Digital Transformation

The obvious cross-sell

By Hayden Sutherland |

May 22, 2013 | 4 min read

I spend a lot of my time right now on trains (as well as buses, planes and in the car) and one of my main rail routes is between Scotland’s two biggest cites, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Each day I watch the person with the refreshments trolley walk up and down the carriages selling stuff to keep the travellers nourished. The usual request in the morning is either a tea or coffee, served with little accompanying cartons & sachets of milk & sugar respectively. However, what this employee of the rail company also does without fail is say things like:

“There’s a special offer on today. We have a caramel wafer and a hot drink for £2.50”

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“Would you like a lemon slice or Tunnocks tea cake with that?”

These helpful suggestions may seem innocent enough and to most people they are something to be dismissed with a friendly “no thank you”. But occasionally a customer says “Ah, that would be nice”, “Oh, I think I will actually” or something similar. Interestingly I’ve not seen anyone say “no and never ask me again” or “no and now I don’t want the drink any more either”.

What does this have to do with e-commerce? Well a lot actually…

You see what this food and drink person is doing day after day is providing a constant cross-sell to existing customers. And the very fact that nobody stops making their intended purchase means that they always have a positive return on their efforts. This human cross-sell mechanism is proof that people either take up or ignore the offer, without cannibalising the sale made.

Transposed to the online world, we see cross-sell used across a number of digital retailers… but not all.

Why? Well, I’ve heard all sorts of excuses for not suggesting “products you might also like” to all who have committed to buying… but none that make any sense. Just like in the real world, as long as it’s done in the right way (e.g. with the minimum of obvious hard selling) and you’re recommending the right products (e.g. you’re not cross-selling a cup of tea to a person who’s already bought a coffee) then there’s every reason for your site to work as hard as it can to make you the most amount of money possible.

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