Why is it so hard to get retail associates to upsell?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Nov 07, 2017

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

I was buying a small electronic item when the cashier asked me, “Do you want to buy the extended warranty?” I replied, “No.” She continued, “I didn’t think so, but my boss makes me ask.”

While that isn’t an example of upselling, it’s the germ of why employees don’t do it.

It’s like parents saying, “Clean up your room” or “Mow the lawn.” No one likes to be told what to do.

The dialogue with employees about upselling should start at the hiring process. Ask during the interview if they know what upselling means. Ask if they have been trained on how to do it. Ask if they like to do it and, if so, why. If they don’t know what it is, give them an example.

The crucial tactic is to get your retail staff to see that they upsell themselves all the time.

Start with something they know. Take coffee.

If they come in with a Starbucks cup, ask them what drink they have and its price. Challenge them a bit. Maybe it’s a Zombie Frappuccino that cost $4.50. Ask them why they purchased that instead of a Slurpee at 7-Eleven for half the price. Then explain to them how they upsold their selection on novelty, Instagrammability or taste.

The point: Upselling is just what they, as shoppers, regularly do on their own.

Make sure you don’t confuse upselling with adding-on. They are two different aspects of selling.

Upselling is taking someone from a bargain, sale or standard product to a similar one that has more features. That means taking them to a better product that delivers more benefits to the shopper.

The upsell item should make life more convenient, deliver better results or have less maintenance. And yes, it costs more too.

Whatever you sell, make it clear upselling is part of everyday life — all you’re asking is for your team members to proactively help shoppers who are just like them.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for managers trying to encourage store associates to upsell? Do some associates have to overcome a mental barrier in order to upsell? Are some more naturally inclined to upsell than others?

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Braintrust
"Making product recommendations based on information the customer gives you is a lot easier than pushing the same upsell to every customer. "

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37 Comments on "Why is it so hard to get retail associates to upsell?"


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Charles Dimov
Guest

Make it easy for the associates. Give them a bit of a typical script — and maybe a practice run or two. Also important is a counter discussion script; one that indicates that if the person says no, here is what to say that might turn it into a “yes please.” What the script is depends on your specifics and industry.

Most retail employees want to do a good job and help their company succeed. A little help might be the nudge that drives up your margins. Even a little is moving in the right direction!

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

At a recent Store Operations Council meeting, we talked about the prevalence of part-time workers in retail. Several people present said that they don’t hire ANY full-time workers. It’s tough to incent behavior from someone who has to travel an hour to a job where they’re working only four hours a day.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Really, what incentive does a part-time worker have to upsell? Forced into part-time work as an adult [not teen part-time work] without any benefits, enabling retailers to avoid the expense of providing health insurance. Lack of upward mobility, managing two part-time jobs just to get by … “atta boy,” “atta girl” does not pay the bills nor inspire the desire to upsell. Plain old human nature.

David Livingston
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

Ditto. No incentive, no enthusiasm, and most of the customers will be annoyed by the scripted upsell.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Thanks David! I totally agree. Doesn’t sound like brain surgery to figure this one out.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Upsells aren’t scripted, upsells are an opportunity to show someone a product that might do more than the one they originally came in for.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
4 years 7 months ago

Absolutely true. And there’s another message to workers: You’re expendable. Ensuring part time-ness also communicates that the employee should be worried about job security.

It’s not just that they’re part time. Retail shift scheduling can be an area of game playing — where the schedules are clearly made to eliminate lunches, keep employees away from benefits, etc. Employees are not dumb — and they take away many unspoken messages from those games employers play.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Training employees to upsell has nothing to do with a message “you’re expendable.” Scheduling sounds like your issue, not the one I raised in the post.

Stefan Weitz
Guest
I would say three reasons: lack of incentive, lack of data and consumer behavior. In the former, there is little upside except in the increasingly rare case of commissioned sales people to engage with a harried consumer to try and convince them to buy the extended warranty for their new speakers. Even in the cases of commissioned sales people, the malaise of an associate who has to recite a memorized script to convince you to engage with the product is palpable. Second, most associates today don’t have the data about the consumer to authentically upsell them. Just because I’m buying a product today doesn’t mean you know what else I need. Better exposure to user profiles and presentation of that information when people enter the store would be a massive help — it would bring the online model that Amazon is so good at (recommending bundles and other items that match your profile) to the offline world. Third is behavior — associates have to be able to read the consumer and meet them where they… Read more »
Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Upselling can’t work everywhere — in a mass merchant or discounter, for example, where associate training is more focused on “process” like running the registers or restocking the shelves. But there are plenty of specialty stores (and even department stores) that need to make upselling part of associate training in the first place. Filtering out candidates during the hiring process if they are uncomfortable engaging with customers is the obvious place to start, followed by extensive role modeling after the hire.

Who does this the best? I’d argue that Nordstrom has always made it part of the company culture. In the shoe department, for example, associates are trained to bring out three pairs if the customer picks just one to try on. It’s a simple lesson for other stores to learn, if they’re willing to try.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It is highly unlikely that an entire workforce will, of its own volition, try to upsell so that only its employer will benefit directly. Make the workforce share in the benefit!

