Cross-selling and upselling: Tips for increasing your average order value

This is a guest post from Alex Birch, SEO Manager at Typeform, a company that specializes in online form building and online surveys.

Cross-selling and upselling are key sales tactics that help you grow your revenue by increasing the amount of money a customer spends at your store. While cross-selling and upselling are closely related, and you’ll often see the terms used interchangeably, they are different techniques—so before we jump into the article, let’s quickly define and differentiate them.

Cross-selling is selling a customer additional product(s) or service(s) related to their original purchase. 

Upselling is selling a customer a more expensive or upgraded version of the product they initially wanted.

To use a simple fast food example, a cross-sell would be, “Would you like fries with that?” An upsell would be, “Would you like to supersize?”

In this article, we’ll explain how you can use cross-selling and upselling to increase average order value at your eCommerce store and, as a result, increase your average customer value and overall revenue.

Cross-selling and upselling for eCommerce stores

eCommerce is a natural fit for cross-selling and upselling; in fact, one study found cross-sells and upsells account for more than 30 percent of eCommerce revenue. 

eCommerce is a great environment for cross-selling and upselling for two main reasons:

  1. You have access to quite a bit of customer data, including demographic info and purchasing activity, which helps you craft effective and targeted cross-sells and upsells.
  2. You have multiple opportunities throughout the on-site shopping process and post-purchase email process to target your customers with upgraded and related products.

Here’s an example of ProFlowers seamlessly using both upselling and cross-selling in their order flow. First, when a customer looks at a bouquet, ProFlowers upsells nicer versions of that bouquet.

ProFlowers upsells a better bouquet.

Then, after the customer has chosen their bouquet, ProFlowers cross-sells some natural add-ons like a card, teddy bear, chocolates, or balloon.

ProFlowers also does cross-selling.

Amazon reportedly attributes as much as 35 percent of its sales to cross-selling through its “customers who bought this item also bought” and “frequently bought together” options on every product page.

Amazon's bought together recommendations.

And remember upselling and cross-selling don’t have to end when the customer finishes their purchase. Although post-purchase upselling for physical products can be a challenge on eCommerce—after all, is a customer really going to go through the process of shipping a perfectly good product back to you just to buy a more expensive version?—it does work well on digital, membership, and subscription products. It can also work on a longer time horizon for many products. If a customer buys a beginner version of a product, say a digital camera or a set of chef’s knives, you can develop a long term relationship by sending content to help that person improve their skill level and eventually upsell them on a more advanced model.

Cross-selling, on the other hand,  is a more universal post-purchase eCommerce fit; regardless of what the customer initially purchased, there’s always an opportunity to target them with related products through email marketing and on-site personalization tools. 

Cross-selling and upselling on your website

Your homepage

The homepage of your eCommerce site needs to do a lot of things: it needs to introduce and establish your brand, showcase your best products and offers, tell a story, and convince customers to start shopping with you.

However, even with all of that going on, there are still opportunities on your homepage to cross-sell and upsell.

  • You can showcase mid- and high-priced products, upselling customers who might’ve come to your site looking for a cheaper version.
  • You can use targeted recommendations based on the customer’s history to show products related to past purchases.
  • You can showcase things like product bundles, which have cross-sells built right in.

Here’s a section of the Keurig homepage that includes both cross-sells and upsells. They promote a deal on a “Keurig Starter Kit” that cross-sells a coffee maker and different types of coffee pods. They also promote “Auto delivery,” which is an upsell technique—rather than a customer just buying pods once, Keurig wants them to subscribe to turn that purchase into multiple future purchases.

Keurig's homepage with upsells and cross-sells.

Product pages

Your product pages are the key to upselling; research shows upselling can perform 20 times better than cross-selling on product pages. (That’s most likely because a customer on a product page is focused on finding the best “main course,” not the best side dishes.) It’s crucial to capture your buyers’ attention, establish credibility and trust, demonstrate the value proposition of higher-priced products, and ultimately convince the customer to upgrade their purchase at this stage of the ordering process.

Here’s an example of smart product page upselling from Brentwood Home. They offer upgrades on the mattress like “easy foundation” or “easy adjustable base” to turn a $995 sale into a $1,220 or $1,594 sale. The page also has a cross-sell offer with matching pillows—but it’s clear the upsell is the real goal here. The upsells stand out—notice the boxes featuring the upsells are the only spot on the page using a drop shadow—and the value proposition of the upgrades is so clear that it only takes a small picture and a few words to sell them.

