Suggestive selling (or "on-selling" or "up-selling") is a technique employed by a sales clerk with the goal of increasing the total sale amount (basket size). The classic example is the McDonalds' cashier saying "Would you like fries with that?" Fries, being a legitimate related item, are a valid "up-sell" on a lunch order.

This Independent Retailer article makes the claim:

The lesson here is that suggestive selling not only works, but can add significant percentage to store sales volume and margin. When practiced consistently, suggestive selling not only adds additional sales and profits, but also demonstrates improved service and therefore VALUE to the customer.

It's intuitively that it could be helpful in certain establishments such as restaurants ("May I suggest a glass of our 40 year old port with that cheese platter?") or clothing stores ("This tie would go perfectly with that suit.") as the salesperson is suggesting legitimate upgrades to the purchase.

However, I've noticed that recently there is a trend in gas stations to suggestive sell unrelated items for every transaction. If I go into the gas station to buy a pack of gum, I'm persistently asked "Would you like fresh coffee or Lotto with that?"

I can't be the only person that finds it annoying. In fact, I've stopped buying my gum at the gas station. I'll actually make another stop at a variety store.

This Restaurant Doctor article, Building Sales Without Selling, seems to support my view that S.S. can be detrimental (for restaurants, at least).

Does evidence support this sales technique for retail?

I would like to see a study that examines average basket size with and without small item suggestive selling. Furthermore, we should examine total customer count with and without the up-selling technique. Does average basket size increase? Does customer count decrease? and how does this relate to total revenue?

  • 5
    Maybe we should have: "originalResearch.stackexchange"? For this sort of investigation!
    – Nick
    Sep 13 '12 at 15:02
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    @ChrisCudmore I meant more for posting interesting things to investigate, even if they weren't a "notable" claim and so not permitted here. Then use that to try to organise people to carry out the required research, eg shop keepers in this example. This is getting a bit offtopic though, and since you have found evidence of it being a notable claim unnecessary in this case.
    – Nick
    Sep 13 '12 at 15:13
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    As a guy who sells stuff, I know it works. Knowing McDonald's has about a billion transactions a day, I know they have enough data to determine statistically what the effect is, so if they're still doing it it's safe to assume it works.
    – fredsbend
    Feb 23 '19 at 16:51
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    @Fredsbend: As a person who buys stuff, if you try it on me I will not buy in your store again. There are gas stations I will not go to anymore. "Do you want a sandwich to go with that tank of gas?" Nope. I want gas.
    – JRE
    Feb 23 '19 at 17:36
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    @JRE Most consumers aren't as fussy and easily aggravated as you.
    – fredsbend
    Feb 23 '19 at 18:04

Anecdotal but yes

As a teenager I worked in a shop in a theme park. One of the items we stocked were 'Map Pens' which were a ballpoint pen with a map of the park you could pull out. They were useless as pens and useless as maps and they cost £5. Safe to say the sales numbers on them were close to zero, the particular shop I was in made 2 sales in one month and these things were clogging up the stock room. Because of this they were picked as our 'Upsell Item', every time someone bought something we had to go "Can I interest you in a map pen?". I scoffed when this was suggested but it really did work. I don't remember specific numbers at this point but I would say it worked around 5% of the time(More so on item sales as opposed to food and drink). 5% isn't much but when your serving hundreds of customers a day the numbers start to add up.

As an adult I'm a Data scientist and have shown(Not that I can share the results) that this technique also works in 'Trade' businesses. We would up-sell common trade essentials at checkouts in store and online and they would regularly be in our top sales numbers.

Up-selling as a technique works, just like 'guilty checkouts' and eye level fixtures. That's why its a staple of all major businesses. That doesn't mean it ALWAYS works, the effectiveness is going to differ based on your clientele, what they are buying and what you are trying to add to that order. Yes I would like a footstool with my sofa, Yes I would like bacon with my cheeseburger, No I don't want cigarettes with my baby formula.

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