Suggestive selling–also known as add on selling or upselling–is a retail sales technique where an employee merely prompts the customer if they’d like to include an additional purchase or recommends a product upgrade for a fraction more of the original price. The goal of suggestive selling is to slightly increase the total purchase amount for a sweep of customers. This requires marginal effort but has the potential to dramatically increase profits. A classic example of suggestive selling is the, “Would you like fries with that?” prompt at quick service restaurants. And while it may seem like that extra quarter you spend is next to nothing, multiply this by a few million people and profits soar.
That’s the power of suggestive selling. Customers feel like they’re getting a steal, but across the entire customer pool the numbers quickly add up. If you’re skeptical still, try out this suggestive selling calculator to see the potential increase for your annual retail sales.
However, suggestive selling techniques aren’t solely limited to quick service retail. It also doesn’t require pegging your retail team to continually ask the same question to all of your customers. After all, no two customers are alike and neither are any two retailers. Here are some guidelines in teaching suggestive selling to your retail team:
1. Train Staff to Make Judgment Calls
Retail sales associates should know your product line in and out. Product knowledge encompasses price points, inventory availability and value propositions. Your sales staff should be able to quickly spin up product suggestions for particular customers based on these three knowledge parameters. Recommendations should only be made in good judgment based on what’s available in the store with price sensitivity in mind. If a member of your staff offers something that isn’t available, customers could feel cheated. Likewise, if your staff suggests an add on item that is exorbitantly higher when compared to their original price, then your customers may feel like you’re ripping them off. But here’s the catch 22, is it rude to offer one customer an add on item but not another?
There are a few solutions to this. Mock up a few phrases that your retail staff can use that don’t blatantly state the price. For example let’s look at how we can alter a suggestive selling phrase that highlights the savings, rather than the costs:
Phrase A: We have jeans that you can purchase for an additional $40.
Phrase B: Since you’re purchasing that sweater, we’re running a special where you can buy a pair of jeans for half of its original price. Is this something that you’d be interested in?
Who would you be more willing to buy from? Yes, the first phrase gets straight to the point but it doesn’t sound like much of a deal in the grand scheme of things, especially if your budget is limited. While in either case the customer could be spending $40 for the jeans, getting an item for half of the price that goes with the item already being purchased is a lot more tempting when already in the mood to shop. Plus, people are more inclined to make an excuse for buying more when the deal they’re getting is significantly lower than the original price point.
2. Make Personal Recommendations
Your retail staff should not be shy when it comes to making conversations with customers. Sales associates should display interest in their customers and get to know them during their shopping process. Simple things like calling them by their name can make a customer feel more comfortable. Train your staff to move beyond just pointing customers in the direction of the product they’re looking for.
Be sure that your sales floor staff communicates clearly with customers and provides them the opportunity to give feedback. The more your staff gets to know your customers, the more open they’ll be to your suggestions. You can make recommendations just for that customer based on what you discover in the particular items they handle or touch. Making personal recommendations makes the suggestive sale feel special and is that much harder for a customer to walk away from.
3. Select the Appropriate Add On
We’ve established that suggestive selling should be always be relevant to the customer. But your retail sales staff should always suggest the appropriate add on. For example, if a customer walked into your store to buy a winter coat would tacking on flip flops for an additional few dollars make sense to that purchase? Even if you’ve discussed with them their love for the beach, hopefully every member of your staff would realize that the answer to that questions should be a swift “no.”
When suggesting add ons, it’s about what the additional item brings to the original item. Train your staff to suggest items to create a package they want to use in unison, rather than two separate items. The same goes for food and hospitality. For instance, front of house staff can suggest a wine that pairs well with the particular food being ordered.
4. Create a Consistent Loyalty Program
At any time in any retail store, any customer should be able to walk in and receive a consistent experience. This is an experience grown to be expected by customers. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through loyalty or rewards programs. ICC Decision Services uses Starbucks as an example of the success of customer rewards programs. My Starbucks Rewards program creates an incentive for customers to spend more in their transaction amounts to earn discounts or free items.
Offering a consistent rewards program establishes the potential for customers to earn discounted or free items the more they spend no matter the store. Your retail sales staff can push them to increase their spending by suggesting store items that are on sale for double the rewards points, or by suggesting they spend a little more to redeem an additional item worth more than what they’re spending. Creating the consistency of “the more I spend, the more I earn” causes retail customers to become more inclined to return to your store.
5. Know When to Make Suggestions
Your staff should never make suggestions at the moment a customer walks into your store. It’s the equivalent of being a human popup ad. Bombarding customers with a suggestive sale as they enter through the doorway is not only overwhelming, but irrelevant to the customer. Instead, make a suggestion after you’ve engaged with the customer or after they’ve displayed interest in a certain item.
Suggestions could be made before or during the point of sale. Staff can be trained on cues that show the level of interest in an item. This could be detected by a customer holding an item, asking questions or glancing at a sales rack. When your customer is showing keen interest, then may be the time to make a relevant suggestion. If in the case that you are only operating the sales register and it is your initial interaction with the customer, you could make a suggestion based on what they’re buying. Although it contradicts engaging to make personal recommendations, if your customer is missing out on a BOGO sale that applies to their purchase or the like, it never hurts to point out what your store is currently offering.
6. Adapt Strategy
Suggestive selling provides an ample opportunity to increase revenue while satisfying the customer. Try out different techniques and see how they affect customer satisfaction and your profitability. When you see success in one methodology over another, form a suggestive selling strategy playbook and distribute it among your retail sales staff members. When you’ve solidified a successful strategy, your staff will be ready to deliver a consistent experience your customers are looking for.