At Postconsumers, we sometimes sound as though we’re anti-marketing. We’re not. We understand that marketers are simply doing their jobs (we even employ some of them here to help spread our unique brand). What we’re opposed to is the industrialized consumer marketing machine and how it has such a powerful amount of control over society and individual’s decisions. We know that we can’t combat this by taking on the industrial marketing machine itself, so we try to counter it by educating the consumer about the tips and tricks that marketers use, as well as about the ubiquitous nature of the consumer marketing engine.  We feel that knowledge is power. And if consumers and individuals had more knowledge about the ways in which they were being marketed to they may likely make different decisions.

Today we’ll be educating those not in the marketing profession on a marketing tool known as cross-sells and upsells. These techniques are used both in brick and mortar retail sales and in online sales, and we’ll address both. However, they’re much more common (and successful) in an online ecommerce environment.

Definition One: What is a Cross-Sell?

The first thing you’ll want to understand is what the difference between a cross-sell and an upsell is and what they’re trying to accomplish. If you understand the action that marketers are trying to lead you to, you’ll have an easier time identifying when it’s happening and choosing not to participate in it. A cross-sell is a marketing technique in which marketers try to get you to buy more than one thing in a purchase in order to increase your overall “revenue value” to the company. For example, you may decide to buy an item and then be presented with accessories or “add-ons” that go with the product. Another common online manifestation is the portion of an ecommerce product page that shows you that “People who bought this product also bought…” Both of these techniques are, undeniably, very effective.

So how do you combat cross-sells? The tactics aren’t too dissimilar from tactics we’ve suggested for limiting or controlling shopping and buying behaviors in the past. We think that in terms of cross-sells, the most effective technique is to begin your purchase with a hard limit of either an amount you’re willing to spend on that day or a raw number of items you’re willing to buy. If the cross-sell takes you over that limit, then you’ll have to exercise will power and simply not buy it (we know this is easier said than done). Also, keep in mind that the item you were thinking of buying as a cross-sell isn’t going to disappear. You can always come back for it later if you still want it. Cross-sells play on the likelihood of an impulse purchase. If you step away from the purchase, you may (and likely will) realize later that you didn’t need or want it.

Definition Two: What is an Upsell?

An upsell is a promotion or product recommendation that’s designed to get you to buy a more expensive, higher-end model of a product that you’re about to purchase or have shown an interest in purchasing.  The higher priced the item that you buy, obviously the more money the store or website makes. In a brick and mortar shopping scenario, this technique is usually accomplished by the salesperson who is assisting you (one of the only upsides to the downsizing of sales staff and their replacement with automation is the removal of the high pressure upsell tactic). Online, you’ll find tactics similar to those we previously discussed with cross-sells. During the checkout or purchase process, you’ll be presented with links and images leading you to “better” versions of the product. You may even be presented with compelling comparison graphics or customer reviews.

We think that the best tactic here is taking some time to research. We’d be lying to you if we said that there aren’t instances where the higher-end, more expensive version of a product truly offers benefits and may even last you longer (ultimately reducing your consumer footprint). But often there’s no true advantage to purchasing the upgraded version. They only way to know for sure is to do plenty of online research and review reading so that you know for sure what the better option is.

Bonus Tip: Beware the Continuation of Upsell and Cross-Sell Marketing Online

Online marketing is about data. And every time that you make a purchase you ultimately provide data. That data also informs the website (or the website algorithmic customer software) about other things that you may want or need to purchase. That means that, if the website’s marketing is well managed, the next series of communications (typically largely focused on email and remarketing) will present you with products that you are more likely to buy.  While it’s usually not in a company’s best interest to present you with upsell products in follow-up emails and communications (after all, you’ve already made the purchase and don’t need a second, more expensive version), cross-sells are fair game and often quite effective.  If you’ve purchased an item that goes with or can be used with attachments, accessories and other products, then you can expect to see marketing targeted at you promoting them.

The best solution here is one we often suggest. Unsubscribe from your marketing emails. If the marketers can’t get into your inbox, they can’t tempt you.

Also Beware of the Discounts!

Marketers will also use strategic discounts to get you to buy cross-sells in particular. If you buy the accessory or other item at the same time that you purchase the first item, you’ll get a limited time discount. It’s always tempting, but the question remains: Do you actually want or need the second (or even third) item or are you just purchasing it because there’s an available discount? Only you can answer that. We just want to be sure that you’re at least thinking about it.

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Photo Credit: David Churbuck via Flickr