Image of

Just before Christmas I popped to the shop at my local petrol station to pick up a bag of logs for my fire and a bottle of wine to enjoy next to it.

I’d had a long day, and I’m sure it showed in my expression.

As I was about to pay, the assistant said to me: “Can I interest you in a scratchcard? These ones have a huge jackpot – it could make your Christmas!”

Until that moment I’d never bought a scratchcard in my life. Years ago I found one in a puddle and even won £1 from it. But I’d never bought one. I once saw a shopkeeper in my home town ruin his business (and his health) after he got addicted to them, so I’ve always steered clear.

But that evening before Christmas I was tired, ready to wind down for the festive season and in need of a little hope. So I said yes and bought the scratchcard.

Of course, I didn’t win. But that wasn’t the point. For an hour or so before I rubbed off the silvery panels, I could at least dream I might get lucky.

But no matter.

What interested me was how the shop assistant – who has never tried to ‘upsell’ anything to me before – correctly spotted that I would buy something that I hadn’t planned to get.

It got me thinking about how and when upselling actually does work. The most famous example is probably that of McDonald’s employees who have long asked us ‘Do you want fries with that?’ That simple question rakes in millions for the firm each year as people add the extra fries to their order.

On the other hand, I hate it those occasions when I pop into WHSmith or somewhere similar to buy a magazine before getting on a train. It annoys me that the sales assistants are trained to ask me whether I’d like to buy a vast chocolate bar, a book of stamps or any number of things I really don’t want. In my mind, I hear myself saying: “NO! I just want a magazine. The only other thing I want is coffee, and you don’t sell that. What kind of person wants to eat a huge slab of Fruit & Nut chocolate at 7.45am? Leave me alone!”

The problem is that this type of upsell doesn’t make sense. People who buy a copy of Private Eye during morning commuter hours generally don’t want to gorge themselves on chocolate too.

Whereas suggesting fries to someone who already wants a burger makes complete sense. As do the instructions ‘rinse and repeat’ on the back of your shampoo bottle (whoever came up with the idea of ‘repeat’ instantly made the sales of the stuff rocket. To me it’s the perfect upsell – it makes you use more of what you already wanted).

So, what does all this mean if you want to make upselling work for your business? I would say you need to take into account these 3 things.

  • Keep upselling relevant. If people are coming to you to buy a barbecue, try selling them barbecue tools – not cut price garden gnomes or a discounted wheelbarrow.
  • Train your people. Well trained sales staff are alert to upselling opportunities and can make the process pleasurable for the customer. After all, they’re already buying from you. Talk to anyone who has worked for a couture brand – they can make their employers’ millions doing clever upselling.
  • Measure what works. Experiment with different upselling packages and measure what works. If you sell spectacles, you need to know whether an upsell to discounted extra frames or coated lenses works best. If both work, you need to work out which kind of customer opts for each deal and target accordingly.


Businesses are different and all will have unique upselling challenges. But if there’s one factor that will help all of them achieve success, it’s keeping the offer focused on the customer’s needs rather than your own.

I hope you agree. But now it’s coming up to lunchtime… and I think I’ll have fries with that.

Business Advice with THP

If you’re looking for business advice, speaking to your accountant can be a great place to start.

Why not give us a call or come and visit us at one of our THP offices located in Cheam,  ChelmsfordWanstead, and Saffron Walden.

Avatar for Ben Locker
About Ben Locker

Ben Locker is a copywriter who specialises in business-to-business marketing, writing about everything from software and accountancy to construction and power tools. He co-founded the Professional Copywriters’ Network, the UK’s association for commercial writers, and is named in Direct Marketing Association research as ‘one of the copywriters who copywriters rate’.

Join The Conversation
Cyber Essentials Plus certification
Sign up for our Newsletter