Brentwood Home's upsells.

Another popular product page upselling technique is a box showcasing comparison products. On this product page for a lower-end 3D printer, Newegg promotes four “Similar items”—all of which are 3D printers at higher price points. By including the exponentially more expensive $3,499 3D printer, they can shift customer’s pricing expectations; when a customer sees a printer for that much, suddenly the options in the $300-$400 range don’t seem outrageous, and the $199 printer they were looking at feels almost too cheap. 

Newegg shows alternative choices for 3D printers.

Quizzes

Product pages aren’t the only place where customers make buying decisions—the other content on your site can also be a major contributor. Your on-site content marketing can help create brand loyalty, educate your customers, establish your credibility and authority, and even provide entertaining ways to make your customer aware of other products relevant to them.

I work at Typeform, where we’ve developed methods for interactive content like online quizzes that can bring a personal touch to an online shopping experience—and lead to an higher customer value.

An example of a Typeform quiz.
Via: Typeform.

Try creating an engaging quiz on your website to help a customer identify products they might want to purchase. You could quiz them about how they intend to use a certain product, then make recommendations (and upsell them) based on their answers.

Another way of using quizzes for eCommerce is to design a “personal shopper” quiz where you select a product for your customer based on their answers, cross-selling complementary accessories along the way.

Tails.com, an online pet food store, has customers fill in a form about their pet before providing them with a personalized selection of food, treats, and supplements based on the answers provided. They cross-sell and upsell by offering a range of quantities of pet food, as well as additional items.

Tails.com quizzes about dogs.

This helps to replicate the feeling of going to a brick-and-mortar store and having a salesperson provide recommendations. It’s personal, and it provides enjoyment, making the purchasing experience more pleasant all around.

You should also make sure to integrate your quiz with your eCommerce platform to collect customer data—which is great for targeted email marketing. (For example, Typeform connects with Shopify and WooCommerce to share the data for future personalization.)

The shopping cart and checkout page

The shopping cart and checkout pages are your final chance to increase your customers’ cart value before they finish their purchase. Again, when it comes to physical products, post-purchase upselling can be difficult for eCommerce stores due to the back-and-forth shipping required—so the shopping cart and checkout pages are generally the last opportunity for an upsell.

Netflix offers customers the choice between three plans during the checkout process—and the most expensive “Premium” one is pre-selected. The goal there is to upsell a customer who might otherwise go with the “Basic” or “Standard” plan. The side-by-side comparison shows the value of going with the most expensive option. (Or, at the very least, going with the mid-level option.)

Netflix upsells on the price selection screen.

Le Creuset, a cookware company, has a banner on their checkout page with other items that might interest the customer based on what they’re buying.

Le Crueset cross-sells at checkout.

GoDaddy is famous (or, maybe, infamous) for its checkout flow that promotes several cross-sells and upsells. While your threshold for using aggressive sales techniques may not be as high as GoDaddy’s, there’s certainly something to be said for taking a shot at increasing a customer’s order value.

GoDaddy's famous checkout flow.

Cross-selling and upselling with email marketing

There are opportunities to cross-sell (and, for digital sellers, upsell) with virtually every email you send. But we’re going to focus on two of the strongest opportunities here: Transactional emails and post-purchase automations.

Note: In both cases, it will be highly beneficial to use an eCommerce-focused email service provider (we recommend Jilt 😉). With an eCommerce email provider, data from your store is synced to your emails, which will allow you to create highly-targeted and -segmented emails. 

Transactional emails

Transactional emails are business-focused emails that contain the nuts and bolts about a transaction on your eCommerce site. Since they serve a necessary business purpose, they don’t require a customer opt-in. However, that means they operate under a different set of rules than other emails—mainly, they must be focused on business, not marketing.

The rules of how much marketing you can include in a transactional email varies by country and jurisdiction, so make sure to check with the laws in your customers’ countries before weaving cross-sells into your transactional emails. Under the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, you can include a few cross-sells into your receipts and shipping notifications—but the “primary purpose of the message” has to be the transaction.

We recommend using a small number of highly-targeted cross-sells in your order receipt and shipping confirmation emails. Recommend accessories or other complementary products based on what your customer bought, and make sure those recommendations come after the key business details in the email. You can also recommend products that were also purchased by people who bought the same product—that’s what Target does at the very bottom of this order receipt.

