As with many things that have become a staple of the digital marketing world, cross-selling is nothing new.

Even the guy in the petrol station will offer you a discounted Mars Bar after you’ve filled your tank. 

If you’re not offering customers extra products you’re missing an opportunity for greater revenue, so it's important to do it and get it right. 

What is cross-selling?

Cross-selling simple means offering additional products or services to customers to try and get additional spend out of them. 

But you need to offer the right product or service at the right time, or else the whole thing just becomes annoying for the customer. I might buy a Mars Bar at a petrol station if I’m on a long drive, but I’m unlikely to be interested in a sofa.

In this post I’m going to cover the key points to bear in mind when cross-selling to customers online, as well as the main things to avoid. 

Keep it relevant

As I mentioned above, there is no point offering people something they are simply not going to be interested in. This is a waste of everyone's time and a missed opportunity for a sale.

You should always offer the customer something that compliments the product they are already interested in. 

The easiest and most obvious way to do this is to offer a product that directly relates to the one the customer is already looking at or has added to their basket. 

You can see a good example of this below from Argos. If I’m buying a TV it’s likely I’ll be interested in a wall bracket to go with it, so this suggestion is actually helpful to me and is likely to at least catch my attention. 

Argos cross-selling

Amazon’s ‘frequently bought together’ feature is another great example. Not only does it suggest related products, it also gives you the total price for all of them to make the purchasing decision easier. 

Amazon cross-selling

Asos also has a great technique by enabling people to ‘shop the look’ of its models. So if you’re looking at a jacket, you’ll see someone wearing that jacket, but you’ll also be offered the other items the model is wearing in the picture.

You can see an example of this below. I clicked on the skinny fit blazer and then Asos showed me the jeans and jumper the model was wearing. 

Asos cross-selling

Asos cross-selling

Offer a deal

You can go one step further than simply presenting additional products and offer a discount if people buy them as a ‘bundle’. 

You can see an example of this in the screenshot below from the John Lewis website. 

John Lewis cross-selling

This technique also means you can be slightly more flexible with the product offering. Even if you’re offering something that’s essentially the same product, people may be tempted if there’s a deal to be had. 

You can see an example of this in the screenshot below from The Whisky Exchange. The products may not compliment each other in the same way as the John Lewis example above, but it is still an effective cross-sell because of the discount on offer. 

Whisky Exchange cross-selling

Get the timing right

The point at which you cross-sell products is also important. Going back to my petrol station/Mars Bar analogy: if the guy came out while I was filling my tank up and said, "Do you want to buy a discounted Mars Bar in a minute when you come in and pay?" I’d probably just be confused and a little bit scared. 

It’s important to cross-sell at a point when people are likely to be receptive to it, i.e. while they are looking at a specific product and before they actually get to the point of inputting their card details. 

Cross-selling too early could mean the offering isn’t relevant enough or distracts the customer from the initial product. Cross-selling too late could jar the customer and potentially lead to cart abandonment. 

The Apple store is a great example of timing things perfectly. It doesn't disturb the customer with any cross-selling until they've already made the decision to buy the product by clicking on the buy button. But you have to view the cross-selling page before you can get to the checkout. 

Apple store cross-selling

Use social proof

Amazon is very good at using social proof to cross-sell products, using phrases such as ‘customers also bought’ or ‘customers who viewed this item also viewed’. 

This technique comes off as less of a hard sell because it appears as though fellow consumers, rather than the shop itself, drive the suggestions. 

Amazon social proof

eBay also uses social proof effectively with its ‘see what other people are watching’ feature. 

EBay social proof

Conclusion: be helpful, not annoying

The most important thing to remember is this: cross-selling should be genuinely helpful to your customers. 

There are certain products that will compliment the ones they are already looking at, and if you can guide them towards those relevant products then you are doing them a favour by saving them the job of searching around. 

Ultimately you want to make people’s lives easier. The danger is in offering them unrelated rubbish that puts them off going through with their purchase altogether. 

Think your ecommerce site has done something award-worthy? Enter the Masters of Marketing Awards and get it recognised. The deadline for entry is 23 September. 

Jack Simpson

Published 25 August, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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Kristian Samuel-Camps, Scrum Master at The Automobile Association

Great analogy there...although I do get annoyed by the crap they put around the till

about 2 years ago

Ana Jesus

Ana Jesus, Senior Marketing Manager, EMEA at Olapic

Very good points and it can become even more powerful when instead of a model in the "shop the look" section, brands actually have the photography of real customers wearing the items.

about 2 years ago

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