January 2nd, 2008 | 9 MIN READ

Cross-Selling Tips for Online Retailers

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Cross-SellingCross-selling (offering items related to the product like accessories and warranties) and up-selling (suggesting more expensive alternatives) are effective merchandising tools both online and offline. You could think of cross-selling as an etailer's answer to "would you like fries with that?"

Cross-Selling and up-selling have a number of benefits, and can increase:

  • average order value
  • conversion rates by guiding customers to appropriate alternatives if a product they're viewing isn't right
  • exposure for high margin items
  • customer satisfaction by suggesting related items to enhance or augment the product and user experience
  • awareness about the depth of your product offering

There are many places on your website where you can cross-sell, the most common being the product page and on the view cart page - right before checkout. You can also cross-sell on the home page (if you logged a user's last visit or they sign in) or in a post-purchase email. Today we'll just focus on the product pages and view cart.

Not all retailers use cross-selling in both areas, some only cross-sell on the product pages to avoid confusion, indecision and cart abandonment upon checkout. It's important to cross-sell wisely on view cart pages as this is a valid concern - let's look at some dos and don'ts for both product pages and view cart pages, and then dig into some real life examples from top retailers.

Cross-Selling Dos

  • Show relevant items whether they are accessories or alternatives to the same product
  • Show larger sizes or other same-product up-sells when possible (Example: Tiger Direct)
  • Use personal words like "you" rather than "we" - "You Might Also Like" vs. "We Suggest"
  • Use emotional words like "need" and "want" (Examples: Palm.com "Need accessories?" and McDonald's "Do you want fries with that?")
  • Use words like "Special Offers," "Special Offers for You" or "Great Deals" to communicate savings and value
  • Create urgency with "Limited Time Offer" or "Limited Quantities" (Example: Tiger Direct)
  • Do save your sale / low margin items for the view cart page. Show regular priced / high margin alternatives from the product pages.
  • Make it easy to return to the product page after you add a suggested item - even better to keep shopper on the product page but clearly let the shopper know an item was added to the cart
  • Offer a mix of price points when suggesting items on the view cart page
  • Show "no brainers" like gift cards, warranties, batteries et cetera that are easily understood by the customer, don't require a click away from the page and are easy sellers
  • Offer discounts on one item when you buy another item on the "view cart/bag/basket" page (Examples: Blue Nile and Macy's)
  • Provide enough detail on add-ons (thumbnail, price and description) so customer is less likely to click away from cart page
  • Let the customer check off add-ons from the view cart page rather than buttons for each product. Customers may think adding a product to the cart will take them away from the cart page and they'll get lost (Example: Palm.com)
  • It's a good idea to show "top rated" suggestions along with review content to build trust and catch interest. I haven't found an example of this, please comment if you've seen one

Cross-Selling Don'ts

  • Don't show random items totally unrelated to the product (Guilty: Sharper Image)
  • Don't clutter your page with every offer you have (Guilty: Tiger Direct)
  • Don't suggest competing products on the view cart page - this only encourages indecisiveness and can ruin your conversion
  • Don't show out-of-stock items unless backorders are available


  • If you suggest competing products (alternatives) of lower margin on the product page, you might save a sale if the customer thinks the product he's viewing is too pricey. You might think this is good customer service but most customers are savvy enough to return to your category page to find cheaper models. And if you're using filtered navigation, refining the search by price is very easy for the customer. The bigger risk is showing cheaper products to a customer who would otherwise add the more expensive viewed item to the cart. You don't want to encourage that.
  • Should you show different suggestions on the product and the view cart page? One one hand, the customer may have noticed a suggested product, added the item she was viewing to the cart with the intention of going back to the product page to check out those accessories. If you start showing completely different cross-sells (Guilty: Tiger Direct) this can be confusing. On the other hand, you may switch from upsell / related product suggestions on the product page to no-brainer impulse items like gift cards, warranties or batteries.
  • Should you show very expensive items when an inexpensive item is in the cart? Common sense would tell you that someone buying a $20 mp3 player being interested in a $4,000 stereo system as an impulse buy is a long shot. Yet, some still try (Guilty: Tiger Direct).
  • What's the best placement? Along the side, along the bottom? Above or below the fold? Depends on your design. Suggestions below the fold are more likely to be missed, but this depends also on how long the product detail page is. Some cross-sells may appear above the fold for some and below on others. My recommendation would be the right hand sidebar, close to the top (easy to see) but it's not an absolute must.
  • Is it absolutely evil to force your customers to view a cross-sell before checkout using a pop-over? Most usability experts would scream YES - don't add an extra click for a customer at any cost. You may annoy customers, but is that enough to cause someone to abandon the order altogether? If this is a profitable strategy, should you care what some users think? (On Trial: Victoria's Secret. Jury's out, see below)

