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In eCommerce, there are 3 ways upsells and cross-sells are usually presented: on the product page, on the cart/checkout page, and after checkout.

eCommerce marketers often try to guess which page placement upsells and cross-sells work the “best” on or where they are highest converting…

…but in our experience helping hundreds of eCommerce stores to optimize conversion rates, it’s often not as simple as saying “upsells/cross-sells work best on ‘x’ page type.”

Sure, these offer types tend to work on both the product and cart page, but it’s overly simplistic to assume that these offers will always work better on “either one page or the other.”

A “prime” example here is Amazon. Amazon offers customers additional product recommendations on nearly every page. Such as: “people who looked at this product bought these products” and “people who viewed this product also viewed these products.” They show offers constantly to keep their customers shopping before, during, and after a purchase.

While optimizing the general checkout conversion rate is important, improving the conversion rate of upsell and cross-sell offers on each page of the checkout flow where they appear can make a big revenue impact.

We recently optimized an upsell offer of trip protection for a client of ours in the vacation and excursions niche. The upsell offer conversion rate increased by 3.3% and revenue increased by 4% per user as a result of our testing one simple change of the upsell offer’s placement:

eCommerce upsell offer placement

Using this small case study as an example, we’ll show you how to incorporate upsells and cross-sells more effectively so that you can leverage them to increase AOV even more.

We conduct conversion rate optimization tests day-in and day-out until our clients are more profitable. Get in touch to learn more about how our CRO experts can improve your online store’s bottom line.

eCommerce Upselling and Cross-Selling: What’s the Difference?

There is a common misconception that upsell and cross-sell product offers vary in their effectiveness.

This framing leads companies to try to quantify what drives more revenue for them: cross-sells or upsells.

For example, this study conclusively claims that Upselling on eCommerce sites performs 20 times better than cross-selling.” The findings then got cited on other sites such as Oberlo.

The problem is, it’s a somewhat subjective study because it is largely based on a relatively small number of eCommerce stores from one conversion agency’s client roster.

While it’s tempting for marketers to generalize on the effectiveness of cross-sells vs. upsells and their differences, the reality is not as cut and dry. For a couple of reasons:

  • Different industries have different customers, with different buying habits, for different products, at different price points.

These factors make it hard to say equivocally that upselling or cross-selling is more effective than the other as a rule, or if one drives more sales/revenue.

As I mentioned, testing for these offers is usually subjective unless the sample size can represent a somewhat accurate view of the eCommerce store landscape as a whole. 

An effort like this could prove very difficult. It would likely need to involve quantifying the cross-sell and upsell offers of thousands of stores in different industries and of different sizes (not just one agency’s collection of clients).

So, when it comes to measuring which offer type is better, you can only be 100% sure of the test results from the single online store you’re testing on.

  • The difference between cross-selling and upselling gets blurry.

What’s the difference between cross-selling and upselling?

The agreed-upon thinking in our industry is that an upsell is a higher-end product than the one the customer may have originally intended to purchase, while a cross-sell is an offer for a related product.

We can rely on this definition most of the time, but in practice for conducting conversion rate optimization: there’s no meaningful difference between cross-selling and upselling. Why? How the offers take shape depends on the industry. Both result in the customer paying a higher price for their order (what really matters).

A couple of quick examples to illustrate:

(1) A clearcut example of the difference between upsells/cross-sells:

Say a customer has added carry-on luggage from your store to their cart. You can present a higher-end bag that is more expensive (an upsell) or offer them some packing cubes to use in the bag they are buying (cross-sell).

You can certainly test between those two offers and say one converts better than the other or drives more revenue.

(2) Here’s where the difference between upsells/cross-sells gets blurry:

Let’s say your store sells custom ATVs. A customer may decide on the features they want and then on the checkout page you offer them some options, including:

  • Upgraded performance handle grips
  • A chrome exhaust from another brand built into it rather than the standard stainless
  • A trailer to attach to your vehicle to transport the ATV

In this scenario: Are these add-ons upsells, cross-sells, or a combination?

You could argue that this scenario represents a collection of upsells because it’s a better ATV and a trailer.

Or, you could say it’s a cross-sell because you’re giving them additional products of performance grips, a chrome exhaust, and a trailer.

