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June 2010 | Vol. IX - No. 6
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Retailing Tips: How and When to Upsell Customers

Raise the Value of Each Sale Without Alienating Shoppers


Specialty toy retailers walk a fine line when it comes to upselling customers. While it’s important to make as much money as possible on every transaction, it’s also important to maintain the intimate bonds of trust that help independent stores differentiate themselves from mass-market retailers.

Upselling, though, when done correctly, can add to your sales and further strengthen your relationship with the people who patronize your store. Here are six tips:

1. Sell customers what they need. If you sell a customer an RC toy that requires batteries and she doesn’t have batteries at home and your salesperson did not offer them as an “upsell,” you actually harm your relationship with that customer. Offering logical add-ons that make someone’s purchase more complete is the easiest form of upselling.

Cathy Albrow, owner of Creative Learning Toys in Grand Rapids, Mich., has made upselling in this fashion something her staff does daily. “We talk about items and give good information,” she told TDmonthly Magazine. “We have an experienced staff that knows what goes together. Of course, we also tell a customer when they are making a mistake or buying the wrong item.”

2. Train your staff. Since a lot of upselling is knowing what items go together, it’s important for your counter and floor staff to be well educated.

“We always add on. With models, you need paint, etc., with trains you need track, we always suggest items,” said Robin Ellerman of Trains-N-Toys in North Canton, Ohio. Ellerman said her staff is trained so they know what goes together and what enhances the play experience. “We just make suggestions to make the toys a better playing value.”

3. Upselling is not a “dirty” or sinister practice. The only upselling done at Pun’s Toy Shop in Bryn Mawr, Pa., according to Owner Joe Berardoni, Sr., is when a sales associate forgets an item and another suggests it. “We take a low-pressure approach,” he explained.

Upselling, though, does not have to be about pressuring customers into buying things they don’t want.

4. Sometimes customers don’t know what they need.
Barbara Paeth-Haas, owner of The Durango Kid in Durango, Colo., avoids upselling, she said, because she is not comfortable selling a customer something they might not need and might regret.

It is important for long-term customer relationships to not push someone into breaking the bank on an item they may not really want. But, you know your customers and you know your product. While a customer may not need an item, you should be able to judge when he wants an item and will be happy with it — even if he didn’t come in looking to buy it.

5. The upsell can be about something you believe in. Upselling isn’t always about adding on to a sale. Sometimes, it’s a question of leading a customer into buying a higher priced item that you truly believe in.

“An example that happens regularly is the Nic CombiCar,” said Dean Ruggierio Smith, co-owner of Jazams in Pennington, N.J. “It's a $250 retail item, but in our view, it’s the best scooter toy that's ever been made. Customers come in looking for a scoot toy. They're looking for a plastic digger or something like a PlasmaCar for a 2-year-old, and for some 2-year-olds that’s a little bit difficult to operate. She directs them to the CombiCar.”

6. Upselling should be a positive experience. “Upselling should be a process of helping people to purchase additional services or products that they already need, or will be needing, saving them time in the long run,” Bill Bartmann, a member of Entrepreneur magazine hall of fame, told TDmonthly. “After all, if they are going to need it anyway, they are going to go somewhere for it. It may as well be to you.”

Bartmann also stressed that the ability to upsell comes from your relationship with your customer in the first place.

“The more you get to know your customer, their business and personal needs and how they operate every day, the more you will be able to get a good idea of what they will need,” he explained. “By knowing this, you will be able to come up with a good concept of what items you may be able to up sell to them that will be useful.”



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Daniel B. KlineWriter's Bio: Writer and editor Daniel Kline has contributed to numerous men’s periodicals, served as the editor of a daily newspaper in Connecticut, and spent two years as the general manager of Time Machine Hobby, New England's largest toy and hobby store. Along with Jason Tomaszewski, Kline is the author of "50 Things Every Guy Should Know How To Do" (Plume) and the upcoming "Worst Ideas Ever." He has also served as the top editor for mass-market, pop-culture-driven websites including Uproar.com and Backslap.com, a humor site funded by Pearson Television. His syndicated newspaper column appears in more than 100 papers weekly. Read more articles by this author

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