“Would you like fries with that?”

It’s a line that’s as firmly entrenched in the American consumer consciousness as any. What’s not as well-known is the sales philosophy that lies behind it: suggestive selling.

Also known as upselling, suggestive selling occurs when a retail salesperson — whether they work in fast food, at a clothing store or behind the counter in a grocery perimeter department — tries to sell you something else in addition to what they’ve already sold you or tried to sell you.

Great choice on the shirt, let me show you a tie that will make it look even better. How about a coffee to go with your donut?

Now that you’ve chosen a cheeseburger…

Can suggestive selling be overdone? Absolutely. If you’ve made it clear that you’re on a budget and the car salesman keeps trying to talk you into a sunroof, heated seats and wood paneling, they’re pushing too much.

But done right, suggestive selling is a win-win for consumers and retailers.

Say it’s your night to cook, which you just remembered on your way home from work. You pick out some chicken from the deli prepared department of your local grocery store, and the clerk tells you what it would cost to add a couple of sides and some dinner rolls to make it into a meal.

Or the butcher points out the heat-and-eat twice-baked potatoes in the counter as he’s wrapping your steaks.

Most of the time, if done well, consumers will appreciate a good “suggestive sell.” And the fresh perimeter, more than anywhere else in the store, presents the perfect opportunity for using suggestive selling to make shoppers’ lives easier and to increase sales.


Make it a meal

In the retail perimeter, it’s fairly uncommon to see employees upselling or engaging in other practices to get consumers to buy something else to go with their initial purchase, says Neil Stern, a consultant with Chicago-based McMillan Doolittle.

A low unemployment rate is among the causes, he says.

“With labor becoming more scare, retailers tend to focus more on productivity per department as a key metric. I think it’s a little less common today, unfortunately.”

“Unfortunate,” Stern says, because upselling is a real chance for retailers to generate extra, unexpected sales, particularly in the ever-growing category of easy meal prep.

“The best examples allow customers to seamlessly assemble meals,” Stern says. “Make a wine pairing with a meat selection. Suggest sides to accompany an entrée. Create all of the ingredients for a caprese salad, including grocery items like olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.”

One way retailers can integrate upselling into their daily operations, Stern says, is by training employees to work across categories — deli, meat, seafood, etc. It can also be as simple as providing tips. “When a customer buys flank steak, see if they need fajita fixings,” he says.

Whatever the method, the key is to start doing it. In today’s evolving marketplace, it’s even more crucial.

“It’s incredibly important, particularly as online services are in some ways able to do this better,” Stern says. “And meal kits are essentially stepping in to meet this need.”

There can be challenges to upselling, but Stern says the pros clearly outweigh the cons.

“It's generally a win/win, particularly when the suggestion feels like a natural output of the customer interaction. The only challenge is if it feels forced. I always ask customers if they need a sauce that the grocer is selling vs. really trying to interpret a customers' need.”

Good questions, Stern says, are open-ended ones. Are you planning on grilling tonight? Is there anything else you might need with your steak? That’s a better approach than the “hard sell,” he says.


Five Tips on how to train your employees in suggestive selling techniques from Don Westmoreland of Atlanta-based workforce management software specialist Deputy:


1. Encourage an in-depth knowledge of your products

It will be difficult for your staff to carry out suggestive selling if they’re not aware of the items you have in store. A selected portion of your staff training should include detailed descriptions of new items. If you own a large retail store and receive vast quantities of new stock on a daily basis, provide at least one unique selling point (USP) per item. The USP should be easy for staff to remember and must be relatable enough to introduce into a conversation with your customer.

Your staff should also be familiar with price-points to suggest items within the customer’s budget. Having in-depth knowledge of inventory also extends to stock levels. Your customer will be disappointed if they’re convinced to buy an item, only to find out that it’s not available. Utilize your inventory management and point-of-sale systems to ensure your staff has access to accurate stock level reports.

