User Generated Cross-Sells? Why Is Nobody Doing It?

Customer ContentToday, we all know how important customer reviews are to retailers and customers alike. They help convert buyers by building trust and confidence in the product, they reduce returns, draw long-tail search traffic and are a simple entry into on-site communities for ecommerce websites.

But there was a time when no one had them. It makes you wonder what we’re missing today that we don’t know we’re missing.

Let’s take another effective merchandising tool: cross-selling. Currently, ecommerce marketers are banking that their personal cross-sell suggestions or algorithmic-based recommendations will be relevant and attractive to shoppers. This *can* be really hit and miss. But what if we gave customers a crack at cross-selling?

Polyvore is an interactive social shopping site where fashionistas can exercise their passion for fashion by creating “sets” using real products, and share them with the community. Users can pair outfits with accessories, cosmetics and even home decor items.

Polyvore Set

This is powerful merchandising reminiscent of fashion magazines. You get a much better picture of how these items look amazing together than a stack of thumbnails in a sidebar.

When viewing someone’s creation, you can click on links to the store where the items came from and purchase. The item thumbnail, price and store link are right there. You can also browse the creator’s other sets, or browse by color.

The application is fun and interactive, you “build” your set by clicking and dragging items in your editor.

Creating in Polyvore

So we see the potential for clothing or home decor retailers (build your room). Rampage apparently has an “Outfit Builder” already that lets customers play around with creating their own outfits. I’d love to get in there and try it out, but for some reason my 3 attempts to create an account have all failed.

But Rampage could take this fun, fashionista function further by making it social like Polyvore has. To encourage site visitors to create “sets,” in the same way you would encourage customer reviews, you could offer incentives like:

  • A contest for a gift card (most popular sets each month)

  • A percentage of sales on purchases made from your set if you post it on your blog, Facebook or MySpace (affiliate program with widget)
  • Accrue points for participation, and after creating X number of sets, you can trade your points in for special items or discounts

If you don’t sell products that lend themselves to this type of creative community cross-selling, you could still do something cool. I think it would be a great idea to give customers the option to “give back to the community” by leaving feedback on why they purchased one thing with another.

This is what I mean:

1. Customer places several items in her cart. They may or may not be related to each other.
2. After checkout, customer is taken to a thank you page, offering points or discount on future purchases in exchange for providing comments on why the items were bought together — if they were meant to use together or if they were in some way complementary.


  • Items bought were the childrens’ books “Goodnight Moon,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”

  • The purchaser was a grandmother who wanted to have some of the classics on hand at home when she has her grandchildren sleep over on occasion.
  • She bought them together because they were books she read every year to her first grade class when she was an elementary school teacher. So she knew they were age-appropriate and kids love them.

    This information would be submitted anonymously or with a first name, but would add credibility to “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” which is purely algorithmic and doesn’t answer the question “why did they but these things?”

    After the next customer adds one of these items to the cart, a page of cross-sells would be shown with the contributor’s comments:

    Customers Who Bought Good Night Moon Also Bought If You Give A Mouse A Cookie Because:

    “I’m a grandmother and former first grade teacher. These books were classics and beloved by my students year after year. I plan to keep them at my home for when the grandchildren visit.”

    Kathryn T.

    There are many possibilities for how to design and program this. I suggest a layout like Amazon or with a mini-cart next to cross-sell suggestions, as shown in a recent post on Continue Shopping links.

    Amazon Cross Sell Layout

    Of course there’s viral potential too – send sets to friends’ email or cell phone, post on social media profiles etc.

    What do you think about this idea? Pros/Cons?

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9 Responses to “User Generated Cross-Sells? Why Is Nobody Doing It?”

  1. My experience with customer-generated cross sells has been wildly successful. I really like the idea of giving customers the opportunity to create recommended sets on behalf of the merchant. What a great way to keep highly engaged users on the site even longer.

  2. Tomer says:

    Yeah that’s a good idea, but you need a fairly large store and lots of time to build up that kind of cross selling database… Because only a small % would take the time to write all that info…

    But I may give it a try… Nice idea

  3. Hi Tomer, I assume you’re referring to the “I bought XYZ because…” idea. Yeah, it would take a lot of encouragement to get users to participate. And it must be multiple sale customers so that makes it more difficult.

    I’d love to see more of the Polyvore idea on fashion websites.

  4. Arvind says:

    True!! at first glance a great idea. But the challenge lies in getting users to suggest crossells. Maybe offering an incentive to suggest crossell or displaying a list of books to click on so that the user’s choice and selection is made simpler … still thinking ;)

  5. Would be a great idea for a CSE. A CSE could take all the merchants content and let the users play with it.Great post.

  6. d-dub says:

    iTunes does this with their iMixes: Customer generated sets of songs reminiscent of the old skool “mix tape”. As far as I can see, there are no incentives for users to create these sets, yet there are many participants. I have to admit that the cross-sell worked on me – I was looking for one song, but ended up buying an entire iMix because the creator had the same taste in music as me. Plus, it saved me from having to put together my own mix!

  7. I really like this idea and think it could be a lot more successful than the classic ‘write a review’ concept: review writing takes time so is only for the truly dedicated (which is very few people). I think people would find cross-selling attempts much less annoying if it looked like the recommendations were from real people.

  8. I totally agree with the credibility piece you mention here. Answering the “why” is so important and computer generated “here’s what others have bought” simply misses the mark. Adding the consumer generated option to answer WHY via “they bought this BECAUSE” gives other potential buyers that extra nudge. Great post!

  9. Linda – Thanks so much for the wonderful post! Interested readers can learn more about Polyvore on our About page here:

    Our application is also available as a branded experience on retail sites. What’s great about Polyvore in terms of gathering cross-selling information is that users don’t really need to be motivated by external factors to do this – they can be motivated by simply wanting to create a cute outfit for themselves! The resulting content, as well as the data about complimentary items, would be invaluable to online retail sites and improve the online shopping experience tremendously. Learn more about our retail application here:

    -Sarah Cooper
    Polyvore, Inc.

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