If you run an online store, you probably care a lot about your average order value, or AOV. If not, you should.

Upsells increase AOV. They do so reliably, and can be implemented in ways that aren’t skeezy or customer-hostile. The three most common ones are:

  1. Recommending accessories for a flagship product.
  2. Recommending popular products on carts that don’t yet contain them, for customers which haven’t yet bought them.
  3. Bundle upgrades for products that happen to be a component of a larger bundle – or bundles that can be upgraded to bigger bundles.

Done right, upsells increase your top-line revenue without changing your conversion rate or ad spend.

As a result, most smart stores implement upsells. But they usually do so by spraying upsells all over the place, without much regard to what’s being sold and when.

That’s lazy strategy. And any time I see lazy strategy, I view it as a huge opportunity for thoughtful, deliberate optimization.

Where to Put Upsells

Having any upsell is usually better than having no upsell at all. Having the right upsell, though, is so much better.

What makes for an appropriate upsell?

  1. Adding a product that has accessories to cart, and then being suggested accessories that work with that particular product.
  2. Adding a consumable product to cart, and then being provided with a quantity discount.
  3. Viewing a consumable product, and having the opportunity to subscribe in addition to the regular “add-to-cart” functionality.
  4. Viewing a product that exists as part of a family, and being provided with a call to action to add the whole family to cart in addition to the regular “add-to-cart” functionality.
  5. Adding a product-appropriate accessory to cart, and then suggesting other appropriate accessories for the same product – ideally in a discounted bundle.
  6. Two years after buying the latest model of cell phone, receiving an email that provides the next model at a discount.

Note that if you securely save the customer’s billing information – and you really should do that – all six of these could happen as post-purchase upsells as well. There are several places where you can implement upsells:

  1. On a product page. This is especially good for subscriptions or bundles.
  2. On a cart page. This is the most common place to put upsells.
  3. On a checkout page. This can happen, but most of the time you want to keep the customer focused on filling out the form. Checkout pages are good for warranties or insurance, though.
  4. After checkout, and before the thank-you page. This is called a post-purchase upsell. CartHook and (Draft Revise client!) One-Click Upsell are good apps for this.
  5. In an email after purchase. This will likely result in a second shipment – but it’s good for encouraging subscriptions and repeat purchases.

In short, what you upsell matters just as much as where you place it. You want to make sure that your customers are amenable to hearing about an upsell – and that depends heavily on their purchasing behavior, as well as the kind of thing you’re trying to sell them.

An Aside on New Products

Some people use upsells as a way to promote new products. Be cautious of doing this: you don’t know how the new products will perform yet, and it’s unclear whether that’s appropriate for existing customers.

Better to survey or interview them about their thoughts regarding the new product – so you can create an upsell that better matches their needs.

How to Research Upsells

First, take a look at your store’s order history. What products are commonly bought together? Are there any pairings that might surprise you?

Then, you should take a look at what products are appropriate to upsell. If you sell cameras, for example, Nikon lenses can work on Canon cameras, but you wouldn’t want to promote those to someone who just added a new Canon body to their cart. Build an outline of the main flagship products you sell, list what accessories are appropriate for them, and then try to figure out – again, using your order history – the likeliest accessories that people would choose for them.

Next, survey customers to understand their subscription habits (how much, how often), as well as their trial habits (do they try to find free samples, do they buy the smallest size of something to try it out, do they buy something sans accessories first, etc).

These three research methods will teach you about what to upsell and when. It could be that upsells are best provided over lifecycle emails many weeks, months, or even years after purchase!

How to Test Upsells

Obviously, you should be measuring the existence of an upsell through your heat maps, conversion rate, and AOV. Testing the existence of a well-placed, appropriate upsell should be your first step, so you can get a baseline understanding of any changes to your conversion rate.

Once you’ve run that test, it’s time to test different products, treatments, and placements of the upsell.

Again, your best tool for this is research. Keep reassessing your order history, and try upselling people to anything they’re already clearly desiring. Use post-purchase surveys to ask people about their experience with your products – which should help craft a more appropriate upsell and a more resonant pitch. Finally, use heat maps to determine whether upsells need to be moved or treated differently.

With these tactics in place, you should be able to make upsells a more conscious part of your optimization strategy – and create a system that promotes the right products at the right time.

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