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Suggestive Selling and Upselling Techniques for Winning Retailers

How can you get your shoppers to buy more, leave happy, and come back for seconds? For many retailers, the answer to the first part—buy more—is suggestive selling or upselling. However, this retail technique doesn’t always work for the leave happy and come back parts.

We’ve all been in the customer’s shoes on this: walking into a store only to be immediately hounded by a sales rep, pushed on a product or service we don’t want, or bombarded with add-ons at checkout. This doesn’t feel great. But from the other perspective, that of brand or retailer, suggestive selling or upselling can be requirements in order to drive sales.

Here’s what you can do to make sure suggestive selling techniques help shoppers leave happy and come back for more.

What is the Difference Between Suggestive Selling and Upselling?

Let’s look at the definition of these two terms before we shift focus to tips and tricks.

Suggestive selling is a sales strategy where retail associates prompt customers to buy a specific product or service, which can include an add-on item or additional purchase.

For example, associates in Best Buy may guide shoppers to a specific TV or provide a recommendation based on customers’ needs and wants. When done right, this can be beneficial for all involved because shoppers receive expert guidance to get the best product or service, while retailers can increase sales, grow basket sizes, and improve customer loyalty.

Suggestive selling is a sales strategy where retail associates prompt customers to buy a specific product or service, which can include an add-on item or additional purchase.

Upselling, on the other hand, is when sales associates prompt customers to spend more money on an add-on item or captive product to complement their base purchase. An upsell can also be an upgrade, like switching from coach to first-class.

Upselling and suggestive selling are similar, but not quite the same. Both can lead to more sales for the retailer and better shopping experiences for the customer; however, both can also result in a negative experience where sales associates force unrelated products on unwanting shoppers while everyone is unhappy.

Person shopping for books

Tips to Suggestive Sell and Upsell Effectively

Ready to ensure sales associates are suggestively selling and upselling in a way that actually increases sales and keeps shoppers happy? Check out these tips to get started:

1. Personalize the Conversation

First up, and perhaps most importantly, is that personalized conversations with customers will greatly improve your success rates on any suggestive selling or upselling.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be really hard to have associates ask the right questions to better understand customers’ needs. What can you do? Instruct associates to leave the sales pitch toward the end. Don’t open with a “Have you thought about buying this TV instead?” question. Instead, ask the shopper what they want and why they want it. There’s a reason they’re in the store. Find out what it is. Then, associates can guide them toward the product or service that better fits their needs.

2. Respect Their Budgets

On a related note, suggestive selling and upselling can go very wrong if associates don’t know—or respect—shoppers’ budgets.

Using TVs as an example again, the cost can swing between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, plus TVs come in all sorts of sizes. If a shopper is standing in front of the lower-priced TVs, associates shouldn’t be on them to move over to the premium, expensive, home-theater-type options. If possible, find out what the buyer’s budget is and help them find a solution that fits.

3. Build Long-Term Relationships

Furthermore, a good suggestion from a sales rep can have a better success rate if the conversation is between a loyal customer rather than a first-time buyer.

Again, this can feel like a no-brainer, but it’s really all about picking your spots to suggest additional products. How can your sales staff do this? Ask customers if they’ve shopped with you before. Find out what they’ve bought and why they made that purchase. If they’re new, perhaps offer to sign them up for your customer loyalty program. Don’t have a customer loyalty program? Create one! Make sure it’s got some good perks that can motivate shoppers to buy more from you in the future.

Suggestive selling and upselling can go very wrong if associates don’t know—or respect—shoppers’ budgets.

4. Take No for an Answer

Next, you have to be able to take no for an answer whenever you try to suggestively sell or upsell a shopper. One of the most common complaints about these sales strategies is that retailers are just too pushy. They’re on people from the moment they enter the store, they don’t listen to what shoppers want, and they try to steer them to products or services that clearly benefit just the retailer—or cost way too much money for that particular buyer.

Instead, be OK with no. It’s fine if the customer doesn’t want that add-on right now or that expensive version of the hairdryer they came in for. Let them buy what they want. This doesn’t mean you can’t get some added value out of the deal, though. Focus more on the building-long-term-relationships step. Just because you didn’t get that upsell today doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow.

5. Improve Associate Training

It’s worth mentioning that none of these tips will work if sales associates aren’t trained on how to suggestively sell and upsell properly.

Definitely make training a big part of any push for new and improved sales techniques. Emphasize personalized, friendly conversations. Teach a few questions to ask that can help associates quickly learn shoppers’ budgets and preferences. Also, steer clear of any hard quotas or instructions to push specific products, regardless of why the shopper came into your store. That type of selling rarely benefits associates or customers.

6. Follow Up After the Sale

Lastly, strong suggestive selling and upselling strategies work because the conversation doesn’t end when the shopper leaves the store. This tip goes closely with No. 3, as customer loyalty programs are often the most direct way to follow up with customers after point-of-sale.

A good follow-up is all about the data. If you can, find out how they liked the product or service. See what else they want to compliment that purchase. Then, use this information to boost sales for other customers. Following up helps you learn which products go well together and why your top-sellers are top-sellers. Even if you don’t get that upsell on this shopper, their feedback will help you close the deal on the next one.

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Content Marketing Manager at Wiser, the leading provider of actionable data for better decisions. He holds a BA from Salem State University.

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