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Mastering the Upsell

Posted By Shayne Tilley 5th of April 2013 Blogging for Dollars 0 Comments

Everyone’s heard of the term ‘would you like fries with that‘ – it’s probably the most famous upsell of all time. The fast food industry are not the only ones working the upsell magic. Retail, supermarkets and yes online are all over it.

There’s two common terms used in the corporate world that are measured and heavily invested in — and it’s all related to upsells. The first is average transaction value. It’s essentially the average amount each customer is spending on each transaction. The second is the average number of units per transaction, so how many ‘things’ people buy each time they transact. To a business even a small lift in each of those measures can result in significant increases in revenue and profit. The same goes for bloggers who are selling products.

If you’re a ruthless businessman you’ll stop at nothing to get those upsells happening, regardless of if the customer likes it or not! But I know all of you don’t think that way and you certainly don’t take for granted that behind these measures are people and whilst you would like to have them spend more money with you, you don’t want to resort to trickery to make it happen.

… and that’s why I’m happy to share all my experience with upsells online.

When I’m looking at upsell opportunities, I first break them into three groups; The pre-sale upsell, the checkout upsell and the post sale upsell. Each of these areas require a different approach that I’ll try to explain.

Pre-sale upsell

These upsells typically happen on the sales page. They form part of the overall sales pitch of the product. You might have something that costs $19 on your sales page, but you also offer it as a bundle with another product for just $9 extra. You present both of these options to the customer before they check out.

We use this exact technique right here on problogger. If you look at the workbooks tab you’ll notice that each workbook is laid out for you to explore, but at the top and bottom, are details of a special offer to buy the entire library and save 40%. It’s not a hard sell, but something I want potential customers to have in the back of their mind as they are shopping around.

Mastering the Upsell

Checkout upsell

This is when a customer has indicated through some sort of action (clicking an add to cart or buy now button) that they wish to buy a particular product. On your way to the checkout you’ve got a couple of opportunities to, in your own way, ask if they’d like fries with that.

We use a specific technique on Problogger. If you head to the Blog Wise sales page  for example and click the download it now button, you’ll be presented with an upsell that looks like the below.

Mastering the Upsell

With this type of upsell, I only ever offer 1 product. I’m interrupting the checkout flow so I keep it short and simple also ensuring there is an easy way for the customer to say ‘no thanks’ and continue on. I’ve found that this is my best performing upsell technique, however it seems to be seldom used elsewhere.

The second opportunity you have in the checkout process is when someone is confirming their order. You can see in this example from SitePoint that they are subtly suggesting some alternative products. Amazon do a great job of this as well.

Mastering the Upsell

Post sale upsell

The post sale upsell is one of the most often used techniques and normally is an email sent post purchase offering them a similar product to the one they purchased. It might be a more advanced eBook or course if they originally purchased a beginners guide. It’s much easier to sell another product to an existing customer than it is to find a new one. That is of course as long as you treat them well.

What to upsell and when

At each stage of the above upsell techniques, the customer is in a different stage of the sales cycle. In the first instance when they are reading the pre-sale upsell they may not even have decided to buy. In the checkout stage they have committed (in their own mind) that they will buy, and post sale they are hopefully enjoying your product. So…

Pre-sale: I find bundles of similar priced products work best here. So ‘buy two books and save X’.

Checkout: Again I find bundles work well here, but also slightly cheaper priced add-ons can also work well. So for example, extra video content or downloads for $5 on your course page.

Post sale: This is where you have some freedom. Having proven yourself with one product you might look to offer your premium, more expensive offer. For example you might offer personal coaching services to someone who purchased one of your eBooks. Alternatively you can simply offer alternative products to the one they purchased. With a little testing you’ll figure out which upsell works for you.

Some things to consider so as not to piss off your customers

Upsells done well can be very rewarding, done poorly and you can frustrate your customers to the extent they no longer wish to deal with you. So here’s three little tips to ensure you don’t look silly.

Automatically adding things to their cart.

Adding things to people carts that they didn’t ask for surprisingly converts really well, but there is an element of dishonesty about it and if trust is important to you I would walk away from this.

Offering an additional product that they already own.

Where possible (and this is often difficult) try not to offer someone an upsell on a product that they already own. A customer doesn’t care about the technical challenges of this. They’d like to think you value them enough to remember what they have bought.

Offering them the same product when they’ve already said no thanks.

Most people don’t mind being offered an upsell. But when you offer them the same one over and over again it can start to become frustrating. Don’t be afraid to offer the upsell, but honor the decline if a customer indicates such.

Doing the math on the benefits.

There is a fine line to walk when balancing upsells with a low friction checkout process, so you need to ensure that you are measuring your upsell offers and they are not resulting in lower overall sales. I’d be suprised if they are, but there has been instances where I’ve had to back off my upsells to find the right balance.