According to Expertcity, who work with retailers such as The North Face, Reebok, and Quicksilver to help retail sales staff have a deep understanding of their product, “82% of consumers are likely to follow expert recommendations.” Train your staff on suggestive selling with the aim of turning them into product experts. Staff should have an in-depth knowledge of your inventory, given that a Wharton School of Business study found:

·          Half of customers (50%) want expert advice on what they should purchase when they come into a store.

·          Over two-thirds of customers (73%) advised that product knowledge is the most important thing they need from a salesperson.

·          Salespeople who are educated about their product sell up to 123% more than others with no training.

2. Build a rapport with customers

Your suggestive selling staff training should include customer befriending techniques. Customers buy from people they trust and this also extends to suggestive selling. Your staff should be encouraged to take a genuine interest in the customer. This goes beyond what they’re shopping for. A simple question about how the customer’s day is shaping up can result in a positive dialogue. This open conversation will not only build a rapport to increase the likelihood of an upsell, but it’ll also make your staff’s job more enjoyable, as they learn new things about the customer.

When a customer regards sales staffs’ interest as genuine, as opposed to just chasing a sale, they’re more likely to listen to advice. Train your staff to think about how they’d like to be treated when shopping and try to replicate this in your store. Your sales staff should become a trusted advisor or friend to the customer while in your store to increase the chance of making a suggestive sale. Training your sales staff to be motivated by both enhancing the customer experience and increasing their commission will result in a more authentic interaction with shoppers.

3. Trust staff to use their initiative

Apart from fast food retailers, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to suggestive selling. Train your staff to use their inventory knowledge and customer information to propose appropriate products. Even though suggestive selling normally centers on offering lower priced items, there may be occasions when your sales staff can recommend a higher priced product.

An example is where there’s a scenario in which a customer is attending a wedding and has chosen a dress. Your sales staff can suggest shoes at a higher price while saying something along the following lines “the shoes truly completes the outfit” or “the shoes will match different outfits and can be worn on more special occasions, so they can be regarded as an investment.” Offering higher priced items when they are discounted is an even more effective way to make a suggestive sale. The fact that the customer is making a saving should be highlighted.

4. Personalize suggestive sales

Delivering a cookie-cutter suggestive selling experience will be off-putting to customers. Customers want to feel like you genuinely care about them and personalization is a proven way of delivering a better retail experience. Unoriginal responses come across as fake and customers will be reluctant to believe what your sales staff is saying. If a customer asks for an opinion about an outfit that’s not the most flattering, your staff should be trained on how to break the news tactfully while offering alternatives. Listening to the customer will also provide clues about how to personalize suggestive selling. If they mention that they’re looking for a pair of sneakers for running, suggest insoles for a more comfortable running session.

Another instance of personalized suggestive selling is when a bartender or barback recommends an appetizer based on whether a customer will be having dinner after their drinks. The bartender should suggest a light appetizer like pretzel sticks if the customer is dining after drinks. However, the bartender should recommend something more filling, such as buffalo chicken wings, if the customer is only having a drink.
When training your staff on suggestive selling, demonstrate items that fit together. This will spark ideas about how a group of products can be customized according to the customer’s taste. In order to increase the probability of a sale, your staff should aim for the suggestive sale item to perfectly complement the original item.

5. Consider creating a loyalty program

Take inspiration from Starbucks and combine suggestive selling with a loyalty program to skyrocket your profits. Starbucks revamped its My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program to focus on rewarding customers who spend more. The results were an increase of 18% in net revenue, which amounted to $4.9 billion. Under the old loyalty scheme, customers would need 12 stars to qualify for a free item. The new loyalty program changed the number of stars required to 125. The change provided a great opportunity for Starbucks’s staff to make suggestive sales. Their sales associates encouraged customers to add one more item to their order to gain more stars and qualify for free items.

A customer loyalty program should form part of your suggestive selling strategy and training because it encourages customers to spend a little more to get closer to receiving a reward. Suggestive selling becomes easier when your staff notify customers that they can receive a discount or, a free item for spending a few more dollars. Loyalty programs create a win-win situation for the customer. Firstly, they walk away with a supplementary item and they also get closer to redeeming an offer on their loyalty card. If you do implement a loyalty program, train your staff to link their suggestive selling to the great discounts on offer.