8 Effective Suggestive Selling Techniques for Retailers (+ 7 Bonus Tips)

Sales associate helping customer

You’ve been trying to improve your retail profits but aren’t quite reaching your sales goals. You know that in order to make more money it’s crucial to increase foot traffic and make more sales. But something that’s often overlooked is encouraging customers to spend more without being pushy. 

A popular sales strategy retailers use to do this is with suggestive selling.

Also known as “cross selling” or “upselling”, suggestive selling is when store associates encourage shoppers to add complementary products to their purchase or choose a more expensive product altogether. When done tactfully, suggestive selling can help increase your store’s total revenue from sales, as well as other metrics like average basket size and order value. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what suggestive selling is, its benefits in retail, and tips and techniques you can start using immediately.

What is suggestive selling?

Suggestive selling is a sales approach where you either suggest shoppers add complimentary products to their initial purchase (cross selling) or compel them to purchase an item with a higher price point than what they were initially interested in buying (upselling). 

The key to suggestive selling is to recommend products based on the value they’ll bring the customer. By aligning your product recommendations with their needs and wants, you increase the likelihood that they take you up on your suggestion. 

For example, let’s say you sell running shoes. You can use cross selling to suggest the customer purchase complimentary items like socks, an extra set of laces, and odor-fighting spray. Alternatively, when the customer is deciding which shoe to buy, you could use the upselling rule of three and suggest three different shoes ranging from inexpensive to top-of-the-line, which gives you an opportunity to compare the benefits of each shoe and increase the probability of them buying a higher price point model. 

Suggestive selling is all about offering shoppers relevant product recommendations. The better you are at suggestive selling, the more effective you will be at closing sales with more items per transaction and higher transaction values. 

When done correctly, suggestive selling doesn’t feel pushy to customers—it feels helpful.

Benefits of suggestive selling

Suggestive selling is a tried-and-true way to increase your retail store’s sales without alienating customers and coming across as pushy. While the overall benefit to your business is higher revenue, suggestive selling also benefits your customers.

Here are some notable benefits you can expect by mastering suggestive selling at your store: 

Increases average order value and revenue

Average order value (AOV) is the average amount a customer spends per purchase at your retail store. Upselling helps you increase AOV, even if the customer purchases only one item. Cross selling, however, increases AOV by increasing the number of items a customer purchases. 

With suggestive selling, you can increase your AOV and store revenue. Use it to help your store hit its sales goals.

💡 PRO TIP: Keep track of your store’s average order value, items per order, and net sales to see how effective your staff are at serving customers with suggestive selling. To see these metrics update in real-time as staff checkout sales in Shopify POS, select Analytics from the Home menu.

Improves your customer experience

Suggestive selling is a way to lightly nudge customers to buy more without coming across as pushy and risking leaving a bad impression on in-store shoppers. With suggestive selling, you educate shoppers on products that compliment their initial purchase, or explain the features and benefits of one product when compared to another. 

Rather than focusing on making the sale, focus on educating and informing shoppers. Not only will they appreciate your help and have a positive experience, but you stand to make more sales as well. 

Grows customer loyalty and retention 

If customers know they can rely on you to make helpful suggestions that improve their experience with your products, they’re more likely to continue buying from you in the future. 

This has two benefits: for one, it increases your average customer lifetime value (CLTV). Secondly, happy customers tend to have a halo effect where they organically refer your brand to people they know. These organic referrals help you attract customers without spending on digital marketing or advertising. 

Considering it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one, merchants who use suggestive selling stand to make their customers happier, turn more first-time shoppers into long-time supporters, and build a great brand reputation. Not only does this result in higher revenue over time, but it also brings new shoppers to your business through unsolicited referrals.

Helps staff serve shoppers better 

For sales associates to be successful at their job, it’s essential to train them properly. This includes ensuring they have a deep understanding of the products you sell, and have the confidence to engage with shoppers, ask discovery questions, and suggest products. 

