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What is Upselling and Cross-Selling in Ecommerce?

Last Updated on 24th May, 2024 | Ecommerce

Upselling and Cross-Selling

Ecommerce Upselling and Cross-Selling: A Key Differences and Strategies

Upselling and cross-selling are essential sales techniques that allow ecommerce businesses to increase average order values, generate more revenue per customer, and improve customer retention over time. However, mastering the art of presenting complementary or higher-tier products requires in-depth product knowledge, data-driven insights about customer behavior, and the ability to make personalized recommendations that add value.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of upselling and cross-selling and provide actionable strategies to implement these practices effectively. You will learn:

  • The definitions and key differences between upselling and cross-selling
  • 9 tactics to excel at upselling and cross-selling online
  • Real-world examples of top ecommerce brands succeeding with these strategies
  • How to continuously optimize upselling and cross-selling performance

Equipped with the knowledge and tactics outlined here, you will be able to turn your online store visitors into repeat, high-value customers who buy more per order and have higher lifetime value to your business. Let’s get started!

What is Upselling?

Upselling refers to encouraging customers to purchase a superior, higher-end, or more advanced version of a product they are considering.

Some examples include:

  • Upgrading from standard delivery to same-day or next-day express delivery
  • Moving from a basic software plan to a premium plan with more features
  • Purchasing the deluxe version of a product instead of the standard model

The upsold item almost always offers additional benefits, capabilities, or quality that justify its higher price point. It caters to customers who:

  • Are you willing to pay more for the best product available
  • Desire added features or performance
  • Want an enhanced experience or luxury touches

Upselling works best when customers have an established need or interest but can be persuaded to spend more on a premium offering.

What is Cross-Selling?

Cross-selling involves recommending complementary products or add-ons to customers based on their current purchases, interests, or needs.

Some examples are:

  • Suggesting phone cases, screen protectors, or Bluetooth headsets to a customer buying a smartphone
  • Offering compatible printer paper when a customer adds a printer to their cart
  • Recommending a laptop bag or USB drive to someone purchasing a new computer

The key difference between cross-selling and upselling is that cross-sells are ancillary products rather than upgraded versions of what the customer is buying. The additional items enhance the usage or experience of the original product.

Cross-selling capitalizes on opportunities to meet related needs a customer may have yet to consider. The incremental purchases add to order values.

Why Combine Upselling and Cross-Selling Strategies?

Together, upselling and cross-selling allow e-commerce businesses to maximize the value captured from each customer across their lifecycle.

Upselling increases order value on the core or main product, while cross-selling brings in additional revenue from complementary purchases. This one-two punch grows transaction sizes while improving the shopping experience.

Savvy modern customers appreciate receiving relevant recommendations for products and services they may benefit from but have yet to actively search for. Serving as a trusted advisor builds satisfaction and loyalty.

9 Strategies to Master Upselling and Cross-Selling

1. Become a Product Expert

Having an in-depth understanding of your product line is vital for making suitable upsell and cross-sell recommendations. Here are techniques to build expertise:

  • Study product descriptions, specs, and FAQs thoroughly. Understand exactly what features each product version includes and why customers value those capabilities. Know which use cases and needs each model is designed for.
  • When possible, try products firsthand. Experiencing their quality, functionality, and performance yourself makes it easier to explain differences to customers.
  • Ensure sales reps are trained on products. Go beyond superficial knowledge to granular details on materials, components, manufacturing processes, and technology used. They should be able to articulate differences and value-adds confidently.
  • Monitor best-selling items and customer reviews. Please pay attention to which product configurations, features, and price points are most popular and why customers prefer them. Identify pain points and desires you can address with upgrades.
  • Track common customer questions. Look for clues about why customers are uncertain between product tiers. Do they need help understanding the benefits or reassurance of making a major purchase? Features that get asked about often are good candidates to highlight.

With comprehensive product insight, you can tailor recommendations to each customer’s unique needs and context. Avoid vague, generic upsells that add little tangible value. Know the ideal customer profile for each product tier.

