The Power of Up-selling

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague who had visited a local wedding dress retailer.  The owner of the shop was looking to increase their turnover.

My colleague asked the value of a typical purchase from the shop and was told that a bride-to-be would spend upwards of £5000 on a dress.  It was a big purchase but a seasonal one.  The shop sold most of its dresses in the spring. Winter months were quiet.

Accepting the seasonal nature of sales, my colleague asked the owner to go through the selling process.  He found that all there efforts went into selling the dress.  Little or no effort was being placed into the sale of accessories such as shoes and bridesmaid’s dresses.  Given the seasonal nature of the business it was clear to my colleague that the to maximise revenues the business needed to sell the wedding, not the dress and that turnover would increase if the shop improved its ability to up-sell.

Up-selling is the art; and it is an art; of persuading consumers to buy a more expensive product than the one they were initially interested in.  It can also be defined as getting consumers to buy accessories to their desired product.  When you go into a shoe shop and they offer you cleaning products to go with your shoes, that’s up selling.  It can be an important way of generating the additional income required to turn a surviving business into a thriving business.

Some businesses incorrectly apply up-selling and end up using ‘bait and switch’.  Bait and switch is an unethical practice where misleading advertising is used to draw consumers into a store where they are sold more expensive alternatives.  there is never any intention to sell the advertised products in a bait and switch scam.

In my career in consumer protection, I came across a few examples of bait and switch.  the most prominent was a major supermarket chain which was advertising discounted laptop computers.  However, the advertised computers were only available in one of their stores, a rural store near Oban in the Scottish highlands.  No other stores stocked these computers and when consumers asked about them, sales staff would direct them to a more expensive alternative.

Another example was a household goods store which advertised big discounts of crockery.  In each of its stores the advertised discounts were based on another outlet.  So their Edinburgh store said that higher prices were charged in their Newcastle store, their Newcastle store advertised higher prices in their Glasgow store and so on.  It became evident that none of the higher prices were ever charged.  This was classic bait and switch.  Consumers were drawn to the store by non-existent discounts and then charged higher prices.

It can also be argued that some of the tactics used by discount airlines are bait and switch.  Often very cheap flight prices are advertised but when consumers purchase, they are faced with a host of compulsory charges on top of the ticket price, for example for putting luggage in the plane hold or for printing a boarding pass.  The law is clear that such tactics are illegal and some of the discount airlines have been censured for such practices.

Up-selling is the legitimate, skilful method of persuading consumers with more of their money than they initially thought.  It is a way to increase sales values and volumes.  The key to up-selling is the subtle use of flattery to make your clients feel privileged.

It is no cliché to say that flattery can get you everywhere.  Some people will say flattery feels false and doesn’t work.  Applied correctly, it does.  Boosting your client’s ego by subtle flattery and setting that flattery within realistic boundaries.  Don’t tell a short man that he is tall; tell him he’s well dressed.

Flattering customers subtly will mean that you sell more to them more often.

the use of subtle flattery to imply privilege is routinely used in the hotel sector.  Many hotel chains offer ‘membership deals’ to frequent users of their services.  these arte often called things like gold card or executive club.  In the George Clooney film Up in the Air, about a businessman whose sole role is to fly around America telling people they are being made redundant, there is a comic scene where he compares all his ‘privileged’ membership cards with another frequent flyer.  In fact one of the protagonists aims in the film is to retain his ‘privilege’ status.

The way these membership schemes are named is an exercise in subtle flattery.  Card members are offered upgrades on rooms and flights for a small fee.  This fee is applied on top of their initial purchase price.  The implication of the cards name implies to the consumer that they are a member of a select group used to a luxurious lifestyle.

This method of up selling is clever.  Firstly, the increase in price is offered once the consumer has committed to the purchase.  The small increase in price seems like a bargain compared to the full cost of the higher level product.  The up-selling is packaged as a membership benefit.  It is the ability to up sell whilst your customer is already purchasing; when they are most receptive to such offers.

Up selling is an important skill that can be used to increase sales revenues and turnover.  The use of such subtle flattery can turn you businesses from a moderate success to a star.