Upsell vs. Cross-Sell: Understanding The Difference and 10 Strategies to Maximize Sales Opportunities

Upselling and cross-selling happen every day in every industry. They’re the key to increasing sales and improving customer experience. 


But what do “upselling” and “cross-selling” actually mean? 


That’s what we’ll discuss first in this guide. Once we define these foundational terms, we’ll explore exactly how to take your sales process to the next level and how to keep your customers coming back for more. 


Get ready to learn:


  • What’s the difference between cross-selling and up-selling

  • Which strategies you can use to upsell and cross-sell

  • The best practices you should keep in mind


Let’s begin. 

What is Upselling?

Simply put, upselling is the act of selling a more premium version of the product/service your customer already has. 


Take the Beaches of Normandy, for example. They upsell by offering luxury or extended packages alongside their basic tour. 


(Image Source)


Other upselling examples include:


  • Electronic companies encourage you to buy the more premium version of the phone model you were considering (more storage, higher-resolution camera, etc.). 


  • Restaurants and fast-food chains may ask you to opt for larger drinks or plates (e.g., a 12-inch pizza instead of an 8-inch pizza). 


  • Baristas persuade you to elevate your coffee order by opting for a different type of milk in your drink (e.g., almond milk instead of regular milk) and adding extras (e.g., an extra drizzle of caramel and chocolate). 


  • Software providers offer you upgrades of existing packages. For instance, Spotify has a free plan, a premium individual plan, and a premium family plan.


Spotify pricing plans

(Image Source)

What is Cross-Selling? 


Cross-selling is the art of getting current customers to buy products that are complementary to those they have already bought (read: buy additional products).


For example, when your customers buy an outfit from your store (the original product), you can encourage them to buy accessories that complement the outfit (relevant products). 


Other examples you can consider are:


  • Electronic companies encourage you to buy phone protectors, screen protectors, and extended warranties when buying a phone. 


  • Insurance companies encourage you to bundle multiple insurance policies (e.g., homeowner, health, and vehicle insurance) to get a better deal. 


  • Grocery store apps recommend you ‌buy items like burger patties, ketchup, and pickles when you checkout with only burger buns. 


  • Fast-food companies encourage you to make your burger into a meal by adding fries and a drink. 

Difference Between Upselling and Cross-Selling

Since these methodologies are similar and lead to the same outcome (i.e., increasing revenue and improving customer experience), they can be challenging to distinguish from each other. 


Here’s how to tell the difference between cross-selling and upselling


  • Upselling aims to get customers to buy a more premium version of the product/service they plan on purchasing.

  • Cross-selling aims to give suggestions that could complement the existing purchase. 


Difference between upselling and cross selling

(Image Source)


For example:


In the hotel industry, all the add-ons you get within the hotel are upsells. They increase comfort and luxury with room upgrades, pet rates, breakfast inclusions, valet parking, etc.


For many hotels, it’s important for the hotel channel manager to display all of these options in their listings so customers can select the ones they want to incorporate into their reservations.


Cross-selling, in this instance, would refer to products or services the hotel doesn’t necessarily offer and may or may not be displayed by channel managers. This could include spa sessions, ‌romantic room decoration, airport shuttle, and tour bookings.

Top 5 Upselling Strategies

Here are five tried-and-true upselling strategies to boost sales.  

1. Value-Based Upselling 

Value-based upselling refers to when sales teams hear the pain points, needs, and preferences of customers before offering them a product that’d be the best fit for them. The goal? To provide the most value for them. 


For example, if a customer comes into an electronics store saying they want to buy an XYZ laptop and they need this laptop mainly because they want to do their office work and play video games on it. 


However, as a salesperson, you may realize this laptop wouldn’t be a fit for customers who like playing video games. So instead, you offer them a premium version (read: a more expensive product) of the same laptop, which has better capabilities and features. 

2. Offering Product Demos and Trials

Product demos and free trials allow customers to get hands-on experience about how the more premium version of the actual product/service would work in real life. 


For example, some software companies have locked or limited features in their free versions. Mailchimp’s paid plans have AI features, campaign managers, unlimited users, role-based access, etc. — none of these features are included in the free version.


However, as you scale your business, you might need more features to keep up with the rising demand for your business. In that case, sales teams can guide you toward product demos or free trials so you can see how these premium features would benefit your business activities. 

3. Incentivizing With Limited-Time Offers

Upselling, especially when combined with limited-time offers or discounted deals, encourages customers to buy the product immediately. It also allows you to improve the perceived value of the product and increase your ROI.


Holidays are tailor-made for limited-time offers because they have built-in deadlines. Whether it’s Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, or Black Friday, once the holiday is past, the “Holiday Sale” will be over. 


However, many brands stretch their sales past the inherent deadline and rake in as many sales as possible. They do this by extending the sale, which incentivizes customers further by increasing the sense of urgency. 

4. Providing a Premium Experience 

Sometimes, the difference between a product and its premium version isn’t the difference between the features it offers. 


Instead, the difference mainly lies in the experience you get along the customer journey. From faster support to a dedicated manager, VIP access, exclusive offers, and discounts — perks like these upgrade user experience in tangible ways.


For example, companies like DocuSign offer different support plans, which you can access regardless of whichever type of service you originally bought from the brand. 


DocuSign customer support pricing plans

(Image Source)

5. Frequent Shopper Programs 

A frequent shopper program can encourage customers to opt for the premium version of their repeated purchases by offering discounts and loyalty points on those products. 