Target's order receipt.
Via: Pinterest.

Post-purchase automations

Post-purchase email automations, like a new customer welcome series, thank you email, or a review request, are different from transactional emails—these are marketing emails that generally need an opt-in, so there’s no requirement to stay focused on the details of a transaction. That gives you more flexibility with your cross-sells and upsells.

Here are some of the post-purchase email automations you can use for your store, and how to incorporate cross-sells and upsells.

  • Post-purchase thank you email. This is an email sent to customers immediately after their purchase, usually with a thank you message and vital information about their purchase. It’s used to keep customers excited about what they just bought, and you can include targeted cross-sells to accessories or add-ons that enhance the purchased item.
  • Welcome series. This is a series of emails sent after a customer purchases or subscribes introducing them to your brand and products and setting expectations about a long term relationship with your store. Begin cross-selling (or upselling, if you have a digital, membership, or subscription product) after you’ve introduced your company and began onboarding the customer.
  • VIP/loyalty rewards. While a VIP or loyalty club isn’t an upsell or cross-sell in the traditional sense, if you can incentivize customers to join a club that encourages them to make more purchases and larger purchases, it’s accomplishing the same goal: increasing customer value.
  • Review requests. These emails are usually sent after a customer has had sufficient time to try out their purchase—generally a few days or a week after they have received the product. You can include a few cross-sells at the bottom of a review request. The primary goal of the email is to get a review, but cross-selling an accessory is a good secondary goal. Plus, you can put the idea of buying the accessory in the customer’s head—so after they leave a review, they may navigate over to the accessory’s product page to purchase it. (Pro-tip: include the cross-sell items on the thank you page after they leave the review!)
  • Stand-alone cross-sell emails. You can send an email specifically focusing on products that complement whatever the customer originally purchased. This email gives you more room to get into the details of those products; explain why the product you’re cross-selling is a “must have” companion to the customer’s original purchase.
  • Stand-alone upsell emails. Encourage a customer to upgrade to a higher membership or subscription tier by devoting an email to all the perks and benefits they’d gain by doing so. As mentioned earlier, with some products, you can use this type of email later in a customer relationship to encourage the customer to upgrade to a more advanced version.

Here’s an example of cross-selling in a post-purchase thank you email from Best Buy. This email is targeted at anyone who bought a digital camera and shows the key accessories to go along with the camera.

One more note here. While we’ve focused on post-purchase email automations, it’s possible (although not something we see very often) to strategically work upsells and cross-sells into pre-purchase automations, like cart abandonment emails. While the goal of a cart abandonment email is to get the customer to return to your store to complete their purchase, you might also want to suggest an even more alluring alternative to the product they left in their cart—or some accessories or add-ons that will make the product work even better for the customer. If your recommendations are solid, you might be able to get the customer to come back to your store not just to checkout—but to spend more than they originally planned,

Key takeaways

Cross-selling and upselling are important sales tools to help you increase your revenue and the average value of your customers. eCommerce stores see an average of more than 30 percent of their revenue come from cross-sells and upsells.

Cross-selling is selling a customer additional product(s) or service(s) related to their original purchase. 

Upselling is selling a customer a more expensive or upgraded version of the product they initially wanted.

You can incorporate both techniques all over your eCommerce site.

  • Homepage. Showcase higher-priced products to catch a customer’s eye, use targeted recommendations, and feature bundles of products.
  • Product pages. Product pages are a great place to upsell. Make it easy for customers to see the differences between lower- and higher-priced products and play up the benefits of going with a more expensive option.
  • Quizzes. Content like product quizzes can help guide customers toward the right product for them—they’ll see why the cheapest option often isn’t the best one for their needs.
  • Cart and checkout pages. Try to increase the value of an order by offering accessories and complementary products at checkout. If you sell physical products, this may also be your last chance to upsell, as post-purchase upselling is tricky with eCommerce.

Email marketing is also a prime opportunity for upselling and cross-selling.

  • Transactional emails. Use transactional emails like order receipts and shipping confirmations to offer a select number of cross-sells on a customer’s purchase.
  • Post-purchase email automations. You can work upsells and cross-sells into virtually any post-purchase automated email, including a thank you email, welcome series, review request, or VIP/loyalty rewards program. You can even send targeted and segmented stand-alone cross-sell and upsell emails to really demonstrate to your customer why they’ll want to spend more at your store.

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