Upselling is a sales technique whereby a seller induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale. While it usually involves marketing more profitable services or products,[1] it can be simply exposing the customer to other options that were perhaps not considered. (A different technique is cross-selling in which a seller tries to sell something else.) In practice, large businesses usually combine upselling and cross-selling to maximize profit.

Upselling vs Cross-selling

Upselling is the practice in which a business tries to persuade customers to purchase a higher-end product, an upgrade, or an additional item in order to make a more rewarding sale. For instance a salesperson may influence a customer into purchasing an iPhone 5S rather than an iPhone 5 by creating a perceived superior value of the upgraded product in the customer's mind. A similar marketing technique is cross-selling, where the salesperson will try to convince the customer to purchase a product that is related to the one they are already purchasing. For instance if a customer was purchasing a cake, the salesperson may persuade them to also buy birthday candles or icing. It is beneficial for businesses to use both techniques in order to boost revenue and provide a valued consumer experience. However, research has shown that upselling is generally more effective than cross-selling (Lazazzera, R.,2015, March 4).



Many companies teach their employees to upsell products and services and offer incentives and bonuses to the most successful personnel.

A common technique for successful upsellers is becoming aware of a customer's background, budget and other budgets, allowing the upsellers to understand better what that particular purchaser values, or may come to value.

Another way of upselling is creating fear over the durability of the purchase, particularly effective on expensive items such as electronics, where an extended warranty can offer peace of mind.

Overlap with cross-selling and Add-on sales

It can be hard to divorce all three techniques from each other, given that the difference in each technique is minor. All techniques adopted and effectively practiced within firms are important strategies that are used for increasing revenues among current customers.[3]

An add on sale can simply be defined as a sale of additional goods or services to a buyer. In practice an add-on sale can be seen in a retail scenario; a customer could be buying a suit for a new job, after the sizes and colours are to the customers satisfaction the seller would assume that they would also need shoes, socks, a waistcoat and a belt to go with. This is a sales technique where by the seller is trying to encourage or persuade the customer to buy something extra, that may or may not be more expensive, but will still bring up the total amount of the sale. An add on sale is much more simpler than a cross sell or an up sell, this is because the new item that the seller is exposing the buyer to may cost less than the product they are purchasing, however the downfall of this technique is that saying “no” to the product being presented is more frequent. Usually two for one deals or “buy one pair and get the second pair half price” deals are the most common ways to transition your sale to that of an add on. From a customers point of view, adding on can be seen as the seller trying to make the buyer spend more money to bring up the point of the sale. This is why adding on can be difficult, familiarity and relevance of suggestions is important, you want to make sure that the items being shown still match the customers’ initial thoughts and ideas. If they do not there is a high chance of losing the sale.

As told in the Journal of Relationship marketing by Kamatura Wagner cross selling is valuable selling technique used by salespeople to increase the sale by transforming single product buyers to multi product buyers.[4] Cross selling is a technique by which the seller will attempt to increase the value of a sale by suggesting an accompanying product. Suggesting related products or services to a customer who is considering buying something. Cross selling is mostly seen in restaurants or fast food joints, the terms “would you like fries with that?” or “would you like to up-size your order?” are examples of the cross-selling technique. Cross selling can be most effective when a customer is requiring assistance – where they come to you for the purpose of cross-selling. Since the customer has initiated the sale, the mind set would have already been on the firm and its products. This would make it easier for the salesperson to conduct the technique and have it be successful.[5]

An example of an over the phone cross sell could be that a customer has just switched banks and is getting her account set up with her new bank. After the account is created the bank teller would offer her the cross sell of signing up to their internet banking app that would allow her to access her account details and pay her accounts online. If cross-selling is properly done, it will be viewed as a service, rather than a sales pitch.[6] A downside to cross selling can be seen as the same as that of up-selling. This main draw back is known as “over-touching” the customer which in simpler terms means, giving too many cross selling options can result in the customer ignoring the efforts given, and can desensitise the customer to future cross selling offers.[7]


When upselling for higher cost items or add ons to customers for goods and services it is advised not to push the sale as it may become unethical. There have been cases where pushing a sale onto customers have caused legal problems as some retailers may use confusing terms or say half truths so sell products while the customer is unaware of this happening. In New Zealand there is an act "Consumer guarantees act 1993", which states that if the customer is unhappy with the service or the good they are entitled to a refund or the business in question has to compensate for the troubles caused[8]

See also

Look up upsell in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Successful Up-selling

Successful Upselling

For a successful upsell to take place, the sales person must be properly equipped and prepared. In a business sense, a sales assistant must know their product. Because the seller is representing the company or organization; a customer expects a sales assistant to answer their questions and provide solutions to their problems. If a seller is unable to do so, it could result in a damaged relationship with the customer, a tarnished reputation for the brand and can also influence the sale negatively. Customers are more likely to trust sales people who are confident in what they are selling.

Offering the up sell at the right time is a crucial part of the technique. More often than not, the best time is when the customer has decided to make the purchase. This is when they are open to suggestions for product and benefits of the product. If you expose the customer to new options that they have not considered while in the middle of their decision process, it can influence the customers behavior around you, assuming that you are trying to up the sale simply for your own benefit or incentive.

For an upsell to be successful, a seller must give a detailed demonstration, to show how the product will benefit the customer. An example could be seen as booking a hotel room for your family, then being offered a premium package, which is although more expensive includes breakfast and dinner for the entire family. This would mean that they would “save” by not spending money on fancy restaurants and take-outs. The benefit is given to the customer answering the question, “why should they change their minds?” And the total amount of the sale increases.

Upselling is an established and widely utilized sales tool employed by service companies in order to increase the purchasing value of their customers (Kamakura, 2008). For instance, calling centers can be known to adopt both upselling and cross selling because the consumer has reached out first, thus meaning they are more open to suggestions.

Upselling can be seen as an extended conversation, if you never learn or even bother to ask about what the person is doing or what their objective is, then you will not be in much of a position to expand the relationship with your customers.[9]

This means that before an upsell can take place a sales person is required to develop a relationship with the customer. The term probe is used when a sales person uses open-ended questions to understand the clients’ situation and can draw conclusions on how to approach the customer when trying to sell a product. Probing helps get the customer talking about their opinions and promotes critical thinking. It generally happens during the open conversations with a customer, this stage is critical it places the platform for the sales person to uncover the needs and help provide solutions.

An upsell can be seen when a TV commercial asks you to call a toll free number and the customer – after placing an order – responds positively to purchasing a different product of higher value and more features.[10] According to the article written by Larry Levine; the result of properly implementing cross and upselling techniques is not only more sales, it will also help create better relationships with your customers, thus making them loyal customers and generates a larger scale of satisfaction.[11]

It is important for the seller to keep in mind that less is more. Sticking to a few recommendations that run parallel to the customers needs can be seen as more effective in comparison to exposing a customer to too many options, resulting in confusion and more questions. Thus the conclusion of – the more options you give, do not necessarily guarantee an increase in the chances of a higher sale .


  2. "Mobile Check-in".
  3. (Robert C. Blattberg)
  4. (Wagner, 2008 )
  5. (Wagner, 2008 )
  6. (Wagner, 2008 )
  7. (Wagner, 2008 )
  8. "Consumer Guarantees Act". 8 June 2014.
  9. (Schiffman, 2005 )
  10. (Schiffman, 2005 )
  11. (Levine, 1996)
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