2. Leverage Customer Data and Behavior Analytics

Modern ecommerce platforms and tools provide a wealth of valuable intel through:

  • Site traffic analytics, such as page views, clicks, and exit rates
  • CRM data like contact details, communications, and activity timelines
  • Detailed purchase history and order values
  • Product browsing behavior and on-site search terms
  • Marketing campaign response rates and sales attribution

Leveraging this data enables you to identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities such as:

  • Which products customers frequently purchase together (revealing ideal cross-sell offerings)
  • What higher-priced items or configurations do customers upgrade to after initial purchases
  • Which pages and products do individual users view but abandon or don’t add to the cart
  • How customers respond to different discount thresholds and incentives
  • How personalized or segmented recommendations perform compared to generic offers

Make the most of built-in ecommerce personalization tools. For example, email campaigns that deliver tailored suggestions based on intelligence gathered usually see higher engagement and conversion rates.

3. Create Well-Defined Product Tiers

Having clearly differentiated product tiers supports upselling by making the upgrade path obvious to customers. Ways to structure tiers include:

  • Features: Higher-priced tiers include more advanced features or capabilities
  • Quality: Upgrades use higher-grade materials, components, or construction
  • Performance: Speed, output, accuracy, and other metrics improve with each tier
  • Support: Added services like extended warranties, premium support, or white glove delivery
  • Convenience: Faster shipping, gift wrapping, installation, and other perks add value
  • Prestige: Luxury branding, packaging, accessories, or exclusivity gives status

The key is communicating these differences effectively in product listings, comparisons, and descriptions. Make the additional value-add of the higher tiers easy for customers to recognize and justify.

4. Focus on Strategic Product Placement

The positioning and layout of products on ecommerce category pages can significantly impact upsell success. Tactics include:

  • Suggestive Selling: Display complementary products together visually—group batteries with electronics, cartridges with printers, and grill utensils with BBQ sets.
  • Impulse Purchases: Place small, enticing cross-sell offers in side carts and strategic spots. Highlight phone cases near checkout for quick add-ons.
  • Tiered Layouts: When possible, list good-better-best product versions or bundles together. Include clear upgrade CTAs that make climbing tier ladders seamless.
  • Post-Purchase Recommendations: Offer accessories, warranties, services, and supplies tailored to the main purchase items. These well-timed suggestions encourage bonus buys.

Even the chronological order of pages visited can influence receptiveness to upgrades. For example, customers tend to be more open to upsells immediately after selecting a product versus later in the checkout process.

5. Personalize and Customize Offers

Generic upsell and cross-sell recommendations are easier for customers to ignore. However, customizing suggestions to align with personal interests, past purchases, and browsing history makes them much more relevant.

Personalization tactics include:

  • Website Recommendations: Display offers dynamically matched to the individual user’s behavior. Leverage live chat to provide tailored suggestions as well.
  • Email Segmentation: Send cross-sell promotions based on past purchases, interests, and order history. Time reminders and replenishment offers appropriately.
  • Social Proof: Show “Customers who bought X also bought Y” to confirm popular pairings.
  • Abandoned Cart: Email customers soon after they leave items in their cart. Include relevant cross-sells and perhaps a discount incentive.
  • Loyalty Programs: Provide VIP members early access to new items and special offers aligned with their purchase history.
  • Account Profile: When customers are logged in, highlight upgrades, accessories, replacements, and replenishments tailored specifically to past buys.

6. Offer Targeted Discounts and Free Shipping

Strategic incentives can further persuade customers to accept upsells and cross-sells. Examples include:

  • Bulk Order Discounts: “25% off when you buy three or more accessories!”
  • Free Shipping Threshold: “Get free shipping when your order exceeds $75”.
  • Bundling Deals: “Add this 3-year extended warranty for just $99 when purchased with any laptop”.
  • Package Deals: “Get 40% off this case when you buy any iPhone model”.
  • Loyalty Discounts: Provide repeat customers or membership members with periodic % off cross-sells.
  • Cart-Specific Coupons: Trigger discounts on complementary products when certain items are added to the cart.
  • Time-Limited Offers: Urgency and scarcity can spur quicker upsell purchase decisions.

Match discounts to your profit margin comfort levels on higher-priced and high-velocity products.

7. Craft Compelling Upsell Copy

An effective upsell pitch has several key elements:

  • Leading Question: “Would you like to upgrade to overnight shipping for just $5 more?” Pique curiosity.
  • Relevant Timing: When the customer chooses a shipping option, it is ideal timing for faster shipping upsell.
  • Customer Benefit: “Get your order by 10 am tomorrow with overnight shipping”. Focus on the value received.
  • Scarcity / Urgency: “Just five overnight delivery slots left!” can motivate immediate purchase.
  • Easy Acceptance: Make saying yes frictionless with pre-checked boxes or one-click upgrade buttons.
  • Risk Reversal: “Free returns within 30 days” helps overcome hesitations.