In this scenario, the offers consist of creating a higher-end product THROUGH additional products. So, while the difference in labeling these offer types gets a bit blurry, in practice you’re simply testing one option for the customer to increase cart value vs another.

Both upsells and cross-sells result in the possibility of a higher value cart and a larger average order value (AOV). So clearly, it makes sense to focus on both. Meanwhile, the label of what the offer type is becomes less important.

Now: How should you make upsell and cross-sell offers convert better?

To Increase Upsell and Cross-Sell Conversions: Use Repetition

With upselling and cross-selling, you’re overcoming the customer’s objection of extra cost. It’s easier to overcome this objection through repeating the offers at multiple points in the sale.

The theory in play here is: repetition. Customers don’t want to spend more money, typically. But you keep highlighting a reason to spend more by repeating the offer, and it works.

There’s a classic theory of repetition in advertising that this directly relates to. Showing a product repeatedly keeps that product at the front of a customer’s mind…but it’s a fine line. Show the product too many times and they may get fatigued or even irritated by seeing that product again.

Our Repetition Test

We went along with this principle of repetition to help break down our client’s customer objections when it comes to adding trip protection to their excursions.

We tested our client’s offer of trip protection for their excursions on the cart page and checkout page against only offering it on the cart page:

eCommerce upselling: Trip Protection

Our client’s trip protection offer on the cart page.

If the customer marked “No Thanks” on the cart page, our test showed that placing this upsell again on the checkout page converted better thanks to visitors seeing the offer repeatedly:

Reoffering the upsell offer on the checkout page proved to be lucrative.

The same upsell offer on the checkout page.

Note that the messaging for the repeated instance of the offer on checkout is MUCH more subtle because:

  • We’ve already communicated the details of what trip protection is
  • We don’t want to make the customer fearful about not being able to receive a refund and cause them to abandon the page.

Fear is driving this offer’s purchase. On the product page, we can be more aggressive toward that fear in our messaging by highlighting the potential loss as early as possible Towards the end of checkout, we toned it down to avoid discouraging the purchase.

When the offer was repeated on the checkout page like this, 3% more visitors opted for trip protection and the revenue increased by 4% per user.

The lesson here is: It’s important to present upsell offers at multiple points, and to know how to best present those offers based on the page they are on (the stage in the sales flow the customer is in).

How to Use Repetition to Present Upsells at Different Points in the Checkout Flow

Repeating the offers sounds simple, but we’re not the only ones using this principle to get more conversions.

In terms of the travel industry, big online vacation brands like Expedia, Travelocity, and Booking.com are putting upsells like this in multiple spots too!

The competitive analysis we did for our client showed that these travel companies tend to offer upsells and cross-sells whenever they can: on a product detail page, checkout, and in the cart.

This is where the idea to conduct the test for this client came from in the first place.

For example, when booking hotels with Travelocity, they’ll show you one set of upsell options before you reserve the trip.

You can pay a bit more to get “Free Cancellation” and “Reserve Now Pay Later” and if you pay a bit more there is an additional upsell option that includes continental breakfast:

eCommerce upselling: Customers can pay more to get "Free Cancellation”, “Reserve Now Pay Later”, and even "Continental Breakfast".

Since repeated upsell offers work better: It’s important to know how to best present the upsell or cross-sell based on the page it’s on and stage in the checkout the customer is in.

Travelocity may have concluded that if customers don’t opt-in to those offers on the product page, they should be shown a different offer for hotel protection on the checkout page.

On that checkout page, Travelocity shows customers an offer that is more relevant to the stage in the buying cycle they are in. In this case, it’s to “Protect Your Hotel” once you click “Reserve:”

eCommerce upselling: Protect your hotel with travel protection

Remember how moderating the messaging for fear-based upsells is important? This Protection offer starts with a detailed explanation and the dollar amount at risk.

The offer then gets toned down if you click “No, I’m willing to risk my $2765.85 trip.” In that case, the detailed description of protection collapses into a button with more subtle messaging to “Reconsider”:

eCommerce upselling: Protect your hotel with travel protection

Let’s say your upsell is like trip or hotel protection — it could be device protection, shipping insurance, an equipment guarantee for a fee, etc. With any fear-based upsell like these, you will have better results by adjusting how aggressively you present it depending on the stage of the sale.

Talk about potential loss as early as possible..and towards the end of checkout moderate your tone. E.g. “Do you want to put this $2765.85 at risk?” as in the Travelocity example above.

