Higher average order value (AOV), more revenue, and better profit margins are all within your reach. And that’s despite mounting challenges like rising ad costs and unpredictable algorithms on ad platforms. The key to achieving them? In many cases, it’s a thoughtful, data-driven upselling strategy—we speak from experience on that. (Over the years, we’ve helped dozens of DTC ecommerce brands optimize their websites and online stores to make more money, in part through upselling.)
But before we get into some strategies you might like to try and examples of those strategies in action, let’s make sure we’re on the same page first.
The terms upselling and cross-selling are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably but they’re not the same thing.
Upselling is persuading shoppers to make a more expensive purchase. For example, this might mean encouraging them to upgrade to a premium version of your product or purchase enhancements or add-ons. It’s limited to the product or service potential customers are already considering.
On the other hand, cross-selling is encouraging them to buy complementary products in addition to one they’re interested in or have already bought. As an example, men’s grooming brand Harry’s cross-sells related products like body wash and soap when you add a razor to your cart.
The most obvious benefit of upselling is that it increases order values, which can mean more revenue and profit for you. But when it’s done right, it creates a flywheel of benefits for you and your customers. How so?
Your goal when upselling shouldn’t solely be getting people to buy a more expensive version of your product or service. It should be to match them with a more valuable product or service—something more likely to fit their needs or a cool customization that will have an emotional payoff, for example.
When customers get value out of the upsell, they’re more likely to buy from you again and recommend you to their friends and family. You can then convert and potentially upsell those people, and the cycle continues from there.
What are some ways you can upsell customers without making them feel pressured into spending more with you?
First up is bundling, which can take a couple of forms. The simplest way to create bundles is to give two or more different quantity options for the same product. For example, CDLP (note: listen to our interview with CDLP’s CEO here) offers bundles of three, six, and 12 boxer briefs as an alternative to buying just one pair. In addition, the volume discounts make the higher quantities more appealing.
This is a great way to go if your customers tend to buy more than one of a product at a time anyway. (You can find out if they do by analyzing the Quantity metric for different products in the Google Analytics Ecommerce Purchases report.)
Another bundling option is to offer variety packs or add-ons. El Rayo Tequila did this on one of its product pages, which is featured in our very own DTC Swipe Files. The brand offers a few options, including a bundle of two different tequilas and one of tequila and tonic.
Tiered pricing is flexible, allowing shoppers to choose the products they want, need, or can afford. And it’s also a great way to show people who could be successfully upsold what they’d be missing out on if they went with a lower tier. You could essentially get them to talk themselves into spending more (e.g., “Why buy X when I could upgrade to Y and get these extras for just $20 more per month?”).
Direct-to-consumer brands can approach tiered pricing in a couple of ways. The first is offering a bare-bones version of a product, a premium version, and (optionally) one that falls in the middle in terms of features or functionality. Or you can arrange tiers by usage or quantity of products needed.
MistoBox does a bit of both with its personalized coffee subscriptions. New customers pick between a moderately priced option and a more expensive one with more exclusive, higher-quality coffee. Plus, they get discounts for buying more bags of coffee.
Another option is to offer perks that aren’t always available. We’re talking about things like bundles or add-ons only available for a limited time, or top-tier product models that can only be purchased as upsells. If those perks provide a better solution to your customers’ problems, seem more attractive and upscale, or are more interesting, you could upsell more people successfully.
Subscriptions can be a great upsell for skincare, beauty, personal care, and food brands (or other brands that offer things people regularly need). Oral care brand Boka is one of many that use the “subscribe and save” call-to-action to secure recurring revenue.
Encourage customers to spend more with you by offering rewards for certain purchases. For example, when customers upgrade to a higher-value product or buy a bundle instead of a single product, you could offer free shipping, rewards points, or some other incentive in exchange. Not only will you make more money but you’ll build stronger customer relationships, which can earn you referrals and even more sales.
No matter what upsell technique(s) you use, there are a few things that will set you up for success.
If you think any upsell will do when working to increase sales or order values, think again. For best results, let customer data lead you.
Do people typically buy certain products in multiples? Do they often buy one or more of each variety of your product at a time? Are they manually searching your site for and buying additional items you could promote as add-ons? What does the purchase history of existing customers say about what they’re likely to buy in the future?