The more knowledgeable your staff is about the products you sell and the services you offer, the more equipped they are to respond to the needs of each shopper they serve, position the products you sell, and make more sales. 

8 effective suggestive selling techniques

There are many different suggestive selling techniques you can use to lift your retail store’s sales. Here, we’ll look at eight ways to start testing suggestive selling today: 

1. Use cross merchandising to group complementary products

Cross merchandising is a visual merchandising technique where similar or complementary products are grouped together. It makes the buying experience more convenient for shoppers, since all of the products they’re likely looking for are near one another. For retailers, cross merchandising increases the probability that shoppers are reminded of other products they may need adding more items to their basket. 

For example, if you sell sneakers and display them on the wall, you can strategically place product displays with relevant products and accessories next to the running shoes. This ensures that your store’s foot traffic is made aware of the complimentary products—like socks, shoe cleaner, and laces—you offer. 

Cross merchandising encourages customers to add products to their cart without your store associates having to say a word. When staff interact with a shopper, store associates will be better equipped to suggest products since related items are clustered together. 

2. Welcome customers with a hook

Greeting customers with a generic question like “what can I help you with today?” may not be as impactful as it could be. Instead, as you welcome customers, consider also mentioning any promotions you’re currently running that are related to the product they’re looking for. 

Just make sure that your greeting comes off as authentic. Your goal shouldn’t be to push your promotion, but to be helpful and guide shoppers as they browse through a sea of choices. 

Let’s imagine a new customer walks into your store. You could say, “hi, thanks for stopping by! I just wanted to let you find our running shoes to your left. We just received our new fall models, and you can get 20% off the second pair of shoes you purchase. If you need help or want to try something on, just let me know!”

Then you can gauge their response. If they’re open to chatting, it’s an opportunity to spend time with them and suggest products you think they’ll like. 

3. Mention sales or offers 

Now that you’ve hooked the customer, it’s important to make sure you don’t come off as pushy or desperate to close the sale. The key is to suggest products that are right for them while respecting their budget. 

Let’s say the customer is price conscious and doesn’t want to spend over $100 on their next pair of running shoes. You could show them two pairs of sneakers: one that is $80 and one that is higher quality and on sale for $110 from $175. By explaining the value of what they’ll get if they spend slightly more, while also saving, your upsell is perceived as a helpful opportunity to get more for less.

4. Create product bundles

Bundling similar or complementary products can help increase the perceived value in the minds of consumers. And the idea of getting more than one item all within one price, plus the convenience, provides a better shopping experience. It can also shape subconscious buying decisions. Rather than customers having to put products together making sure they match, the work is already done for them. 

To show customers that buying a product bundle is more cost effective than buying each individual product, use signage to display the savings. For example, if a pair of sneakers is $80, the laces are $8, and the shoe cleaner is $18—the total is $106. Create a bundle with the same set of products and sell it for $99. 

While this won’t necessarily result in increasing the total purchase amount compared to before the products were bundled, it’s still a higher sales value than if they bought only one of the items.

5. Provide product knowledge

Improve the customer service experience by making sure shoppers know the story behind the products you sell, how and where they’re made, and the features and benefits of each. 

For example, if the running shoes you sell are made from breathable materials that lower the probability of painful blisters when running long distances, educate people about these features and benefits. 

By positioning a product’s feature by focusing on its benefit, shoppers are more likely to see value in that feature and in the product itself. 

6. Explain your rewards program

Customer reward programs are the perfect way to encourage customers to spend more at your retail store (i.e., boost customer loyalty). But you’ll first need to make them aware of it. Train your staff to ask shoppers if they’d like to join your loyalty program (or if they’re already a member) when they’re at checkout. 

Then, you’ll have a way to continue engaging with them after the sale, recommend products, and incentivize them to buy from you again. With a loyalty program that rewards the purchases they make—whether it's with exclusive offers, discounts, or gifts—shoppers are more inclined to continue shopping with you in the future. 

