out support for ecommerce upselling is the single most important step to take.

Dynamic, beautiful, frictionless upselling is prohibitively complex to create on your own, requiring a serious resource outlay for even the largest ecommerce sites. But several ecommerce platforms have already done this hard work and make upselling and cross-selling easy to implement for any vendor using their platform.

Learn about the best ecommerce tools that can enable or improve your ecommerce upselling efforts. One of the best types of tools for ecommerce upselling is live chat, since you can proactively reach out with discounts, especially to customers with items in their cart (as well as support customers). If you're interested in live chat, we have a few resources you should checkout:

Many Shopify stores already take advantage of upselling thanks to the company’s smooth interface enabling the offering. If you’re a current or prospective Shopify user, check out 30+ of the best Shopify apps to boost your performance.

Not a Shopify user? We’ve created similar guides for BigCommerce and for Magento. Check out the best extensions for BigCommerce or the best extensions for Magento and start powering up your store today!

2) Reduce friction and complexity

The best upsells and cross-sells are the ones that feel smooth and simple. You want to keep your upselling tactics subtle, not pushy, and make sure your tech tools and partners enable a smooth and frictionless experience.

All it should take is a click or a tap, maybe two, for the upsell to be completed. Anything more complex than that could start getting in the way and might even drive customers away out of frustration or “move on” syndrome (they move on to another tab or app and never come back).

3) Present highly useful, popular products

Using products that have already sold well in the past will significantly improve the chances of cross-selling or upselling.

For upselling, this isn’t the place to push your most exclusive, niche products. Focus on popular upgrades instead, ones that bump up the purchase price incrementally, not exponentially. People looking to spend around $20 might be convinced to spend $30 or $35, but they’re unlikely to jump to a $250 item no matter how amazing it is.

For cross-selling, make sure you’re using highly targeted, highly useful products, and make sure they’re already good sellers. If you’re selling whole coffee beans, a hand or electric grinder makes great sense. A nice $50 manual brewer (like a siphon or AeroPress) might make sense too.

But a $999 espresso maker? Not so much. 

The same goes for other random items that have no connection to coffee. (Pro tip: Guys shopping for a dozen roses right before Valentine’s Day are never going to go for a bell pepper instead.)

Keep your cross-selling items on topic and in the ballpark.

4) Utilize receipts strategically, especially for cross-selling or plugging other promotions

It’s easy to think of receipts as pretty much throwaway material, something you have to produce to satisfy customer expectations and that’s it. But it turns out CVS is onto something with its 10-foot-long receipts: Receipts can be a strategic way to increase sales.

In the brick-and-mortar world, those long receipts encourage repeat visits, or they send in-person customers online for more savings (and more spending).

But for ecommerce businesses, the opportunities are nearly endless.

Use your digital receipts as a place to send out product recommendations, discounts, subscription offers (“Never run out again!”), or whatever else makes sense for your business model. Strict upselling is likely out at this point (they already bought the original item), but you have all sorts of opportunities for convincing that customer to spend more with you during an extended sales session.

5) Offer only two or three product options

Next, make sure you aren’t overwhelming new customers with too many choices. At the point where a customer is ready to put a product from your online store in their cart, they’re already pretty far down the purchase path. Whether you’re cross-selling or upselling, keep your set of offers small, no more than three at most.

Why? Because successfully upselling products needs to feel like simply making a better choice — not like going back to square one and comparing a half dozen new options.

Make your upsell offer clear and concise so you can have the best chance of increasing that cart value without frustrating or confusing your users.

6) Use discounted items and specials

Next up is a crucial upselling strategy: You’ve got to sweeten the pot. Use discounts and specials to motivate your customer to action.

Yes, discounts cut into your bottom line, but their ability to attract customers and increase revenue is undeniable. Simply build the discount into your asking price, and all is well.

Think of it this way: If your customer came to your site intending to purchase a single tube of toothpaste or a pound of coffee or a bucket of protein powder, it’s safe to assume they’re going to be biased toward the thing they meant to buy (in the size they meant to buy it).

You won’t convince many of them to simply buy two or three instead of one just because you asked them to in the checkout process. Most will simply say “no thanks, I only need one” and skip the offer.