When they are getting ready to enter the credit card number in checkout, present the option again but without the fear. E.g. “Your trip is not protected.”

Start aggressively, then ease up.

What About Non-Fear-Motivated Upsells?

Admittedly, the test we ran in this case study regarding trip protection may not be directly relevant to your store — but we want to leave you with some more best practices for offers that you can use, too.

For that, a reminder that the offers you present and how you present them depends on multiple factors including your target audience’s tendencies, your store’s user interface, and the products you are selling.

For an example of aggressive upselling that works well, we’ll show you the checkout flow for another one of our clients: Carcovers.com.

This client in the auto accessories niche knows that their audience is there to buy accessories for their cars. If they are willing to buy a car cover, what other car accessories are they willing to buy?

In CarCovers.com’s interface, there are multiple upsell and cross-sell offers on the same page. This box is shown after clicking “add to cart” whether the customer is on a page in the catalog, or on a product detail page:

CarCovers.com upsells on multiple places within their site.

They tone it down with more subtle offers in checkout:

CarCovers.com even adds in over 5 more upselling options at checkout.

Is this too aggressive? Too many different product options? While it is a bit in your face, the offers end up converting better — or they wouldn’t do it.

The bottom line is: Don’t assume you’ll irritate customers by being aggressive with your offers. Test one offer, then add another and see what changes. Again, optimization depends on your store, industry, products, and customers (and the offers themselves).

As a final example, let’s take a quick look at the interface at eBags.com.

Compared to CarCovers.com, there are even more instances of upsells and cross-sells. 

Yet, eBags seems to strike a happy medium in their design. They’re aggressive, but not too aggressive by placing offers below-the-fold in the product page design.

On the product detail on the desktop, you don’t see offers initially:

eCommerce upselling: eBags.com doesn't upsell immediately.

Until you scroll down:

eBags.com waits to upsell until you scroll further down.

Then, you really see them:

eBags provides endless upselling opportunities by showcasing several other bag options that you could purchase.

The more you scroll down the product page, the more additional products you see:

eCommerce upselling: the more you scroll down, the more you see!

The logic here may be that if the user was sold on the luggage, they would have clicked add to cart right away at the top of the page. If they are unsure of the product, they’ll scroll down to read more. Of course, as they read, eBags shows additional products to consider and keep them engaged in the shopping experience.

Of course, eBags doesn’t stop recommending upsells and cross-sells once you DO add a product of theirs to the cart:

eBags.com continues the upselling process through every step -- even in the checkout page.

And in the cart before the checkout process:

eCommerce upselling: eBags.com uses this at every opportunity

Again, is it too much? If it was, then as a member of our Best-In-Class eCommerce stores, they likely wouldn’t be doing it!

eBags, as with many other stores, are likely taking advantage of the fact that customers are used to seeing related products when they shop. The result? More customers bundling in the other products they see with their orders at the click of a button.

The “irritation” factor of repetition has been dulled with the rise of Amazon and “related products” plugins becoming widespread in Shopify and other eCommerce platforms.

The takeaway is: Be aggressive with repeated upsell offers. Rather than being irritated, customers are growing accustomed to seeing them. A significant portion of customers even value these offers enough to add the recommended items to their cart!

Conclusion

Now, you have a more nuanced idea about CRO as it applies to upselling and cross-selling.

We hope you will use this information to increase the AOV for your online store. The upselling and cross-selling principles we’ve covered here in a nutshell are:

Repeat upsell and cross-sell offers throughout your store’s interface

Test the placement of those offers to optimize their conversion (we like to add one offer of additional products at a time, testing at each interval)

Keep adding product upsell and cross-sell offers to your store, both in terms of products and placements as long as it continues to increase your AOV

Add the above to your marketing efforts, and watch your numbers climb.

Or, hire us to use our method of testing to increase conversions for your upsells and across your entire eCommerce business! Get in touch.


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Devon Cox in the mountains.

Devon Cox

Devon has been an Internet marketing professional for more than 15 years. After graduating in 1997 with a degree in business and computer science, Cox started an IT consulting business where he worked with clients on their IT infrastructure and online initiatives. He then went back to school, receiving his MBA in marketing in 2005, going on to leadership roles at major lead generation businesses.

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