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Mastering ecommerce cross-selling

Cross-selling means selling an existing customer another product with different, but related functions.

Your customer has added the product to the cart, filled all the forms, and executed payment. 

You sent the product they purchased to the specified address and everyone is happy. Right? 

Time to light up a cigar and pop the champagne.

But take a moment to think about this: You had a customer willing to trust you and buy something from you (and you have managed to sell something to them.

That’s no small feat and it speaks to the effectiveness of your content, website design, product pages, and other elements.

But now take a few more moments and think about it. Pay attention to words ‘You had a customer willing to trust you’ and note the operative word had. Past tense.

The customer bought a product and then left your website—and you may have missed a golden opportunity. Provided, of course, that the product you sell is not the only product you sell.

If your ecommerce site sells multiple items (which may be complementary to each other) then you should never let customers just walk away. If they were willing to spend on your website, a well-timed offer may entice them to spend even more. This is called cross-selling.

What is cross-selling?

Cross-selling means selling an existing customer another product with different, but related functions. 

For example: Say your company sells TVs. If a customer buys a TV, you could invite them to also buy a TV stand to go with it. 

The best time for introducing this type of offer is at the moment when your customer has already committed to the purchase. Using the data your customer provided during the purchase, you can contact them (via a thank you page, follow-up email, etc.) 

Next, let’s look at a few places you can cross-sell to increase average order value and revenue for your ecommerce store.

Cross-selling with a ‘thank you’ page

The page that you take your customers to when they complete the purchase is the first and most obvious opportunity to cross-sell. 

Thank you pages are virtually obligatory and while it can certainly be a simple ‘Thank you for the purchase, hope to see you again’ message, you might consider aiming for more complex and engaging content instead. 

Below, you’ll see one example from an online cosmetics store that shows how they engage customers on a thank you page.

Once a customer purchases a product, this store offers a discount coupon they can use for their next order. In the context of this store, offering a coupon makes a lot of sense since cosmetics products are perishable and there is a high likelihood a customer will need to purchase additional quantities soon. By offering a discount, you can increase customer loyalty and cause them to return for more. The store could, however, add some sense of urgency by making the offer time constrained, so a customer motivation could be increased.

Cross-selling via coupons

Once a customer completes the purchase, you can offer them a coupon with a fixed amount or percentage off any products your store carries. By giving the customer an opportunity to buy more products, you increase the likelihood they actually will

It’s also a good idea to put an expiration date on this offer, as the scarcity around a limited time offer is proven drive action. Time limitation on coupons will create a perception of urgency and provide an additional nudge to motivate your customer to buy. 

Forever21 uses an offer that has an expiration date.

You can also point out an item related to a product your customers bought and increase the likelihood your customer will buy something else even more. 

For example: If your store sells linen, and your customer has purchased of a sheet, you could offer a coupon for a pillowcase that matches the sheet.


If you sell products that customers use on a regular basis, you might offer your customers a deal on replacement/re-stock items.

For example: A company selling espresso machines may offer a recurring subscription of coffee capsules. 

How BestBuy sells replacement ink cartridges for a printer as a cross-sell

While you can do this automatically (most retailers do), you can go a step further and make it even more likely your customer will continue to buy from your store.

By tracking what your customers orders, you can offer them more personalized suggestions for related items. If you notice they prefer certain types of coffee (for example from Kenya or Brazil), you can offer those first. You can personalize even more and track how often your customer makes replenishments and offer them in a timely manner via a subscription model.

Get Social

You can use your thank you page as an invitation to your online communities. Using again our hypothetical photo store example, they might leverage their Instagram account and invite customers to share the photos they took using their new cameras. You can also use social channels to demonstrate real-life uses of the products you sell (and emphasize testimonials with visual proof.) An example of how you can do this is how MeUndies does it with their Instagram content.

Properly executed, a social strategy can help your website not only increase a social proof, leverage user-generated content, and attract new customers, but it can also cross-sell to your existing customers.

Maximize the ‘thank you’ email

When a customer makes a purchase on your site, you often send a follow-up email. 

This email is a courtesy call, thanking them for deciding to buy from you. You can make a practice of contacting your customers (at least initially) and welcome them to the community of your customers. Through email, you can address the customers in even more personal terms. 

A thank you email to every customer who makes the first purchase on your website will help you establish a personal relationship with them.

