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March 2015 | Vol. XIV - No. 3


Best Cross Selling Sales Tips for Retailers

Cross selling is the art of suggesting additional, complementary items to someone who has already decided on a purchase.

Think of restaurant servers who, when you order a piece of pie or cake, asks, “Do you want a scoop of vanilla ice cream with that?”

This example has been used for years and for good reason. It simply and elegantly illustrates the point and best practices of cross selling.

You’ve already decided you’re going to treat yourself. The server has made a sale. Then the voice comes back to ask if you want ice cream too. Why? Because they know that vanilla ice cream goes great with pie or cake. They’ve offered you additional value, while potentially earning themselves extra revenue...and a higher tip, don’t forget.

So, you think to yourself, “I like ice cream. Ice cream would be tasty right now. It’s only a little more money to get a lot more out of my order. Ok, I’ll go with the a la mode.” The server has successfully employed the necessary techniques for cross selling, and you’ve gotten an extra treat. Everybody wins.

How does this work in a retail business? While the products are significantly different, the techniques and approach are surprisingly similar.

Cross Selling Tips for Retailers

Cross selling is about getting the most out of the foot traffic that comes through your retail store. You want to maximize your per-customer sales, and you want to give your customers more bang for their buck.

Just as importantly, you want to increase your merchandise sales while the merchandise is new and before you may have to mark it down.

Cross selling isn’t about trickery or misdirection; it’s an honest effort to give customers valuable additions while earning extra revenue.

Here are four tips to get you started cross selling:

Know Your Pairings. Before a customer ever walks into the store, you should have a broad selection of complimentary items in your head. You obviously can’t pair every single item in the store, but you should have the general categories down pat. Shoes and handbags, ties and blazers, watches and cufflinks, and more. When somebody makes a purchase from one category, you should already be thinking about all the complementary categories for that item. If you are the manager, during down times, you can create scenarios and have your employees suggest their pairing of merchandise. Careful to make sure they justify what they selected and make them explain their logic.

Make it Relevant. Remember, cross selling only works when it provides additional value to the customer. This isn’t like buying two boxes of Girl Scout cookies so the young woman can go to summer camp. Keep your suggestions relevant to the initial purchase and the interests of the customer. The rapport you build with your customers before you ever get to the merchandise will help in this area. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about themselves and how they intend to use the merchandise. From there, you can choose which additional items are most relevant.

Showcase Items. Complementary items and common pairings should be prominently displayed on the sales floor. It’s easier to cross sell to customers from a display when they can clearly see how the pairings work together. If you have to walk across the store to find a blazer to match a tie, you’ll likely lose the customer along the way. Items that you frequently cross sell should be kept near each other. I can’t tell you how many retailers put socks, for example, across the store from the shoes and miss the easy cross sales.

Be reasonable. If a customer buys a $500 blazer, it makes sense to suggest a $50 tie; but if a customer buys a $50 tie, don’t try to sell them a $500 blazer. The suggested item shouldn’t exceed more than a certain percentage of the cost of the original item. Some put this figure at 25%, while others have a different number. You’ll find what works for your customers. Instead of that blazer, how about a nice $20 set of brass collar stays?

These cross selling or suggestive selling tips are some of the easiest selling techniques to use to raise average ticket. Why?

Simple, a customer who says yes is already ready to open their wallet. Another suggestion avoids the friction you had to overcome to get the first yes.

Use these selling techniques for everything you sell, and particularly on luxury brands the customers crave.

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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