“Your order qualifies for free next-day delivery for just $7 more. Get your new iPhone by 10 am tomorrow instead of waiting three extra days. Check the box below to upgrade to next-day shipping, and we’ll take care of the rest!”

8. Leverage Customer Reviews and Testimonials

Display prominent testimonials from past customers that reinforce your upsell and cross-sell recommendations. For example:

  • “I was skeptical about the Premium membership, but it’s worth every penny for the perks!”
  • “The heated seats are a must-have upgrade for long commutes. So worth it!”
  • “The pet stain protection plan saved me thousands in carpet replacement costs.”

Social proof like this helps address buyer concerns and conveys that add-ons provide real value. Pull snippets from authentic reviews on your website or Google Business.

9. Continuously Measure and Optimize Performance

Use key metrics to measure the impact of your efforts and pinpoint areas for improvement:

  • Upsell offer acceptance rates
  • Average cross-sells per order
  • Increase in average order value
  • Revenue from targeted promotions
  • Conversions from email campaigns
  • Highest ROI customer segments

Experiment with different upsell copy, offer placement, email timing, bundled product configurations, and discounts. Connect insights from analytics to actual revenue growth. Double down on what proves most effective based on data.

How Leading E-commerce Brands Use Upselling and Cross-Selling

Let’s explore four real-world examples of highly successful upselling and cross-selling from leading ecommerce brands:


amazon upselling and cross selling examples

The ecommerce giant displays personalized, relevant cross-sells throughout the buyer journey:

  • Suggestive Selling: “Frequently bought together” product groupings incentive add-ons.
  • Past Purchases: Emails remind customers to buy accessories, replacements, and upgrades for past purchases.
  • Collaborative Filtering: “Customers who viewed X also viewed Y” exposes commonly paired items.
  • 1-Click Ordering: Frictionless checkout encourages impulse cross-sell ads.

Enormous customer data volume and machine learning algorithms power this deep personalization. Amazon earns over 35% of its revenue just from cross-selling and upselling.

Home Depot

home depot upselling and cross selling example

Home Depot developed excellent expertise at upselling DIYers to advanced equipment. Store associates play a key role:

  • In-Store Experts: Associates ask customers about their projects and suggest appropriate upgrades suited to their needs and experience level.
  • Project Calculators: Users input their project specs and are guided to premium products and quantities needed for best results.
  • Comparison Charts: Good-better-best equipment options are presented side-by-side to explain additional capabilities.
  • Follow-Up Offers: Previous buyers are prompted to purchase more supplies as their project progresses.

Home Depot also offers free in-home consultations to provide customized upgrade advice for larger renovation projects.


chewy upselling and cross selling example

The pet supplies retailer does target cross-selling through:

  • Subscription Auto-Delivery: Customers get routine deliveries of replenishment essentials like pet food right when they need it.
  • Incentives: “Spend $49+, Get $20 eGift Card” for new users displayed in the cart and email prompts before checkout.
  • Quizzes: Pet parents provide info like breed, age, and preferences to get tailored product suggestions.
  • Pet Profiles: The account dashboard shows items due for reorder, recommended new products, and deals customized for each pet.

Purple Mattress

purple upselling and cross selling example

Purple’s mattress upselling approach includes:

  • Comparison Tool: An online tool lets shoppers compare mattresses side-by-side in terms of dimensions, materials, performance factors, and benefits.
  • 100-Night Trial: The risk-free trial gives customers time to decide if they want to upgrade or return.
  • Bundles: Mattresses are bundled with premium accessories like pillows, cushions, and bases as packages.
  • Financing: Customers can pay over time, removing affordability barriers to upgrading.
  • Referrals: Satisfied customers are encouraged to refer friends to buy using discount credits.

Final Thoughts

Implementing deliberate upselling and cross-selling strategies tailored to your products and customers is crucial for growing sales and order values in ecommerce. The concepts may seem simple, but truly mastering the nuances of presenting offers at the right times takes practice and testing.

Treat upselling and cross-selling capabilities as a core competitive advantage rather than an afterthought. A small gain in conversion rates can add tens of thousands in profit. The expertise outlined here will enable you to turn more of your e-commerce visitors into loyal, high lifetime value customers who buy more per order.