Home Depot sends a ‘Thank You’ email offering an opportunity to buy related products

You can also ask your customers how they liked the product and to offer feedback in the form of customer research survey, or to get your customers to register for a rewards program.

Ask customers to provide a review

Email can be used to get a review of the product your customer purchased. 

While this doesn’t directly lead to a cross-sell, you will engage a customer further—and when they review the product, you can use the review as a social proof. Each time a customer buys something and reviews the product, they will provide the information you can use to offer them a personalized cross-selling opportunity.

For maximum effect, this type of email should not be sent immediately (since your customer will probably have to wait for a few days for a product to reach them or use the product and form an opinion about it.) Try to time these emails for the perfect post-purchase follow-up.

Joyus ‘Thank You' Email

The email should have a simple subject and should unmistakably be identified with their recent purchase. Getting a feedback from your customers serves three purposes:

  • Serves as a form of social proof
  • Provides you with a view of customers’ minds
  • Helps you collect more data on customers, enabling you to increase personalization and make cross-selling easier 

Use the ‘thank you’ email to show related products

Of course, your thank you email wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t offer your customer a chance to buy another product from you. 

Since you’re addressing existing customers in these messages, you can offer relevant products to your customer (because you already know what they like.) When you offer a relevant product to your existing customers through email, they’ll be more likely to purchase. The research has shown that offering relevant products through a thank you email has 111% (2X) the conversion rate.

Relevancy of your cross-selling offer can be increased by phrasing it in terms:

  • Customers who purchased this product also bought product X
  • Customers frequently buy these products together (with the list of relevant products)
  • A customer has viewed (shown interest in) X, Y and Z products or left them in the cart

You can also suggest popular products from the same category, but you need to take special care to make them as relevant as possible. 

For example: If your customer has already purchased a digital camera, don’t try to offer them another digital camera. Try to keep recommendations relevant and instead show different tripods, lenses, memory cards, or photo printers.

Offer product bundles

When a customer demonstrates a desire to purchase, you can use that momentum to show them how they can get the product they want and related items - together. 

A practical example would be selling purses and offering matching shoes in a bundle, with a reduced price, compared to buying the two items separately. By offering those items as a bundle, you entice the customer to buy both at once. 

You can also consider the way Amazon sells books (or for that matter, any other item you can buy there). They show how you can purchase the book you put in the cart and suggest a few other items that complement the content of your initial purchase.

B&H photo offers bundles for digital cameras

Bundles are a great way to achieve cross-selling because your prospect has already all but purchased the item they want. If you offer them a relevant and affordable bundle at this important moment, they’re more likely to buy.

Entrepreneur writer Jay Lagard backed this up in a recent article on bundling:

Customers buy online to achieve the most convenient shopping experience possible. Through the creation of kits, merchants help consumers find more of what they want (with less effort). The net result yields happier customers and more successful eCommerce entrepreneurs.” 

Additional cross-selling resources

When a customer completes a purchase, you can always use this opportunity to increase their engagement with your website even more. 

One way to achieve this is to present helpful resources that can lead the customer to make better use of the item they purchased. 

Consider, for example, a site that sells cameras and other equipment for photography. A customer may navigate to the site with intention of buying a digital camera. If the site does its job, this person will become a customer. Once they buy, the store can use a thank you page to lead them to blog posts or how-to content on the site and engage them even more. The site might also show customers the most efficient ways or fun ways to use the product they just bought, recommending a bag to carry it in or an additional lens.

You can promote these types of cross-sells with your content and present it on the thank you page. By providing useful tips and tricks for your customer, you can keep them on your website and preempt them from searching out solutions online. The main idea is to make your site the best source for any information concerning your products and their use.

To do this well, collect feedback and find out what content you need to provide for your customers. This might mean adding a question in your post-purchase survey asking what your customer intends to use the product for. You can also analyze what content on your site the customer has been sought out after a purchase.

Keep in mind that you must also correctly identify the products that will work well for cross-selling. To effectively cross-sell, you need to offer a product that does not increase the final price too much. Some consider anything that brings the price up more than 25% is not effective. 

Final Words on Cross-Selling

Cross-selling is a very effective technique to increase your revenue and sales. As we noted, leveraging this strategy makes it a lot easier for your customer to get what they want (and in some cases to get what they did not know they wanted.)

Use it to increase average order value within your ecommerce store and to expand your customer relationships.

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