So that’s how you can use upsells to boost your bottom line.  If you don’t, you might be leaving money on the table.

About Shayne Tilley
Shayne has been part of the ProBlogger Team in various ways for more than a decade – from dreaming up new ProBlogger and Digital Photography School products and running marketing to writing books and speaking at events. These days he’s happy sharing his experiences running teams of amazing content creators, marketers and engineers at 99designs
  1. I’ve seen so many people butcher the upsell process…this post is really refreshing to see.

    Really good breakdown Shayne. Good job.

  2. Good points here. The cautions are well-taken too. When you think about it, we really get the “up sale” treatment everywhere! Thanks, Amy

  3. I’ve used upsells in selling my products and they’re surprisingly successful. However, I’ve never thought of the Checkout upsell…what do you use for that? Do you use a plugin or is that part of the cart?

    • Shayne says: 04/08/2013 at 6:01 pm

      I actually had to write my own wordpress plugin to do that. Darren and I are actually looking at if we should open it up for others to use.

  4. For upsell the first and foremost thing is that your sell must be powerful enought to fully support your upsell campaign otherwise it is possible offering an upsell you might loose your sell because of the change of mood of customer who has right to think oh my purachase needs a compliment. Our message must be like that customer think and an upsell would be a good addition in his purchase and will not complete his buy because it is already a perfect one according to his needs.
    Very well defined post with quite a lot unique ideas.

  5. hey can yo help us explain how you setup that upsell with E-junkie shopping cart? I don’t see any option in E-Junkie to setup upsell.

    • Shayne says: 04/08/2013 at 6:03 pm

      It’s a custom wordpress plugin that I built as I couldn’t find any that would work with e-junkie the way I wanted (only show once etc). I’m still undecided what to do with it.

  6. Hi Shayne,

    Develop a sense of clarity around what you are selling and why you are selling it. This simple energy work does wonders in the upsell department. If your list or readers trust you, and you are selling a valuable product, individuals have no issues about being asked to buy products. We are all in business.

    The problems arise when people feel desperate, worrying about missing out on any selling opportunity. If you are pitched too many times, you unsubscribe. The art is fine, but maintaining that clarity is key, because you will boldly ask folks to buy pre, during and post sale, but you will also provide immense value to your target market on a persistent basis, so you will feel clear that yep, you deserve to ask, and you deserve the sale.

    Never, ever freak out about asking, or upselling. People pick up on this a billion miles away, and head for the exits whenever you make a call to action. Do the energy work, clear out your inner world and naturally, you will have no issues asking at the right time, and asking frequently, for a buy.

    The inner clarity precedes the outer actions, everytime. Be thorough in addressing your feelings around selling and you will guarantee that you follow these practical tips wisely, and see more sales.

    Thanks Shayne,


  7. Now I get it what I was doing wrong and suggesting products is also an effective feature and thanks for the great post.This will help me a lot.

  8. I agree with your suggested approaches. Up selling like Edson commented. Up selling done the wrong way can cost the sale if it is done incorrectly. keeping the process natural is the best method. There are definitely common sense up sell items and services and then those that just have not logic or purchase attachment that gives the impression of just trying to get as much as possible out of the customer. As an example, it makes sense to attempt to up sell a customer purchasing a year of managed antivirus protection to a lifetime package but it doesn’t make sense to try and up sell that antivirus customer to a new hard drive. It just doesn’t fit.

  9. Shayne, it’s amazing how much money can be made from upsells. I’ve seen product marketers end up making the majority of their income from the upsells their referrals buy, and not from the actual product!

    I’d say that the majority of people (including me) are simply lazy when it comes to testing things out, so they usually just choose one upsell method and stick to it.

  10. Thanks for this article Shayne! The concept of upsell has always been more or less a mystery to me! I have heard about it and “horror” stories but at least now, I have a clearer idea about what it really is and how not to butcher it!

    I like the part about “not pissing off your customers”! It’s actually easy to do when you don’t THINK and If I do upsells one day, I’ll have this in mind!



  11. This is quite true, regarding sales being pushes constantly, when you are about to “depart the cart”…

    Recently I was hit over and over with ” extras and discount bonuses” and I could not wait to get out there! It was way too much oversell!

    Also, some people go the same route with their email list, and it goes from bearable to “time to unsubscribe—mega spam” yet, I think they don’t seem to concerned about their over aggressive approach…

  12. Definitely need to maximize on this opportunity. Although, do pop-ups every become annoying for the reader?

    • Shayne says: 04/08/2013 at 6:05 pm

      They can — I factor that in the design of them, and in the example above I ensure that I only show it once.

      Conversion rates before and after are the only way to know for sure.

  13. This is so true. Thank you for listing these suggested approaches.

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