📌 GET STARTED: Want to launch a loyalty program that gives shoppers the ability to redeem points in-store or online? Check out the loyalty apps that work with Shopify POS to start rewarding customers for their loyalty wherever they choose to shop.

7. Use your point of purchase to encourage impulse purchases 

Aside from making your store’s checkout experience as frictionless as possible, the checkout counter is also a great place to suggest additional products before closing the sale. 

Use point of purchase (POP) displays to showcase low price point items shoppers are likely to buy on impulse. At sporting goods stores, you’ve probably seen protein bars, sports drinks, water bottles, and things of the like near the checkout counter. This is because those items are inexpensive and have a higher probability of being added to the shoppers before completing their purchase. 

8. Ask specific questions and offer personalized suggestions

By asking discovery questions (“what can I help you find today?”), shoppers are more likely to respond and give you insights that inform how you can help them, the problem they’re trying to solve, and the products they may be interested in.

Let’s say you notice a customer looking at two pairs of running shoes. You can start by asking them what they like about each. Then you can proceed to asking them about whether they typically run short or long distances, how many times a week they plan on running, and whether or not they have any injuries or conditions that flair up before or after they run. 

Their responses will help inform the products you recommend while anchoring your recommendation on what’s best for their specific use case. It’s an effective way to personalize your service and increase the likelihood of converting that shopper into a paying customer

Tips for suggestive selling

The most important thing to remember about any sales strategy is it’s never one size fits all. Some customers will respond better than others to different suggestive selling techniques. That’s why it’s important to adapt as you learn what works best for your target audience. 

Here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • Don’t be aggressive or pushy. Mention the features and benefits of additional products, but keep it light and casual. Never pressure customers into buying more (or at all). 
  • Prioritize spending time with customers. Jumping right into your sales pitch will turn customers away. Spend time chatting with customers and getting to know their needs before you start suggestive selling. 
  • Always respect the customer’s budget. Attempting to slightly stretch the customer's budget is fine, but suggesting they splurge on sneakers for $350 when their budget is $100 will never work. It will probably also turn them off and they could potentially tell their family and friends about their bad experience, too. 
  • Invest in employee training. The more your associates know about the products you sell and the better equipped they are to provide a good customer experience the more likely they’ll be able to make judgement calls and succeed at suggestive selling.
  • Emphasize timing. If you start a conversation with a customer and they mention they’re just taking a quick look and don’t have much time, it’s not the best moment to amp up suggestive selling. You’re better off letting them peruse independently. If the timing is wrong, you could turn them away for good. 
  • Less is more. Avoid overwhelming shoppers with too many choices by only suggesting appropriate add-on products. And make a habit of limiting it to only a few. 
  • Make suggestive selling a daily routine. You and your employees will want to make it a daily habit to engage with customers and test suggestive selling strategies. Doing this will help you learn from their behaviors and adapt and improve with each interaction. 

Start using suggestive selling in your store

Now that you know the benefits of suggestive selling in retail, it’s time to put these strategies to the test. Remember, each business is unique and so is its customer base. As you test each of these suggestive selling techniques, you’ll learn what to focus on the most and how to train your associates to gently encourage shoppers to spend more. 

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Suggestive selling FAQ

What is an example of suggestive selling?

An example of suggestive selling is a customer purchasing a bottle of wine may be suggested to purchase a corkscrew or bottle opener.

What is the difference between upselling and suggestive selling?

Upselling is when a salesperson attempts to persuade a customer to buy a more expensive version of the product they are considering, while suggestive selling is when a salesperson recommends other products or services that may complement the product the customer is considering.
Upselling is more focused on increasing the value of the purchase, while suggestive selling is about offering other products that may be of interest to the customer.

What is the most common method of suggestion selling?

The most common method of suggestion selling is to use a product demonstration. This involves showing the customer how to use the product and demonstrating its features and benefits. Additionally, the salesperson can ask questions to identify the customer's needs and offer solutions to their problems. Finally, they can suggest additional products or services that may be beneficial to the customer.