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

The word SELL is a four letter word to most store associates because they personally have had negative experiences with “pushy” sales people in the past. They simply do not feel comfortable asking someone to purchase something else (upselling) or asking them to purchase more (add-on selling).

Instead of asking associates to “sell”, teach them how to help customers buy.

The five Ws go a long way in helping associates personalize services that creates a positive experience, and ultimately converts more sales:

  • WHAT are you looking for … alternatively WHAT would be new/different?
  • WHO is the purchase for … yourself or someone else?
  • WHERE will the purchase be used … where do you want it delivered?
  • HOW can we make this better fit you?
  • WHEN would you like to have it?

Not all five Ws apply in every situation, but when associates genuinely ask a couple of these open W questions they feel that they are personally helping customers, and customers feel that they are getting personalized service.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The upsell has a negative connotation to it. That is a shame. I use the example of a customer going to a hardware store to buy a can of paint and then once home realizing that they forgot to buy brushes. Doesn’t it make sense that the sales person would have asked, “Do you need brushes with that paint? I don’t want you to get home and realize you didn’t have what you needed to complete the project.” (Of course the sales person could offer up other appropriate product suggestions.)

The bottom line is that NOT upselling at the right time is BAD customer service. Make upselling a part of both sales and customer service training. One helps you understand why it’s important to upsell (that’s the service part), and the other teaches the employee how to ask the right questions (that’s the sales part). Once the employee realizes that an ethical upsell is part of a good customer service experience, it is easier to get them to do it.

Art Suriano
Guest
This issue is no different than attempting to have all associates encourage customers to open the store credit account. Often they don’t do it because they don’t like to. But to suggest we should ask about upselling during the interview process is not the solution. Training today is the real problem. Most chains are only allocating 10 hours of training for new hires, which is not nearly enough. Furthermore, too many retailers have ineffective training programs that are either too long (a downside of e-learning) or too inconsistent when they are peer-led. The simple solution to most issues including upselling is that whoever is training whether it be a manager or a trainer, must explain why the trainee needs to do something. It’s no different than when you correct a child not to put their hand on the stove. You can say it a hundred times but until you get the child to understand they will burn their hand which will hurt, do they realize they shouldn’t do it? It is the same with store… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Actually it’s not at all the same as attempting to get associates to get shoppers to open accounts. Upselling is based on the one item the shopper is looking for – it is a better version or a more complete system as I said in the post. And yes, the why is what I talked about in the post.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
4 years 7 months ago

There are a lot of factors at play here. First, the employee needs to genuinely believe in the products they are selling. In the electronics example, the employee clearly doesn’t think anyone should purchase or would want to purchase the warranty. Instead of her “boss making her ask” they should spend time talking about the benefits of the warranty so employees see why someone would want to purchase it.
There is definitely a mental aspect to upselling. No one wants to seem pushy, which is why upselling should be personalized to each customer. Train associates to ask questions and learn about what the shopper is looking for, who they’re buying for, etc. Making product recommendations based on information the customer gives you is a lot easier than pushing the same upsell to every customer. The shopper will also leave feeling like they received great service, which is a win-win.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Simply put, without the proper incentivization packages, how do companies expect their employees to provide an outstanding customer experience? The two are intertwined, and you simply cannot have one without the other. Employees are looking for not just a paycheck, but a more enriching experience beyond the day-to-day responsibilities. Training, performance-based bonus plans and a defined career path help to significantly improve the overall associate performance.

According to Richard Branson, if your employees are not given the right tools, are not looked after and are not appreciated, they are simply not going to provide the experience your customers are looking for. I am sure that we all can agree that if companies prioritize their employees first, the customers second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do very well, the customers have an improved experience and ultimately, the leaders of the company benefit.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
4 years 7 months ago

Employees don’t need to upsell if they feel like the customers coming in are people that they care about and want to look after. When you go to a mom-and-pop where they know everybody — they don’t upsell, they look after you. Upselling comes right with it. The experiential gets you to the upsell without selling.

Help employees feel like they’re looking after people that matter. Make employees feel like they matter and they have a stake in how the store does. Once you have that, you don’t need to upsell.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

That’s actually not true. You do need them to upsell because most employees will sell with their own wallet in mind – not the shoppers. That’s why so much premium merchandise sits because the employee tells the shopper, “You don’t really need this.”

W. Frank Dell II
BrainTrust

A number of factors could increase upselling. Hire outgoing associates for the job, not to put in hours. Educate them on the products and features. One problem today is many customers do research online before coming into the store. Some of this research is biased or wrong. Unless an associate knows what they are talking about you cannot really help the customer.

Make upselling part of the job and success measurement. Speak the language. When in a foreign speaking area speak the local language and English. For the rest of the country speak English. Teach employees to look the customer in the eye and ask if they can be of assistance. Only by changing the job and expectation will there be upselling.

Sarah Nochimowski
Guest

Retailers should offer packages of products that go together — that have associations. This should be merchandising’s role; to train associates about the products’ universe.

Molly Nichols
Guest

Associates need to understand that they are not cheating the customer. Upselling is nothing to feel guilty about, but offers a better product for a value price. Rather than pushing them to just sell more or the same thing, make sure associates understand they’re helping the customer.