Cross-Sells and Upsells: What is the Diff?

Cross-Sell, upsell, really – what’s the diff? Generally…

  • An upsell is to get the customer to spend more money – buy a more expensive model of the same type of product, or add features / warranties that relate to the product in question.
  • A cross-sell is to get the customer to spend more money buy adding more products from other categories than the product being viewed or purchased.

The terms cross-sell and upsell are often used interchangeably because, let’s face it, this gets confusing. Say the customer is viewing a 4GB iPod Nano for $169.

8 GB iPod Nano, $229 -> Upsell, same product family, more expensive
8 GB iPod Touch, $299 -> Upsell, same product family, more expensive
16 GP iPod Touch, $399 -> Upsell, same product family, more expensive
Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic , $79 -> Cross-sell

Skull Candy headphones, $69, -> Cross-sell
$25 iTunes card -> Cross-sell
8 GB Microsoft Zune, $249 -> Upsell, more expensive, same category
4 GB Creative Zen mp3 player, $159 -> Neither cross-sell or upsell, rather an “alternative product suggestion”
Portable DVD player, $299 -> Cross-sell. Cool gadget, customer “may also like” but not related to mp3 player.
Griffin FM transmitter for car, $79 -> Cross-sell

Really, there should be a third category – “alternative products” which are really a navigation aid rather than something that truly boosts the cart value or items per sale. Consider the following example from Harry and David:

The label “Go Deluxe” suggests an upsell. One suggestion is to double up on the chocolate truffles and get 2 for $44.85, a true upsell. The other takes a product from another category (that is of higher $ value) which would be considered a cross-sell if suggested in addition to, rather than instead of the product being viewed. In this case, the popcorn is an alternative product suggestion rather than a true upsell of the truffles.

Clear as mud?

You May Also Like?

There’s no stock way to present product recommendations. Common labels for recommendations are:

“Recommended products”
“You may also like”
“Customers who bought X also bought”
“Customers who viewed X also viewed”
“Frequently bought together”
“Stuff you need” (Radio Shack, for accessories)
“Stuff you may want” (Radio Shack, for items in other categories)
“More from this (category, brand, author, artist)”
“Looks hot with”
“Complete the look”

For usability, the best labels clearly communicate why products are being recommended (“this is a more fully featured item than the one you’re looking at,” “people like you liked this,” “these are top sellers in this category,” “these items will look good with what you’re looking at…”) rather than “Recommended” or “You might also like.”

Often retailers mix of upsells, cross-sells and alternatives in their merchandising zones. CompUSA separates upsell from cross-sell with “Want to Upgrade?” suggestions and “More Recommendations”:

Aside from label clarity, another benefit of separating your suggestions into separate merchandising zones is more accurate tracking of what types of suggestions are more effective. Are you more successful persuading customers to add to their order or upgrade to a more expensive model?

So while we don’t need to get too hung up on what cross-sell is vs upsell (there’s room for a bit of crossover in definition), and we should add the third category of “alternative products,” understanding the general differences can help us make better decisions in selecting product associations, labeling merchandising zones and measuring the conversion of different suggestions.


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