These questions could all have high-level answers. But if you can answer them for each customer persona you sell to, you’ll be able to tailor your upsells that much more effectively. Tools like Rebuy can also be helpful.
Rebuy is powered by artificial intelligence and uses customer data to personalize product recommendations—whether they’re part of upsell, cross-sell, or downsell flows. This makes it easier to ensure that each shopper enjoys a seamless customer experience, and it improves conversions, average order value, and customer lifetime value. You can choose from pop-up upsells, subscription upgrades, post-purchase upsells, limited-time offers, and so on.
Asking people to spend more requires that you provide more evidence of why people should trust you. Why should they have confidence in the quality of whatever you’re offering? Leverage customer reviews, media mentions, your money-back guarantee or warranty certifications, and other trust-builders.
Upsells are introduced when people are entering or in the thick of the checkout process. They’re ready to go through with a purchase, so you can’t afford to derail their focus. Don’t upsell offers that require a lot of education or will otherwise force people to rethink what they’ll buy. Stick with self-explanatory upgrades that are easy to say “yes” to or ones that you can quickly and convincingly explain the value of.
CBD brand FOCL does a solid job of this. Its product pages give shoppers several “easy yes” upsell options. They result in higher order values without placing emphasis on the fact that they’ll be spending more with language like “get the variety pack for just $118 more.” (While that phrasing can work in some instances, we like that FOCL focuses on positives like savings instead.)
In addition to the full spectrum upsell, there are a few others here:
Often, it can be risky to give people this many choices, as a ton of options can give them analysis paralysis. But this works for FOCL because there are no explanations of the upsells required, and instead of mentioning additional costs, the focus is on savings. This makes shoppers feel like they’re simply customizing their orders and, ultimately, getting more value for less money. Both get them in a positive mindframe before they head to checkout, which can go a long way in making sure they follow through with their purchases.
While the above tips are important if you want your upselling efforts to pay off, there’s one more thing you have to remember. SplitBase founder and CEO Raphael Paulin-Daigle explains, “The industry oversimplifies a lot of things. It's almost like, ‘If I start testing, I'm going to make more money. If I build a landing page, I'm going to make more money. If I deploy a quiz, I'm going to make more money.’ But the truth is, those things by themselves won't make you more money. It's all about the strategy.”
The same can be said of upselling. Some brands think, “If we start upselling based on trends in customer data, we’re golden.” This isn’t entirely true. You may not get your upsell offer right on the first try.
Plus, even if you do see a lift in conversion rate or other metrics, who’s to say that’s the ceiling for what you can accomplish? Or that you won’t need to adjust as consumer behavior and preferences change?
This is where A/B testing comes in. You can test an upsell offer against your usual, upsell-free control to see if it works better. You can then test another upsell idea against whichever one performs best and rinse and repeat this process on an ongoing basis. This type of continuous A/B testing will have two powerful benefits for you:
You just have to be sure you’re testing properly.
What is the proper way? We’ve used our Testing Trifecta to help dozens of brands make more money and it hasn’t failed us yet!
It starts with quantitative research—putting your analytics data under a microscope to identify strengths and weaknesses of your ecommerce website and open areas of opportunity you should take advantage of.
It’s at this point that many brands (and even many conversion rate optimization agencies) speculate potential solutions, implement general CRO best practices, or copy upselling techniques they’ve seen competitors use.
But we’ve gotten much better results from gathering qualitative insights first, which is the second part of the Testing Trifecta. Doing user testing, customer interviews, website polls, and the like give us valuable context. Customer research tells us why this works on your site, why that doesn’t, and why adding or optimizing an upsell will be a smart move.
That way, we can come up with solutions—in this case, upsells—that are informed by customers’ needs, wants, preferences, and direct feedback. This makes the testing stage of our three-step method much smoother, increasing the chances that each test will get you closer to your core business objective.
Needless to say, we highly recommend using this methodology whether you plan to test upsells or other optimizations. You can implement it yourself or let us help you if you don’t have the time, interest, or internal resources to execute it.
For more on how your brand can increase its revenue through effective upsell strategies, request your free CRO proposal.
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