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?

  • 6
    Maybe we should have: "originalResearch.stackexchange"? For this sort of investigation!
    – Nick
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 15:02
  • 5
    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.
    – user11643
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 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
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 17:36
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    @JRE Most consumers aren't as fussy and easily aggravated as you.
    – user11643
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 18:04
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    I imagine there's a large gulf in effectiveness between "good" upselling (small, related items) and "bad" upselling (unrelated items that just happen to be there). A study that measures effectiveness would likely be for a specific add-on sale type, and thus not accurately depict the situation for the entire category. The intuitive answer is that sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts, but it mostly depends on the salesperson and product(s).
    – Is Begot
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 20:57

1 Answer 1



But not always.

Pandya and Dhilakia's 2021 meta-anaylsis of 40 research papers says:

Effectiveness of upselling programme can be achieved by providing the right offer to the right customer at right time to ensure profitability and Customer loyalty together. From the study the researchers have inferred that by trying to sell something which is not relevant to the customers or if the timing is not proper of offering the augmented product, that can affect adversely to the brand image for which customer may doubt the credibility and may switchover to the alternatives.

Which happened to you.

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