What moves hearts and minds (and credit cards) is the perception of value. Sure, they only need one tub of protein powder, but it’s a better deal to buy two! It’ll save them money in the long run!

Or in the case of cross-sell offers, maybe they’ve never considered pre-workout or recovery supplements or couldn’t justify the expense. But hey, for just a bit more they can try all three, or they can buy two and get the third free!

To overcome shoppers’ bias toward the things they intended to buy, you’ll need to incentivize them. Discounts and specials are fantastic upselling techniques that can move existing customers into higher cart values (as well as reduce cart abandonment and improve cart recovery) and expose them to different products and more expensive products than they would’ve otherwise tried.

The best part? When you do this right, your customers will thank you for it! You get more of their money and better customer experience metrics.

7) Target repeat customers

Next up, if your chosen tools and ecommerce platform allow you to make this distinction, focus your cross-selling and upselling efforts on your returning customers, not on new ones.

For one, it’s way easier to sell to a current customer than a new one. Customer acquisition costs can be five times as much as customer retention costs, and you don’t want anything scaring off those new customers, including an upsell attempt that feels a little too pushy.

Your repeat customers are also much more likely to have a positive opinion about your business and your ecommerce site. They came back, after all! This segment of your market is already primed to like what you have to offer and is much more likely to trust your recommendations based on their previous positive experiences with your brand.

8) Limit offer availability

Whatever recommended products you’re presenting to customers, create a sense of urgency or scarcity by setting a time limit for the discount or special offer. Yes, this can be cheesy, and it might not be right for high-end or prestigious brands. But it’s highly motivating — and highly effective.

The reasons why get into some of the psychology surrounding shopping. Discounts are highly motivating, but savvy shoppers can see through “permanent discounts” well enough that the perception of value starts to disappear. By setting a timer (and displaying it in countdown fashion, if your plugins allow), you send some key messages:

  1. The full price is the real price.
  2. This discount is special (and so are you)!
  3. It’s now or never — if you miss it, you may never get access to this discount again.
  4. The timer’s ticking, so you’d better move now; no time to stop and think.

Now, behind the scenes, we know that many of these messages aren’t entirely accurate. But that’s exactly the power of a limited offer: It pushes people to act in a way that a general offer doesn’t.

So how long should your offer last? It depends on the nature of your business. Small-dollar retailers might make the window as short as 30 minutes. 48 hours makes sense for many, and one to two weeks can be a good timeframe for larger commitments that might have their own email sequences and funnels.

9) Always A/B test

Not every offer is a winner. The same goes for headlines, email subjects, and all sorts of elements in the marketing world.

But how can you determine which ones are working and which are falling short? A/B testing.

A/B testing is the process of trying two different sets of wording on a smaller subset of an audience to determine which one lands better.

You see this most often with marketing emails, where two initial test emails are sent to two small subsets of a list. Whichever subject line gets a better open rate wins the day and gets attached to the main email going out to the entire list.

You can apply this concept in numerous spaces. YouTubers A/B test video titles. News orgs do the same with non-breaking articles. And you can do it with your upselling offers.

Set up two similar offers (or an identical offer worded two different ways or using two different visual styles) and unleash both on your customer base. After enough customers receive one or the other offer, it’ll become clear which one has the better conversion rate and the best effect on the bottom line.

This is worth the investment: Forrester found that a strong UX can increase conversion rate by 400% over a weak one. That’s a lot of extra tubes of toothpaste!

Of course, you need an ecommerce platform that allows you to implement A/B testing on upselling and cross-selling initiatives, so make sure you have access to that feature through your chosen platform.

Integrate all your upselling tools with Gorgias

By implementing (or refreshing) ecommerce upselling and cross-selling strategies for your ecommerce site, you’ll enjoy a range of benefits, with improved customer experience and higher average cart value sitting at the top of the list. And with the nine best practices we’ve provided here, you’re now ready to take your upselling efforts to the next level.

Of course, succeeding in ecommerce and upselling requires the right suite of ecommerce tools and partners. Gorgias integrates instantly with more than 150 top ecommerce tools and is your ideal all-in-one solution for support and helpdesk needs.

Ready for a better helpdesk experience? See what Gorgias can do for you and sign up for free now.

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