Moreover, with such programs, you also know which types of products are most famous among customers and can forecast and buy products accordingly. Not to mention, you can also personalize product recommendations


For example, consider the reward points most flights offer. Once you have enough points, these companies offer the option to upgrade your economy ticket to a business-class ticket. 


The aim of such companies is to get you into the habit of buying premium products by providing an irresistible experience and better customer comfort. 

Top 5 Cross-Selling Strategies

Now, let’s dive into some popular cross-selling strategies. 

1. Bundle Offers

By bundle offers, we mean cross-selling to customers by providing them the convenience of purchasing complementary products at the best price possible. 


For example, consider how eCommerce companies push cross-selling strategies by saying, “Customers also bought X, Y,  and Z items” or “Frequently bought together: Items A, B, and C.”


Other examples that come under this list are:


  • Clothing companies offering the option to “Shop The Look”

  • Grooming companies offering care kits or starter packs

  • Makeup companies offering product combos and kits

  • Electronic companies offering entertainment bundles


Kit from Bombay Shaving Company

(Image Source)

2. Pricing Thresholds

Some companies have tiered pricing rewards where they offer free shipping, discounts, gifts, or other rewards based on the number of products you buy from the brand. 


For example, while shopping for clothes, you may have often seen messaging like “Get Free Shipping on Orders Above $100” or “10% off on Orders Above $150.” This is another tactic to encourage customers to buy their products. 


Even companies like Swiggy Instamart, an online grocery delivery service, offer brand-specific discounts to encourage you to buy more of the same brands. 


Offer page on Swiggy Instamart

Screenshot provided by the author

3. Retargeting With Cross-Selling Offers

Retargeting marketing campaigns, where you provide personalized product recommendations based on customer purchase history, is another great way to cross-sell to customers. 


For reference, here’s an example of an email that’s cross-selling to customers by retargeting them:

Cross selling through retargeting (example 1)

(Image Source)


And here’s another one:


Cross selling through retargeting (example 2)

(Image Source)

4. Creating Sales Scripts 

Often, when dealing with high-ticket items, your basic cross-selling techniques might not do the trick. 


You’ll need one-on-one interaction to convince your customers they should actually buy your product. To do so, you’ll need to invest in training your customer support and sales staff and regularly update sales scripts so that these activities result in value-based cross-selling. 


For example, suppose your customers come in with hesitations about the pricing of your premium products. In that case, your salespeople might be able to inform them of the long-term benefits and cost savings these products offer. 

5. Personalizing Product Recommendations

When you run a business, you always have customer data on hand, usually stored in a CRM system (or in the heads of your salespeople). 


And, as they say, data is a goldmine — you can leverage this data to provide personalized cross-selling recommendations based on customer purchase history. 


For example, let’s say you operate a bookstore. Based on interactions with customer A, you realize they’re interested in fantasy books. You can recommend new books that are popular within that niche the next time they visit your store. 


Or, if you operate a furniture store near a university and have multiple college students, you can retarget the same customers four years after they’re done with college.

Best Practices to Consider When Upselling and Cross-Selling

Use these simple tips to encourage additional items after the original purchase. 

1. Providing Social Proof

A study on customer purchase behavior found that more than 50% of all customers (including B2B and B2C buyers) consider social-proof, like reviews during all stages of their buying journey (i.e., awareness, consideration, and decision). 


In another study, it was found that your own claims (aka vendor claims) don’t have the same impact as social proof


PeerSignal study on customer trust

(Image Source)


This also means that you should be doubling down on social proof like reviews and should also leverage other social proof materials like:


  • Celebrity endorsements

  • Before and After photos

  • Customer ratings

  • Case Studies

  • Certifications


These activities will allow customers to trust your claims more and will assist in activities like upselling and cross-selling. 

2. Surveying Customers and Customer-Facing Teams

It’s always better to understand customer hesitations, pain points, wants, needs, and challenges by asking them for feedback or conducting surveys. Based on the results, you can then offer more relevant product recommendations.


Such feedback helps you understand how to approach selling a product. It also provides insights about what customers like or dislike about your brand, including barriers to purchase. 


Alternatively, suppose surveys or conversations with customers aren’t possible. In that case, you can perhaps look into interviewing customer-facing teams like support or sales, as they might be aware of the overarching patterns in customer behavior. 

3. Investing in Brand Building 

As a business, investing in content marketing materials can help: 


  • Allow customers to see you as a thought leader

  • Position you as an authority in the industry

  • Increase your trust score

  • Help in brand building

  • Alleviate your image


Once this happens, it’ll become much easier to cross-sell and upsell to customers as they’ll think of you as a trusted brand that’s genuinely providing product recommendations from a place of knowledge and expertise.  


Are you ready to boost customer satisfaction? Double down on this marketing strategy, and you’re good to go. 

Upsell and Cross-Sell With OpenCart

In practice, if you’re shopping online, the bulk of up-selling and cross-selling activities happen on the eCommerce site itself (e.g., you might see discounts, offers, and phrases like “often bought together” when you’re purchasing online). 


This also means you might need an eCommerce solution to support these sales activities and bring you the desired results. 


And that’s where OpenCart can help you — we have everything you need to run and scale your business, including elements that allow you to focus on activities like upselling and cross-selling.  


Click here to avail a free demo of OpenCart to see how our solution can help your business in real life!