Cross-Selling Tactics of Top Online Retailers

Victoria's Secret

When you add an item to the shopping bag on Victoria's Secret, instead of taking you to the shopping bag page, you land on a cross-sell page. You are reminded of exactly what item you added to the shopping bag, but you are immediately shown additional items from the same category to keep you browsing. You can check your shopping bag at any time.

Victoria Secret Add To Bag

When you are ready to view your shopping bag, Victoria's Secret gets a bit more aggressive. Something like this will float down from the top of your screen (popover) and cover your shopping bag until you close it:

Victoria Secret Popover

And if you end up adding that offer to your shopping bag, you'll get a different offer falling from the sky the next time you view your bag. A bit annoying, but you have to admit - it commands attention, and it just might convert better. (I'll check back in a couple months and see if VS still uses these popovers.)

Bed, Bath & Beyond

Good idea - offer a mix of price points. Bad idea - offer random, unrelated products and call them "Last Minute Items."

For a $7.99 popcorn gift tub, Bed, Bath & Beyond includes a mix of cross-sell price points: $7.99, $14.99, $17.99, $29.99 and $59.99. But the wording "Last Minute Items" seems a bit bizarre - last minute for what? And the products don't seem to be related to the item in the cart - a dining chair, a barbecue set and an emergency radio?

Last Minute Items


J.Jill reminds customers of gift cards on every product page, along with cross-sells. The shopping bag page has no cross-sells.

J.Jill Gift Card

J. Crew

J.Crew has a great "return to shopping" navigation aide - after adding an item to the cart, a shopper might not want to go back to that item, but rather go back to a category related to that product:

J Crew Return To Shopping


Tiger Direct

Tiger Direct does a nice job of creating urgency at the bottom of its product pages:

Tiger Direct Deals

But overall, Tiger Direct tries to pack way too much into its cluttered design. Offering the top selling items in the category down the left side, an upsell and more recommendations (accessories) down the right side, and special daily deals at the bottom, it's hard for customers to hone in on anything.

Tiger Direct Product Page

Oh hi, are you still here? The product information and review content is excellent, nothing wrong with a long page. But I lost track on how many calls-to-action are duking it out on this page, especially near the top. (The product I was viewing was actually suggested again in the top seller area and daily deals at the lower price point - the 1GB version. This is unnecessary, redundant and confusing to the customer).

A better approach may be to show the up-sell item and a few top selling alternatives to the product being viewed on the product page, and suggest no-brainer accessories / complementary products right before the checkout page. On the other hand the customer gets an overview of every other product offered and doesn't need to start navigating again. What do you think is the better approach?

Tiger Direct does have a nice up-sell amidst the clutter. For a $19.99 1GB mp3 player, Tiger Direct suggests the same 2GB model for "only $15 more":

Tiger Direct Upsell


Before you can check out on Palm.com you must bypass a cross-sell page. I think Palm does this well because even though it's interrupting you, it shows you items (there's actually seven) that are directly related to your product/model and may make your user experience much more enjoyable (including Sudoku software). And by phrasing it "Need Warranty Or Accessories?" it sounds like a helpful salesperson.

Palm Need List

But I think Palm could improve this by changing "To add a warranty or accessories to your order, click the selection box for each item you'd like. Then click Continue." to something like "You may also be interested in additional items that will enhance or protect your [insert product here]. Check any item you'd like to add, or just click continue to complete your purchase."

Blue Nile

Blue Nile uses "special offers" on the shopping basket page. This word choice implies additional savings or some other exclusive value.

Blue Nile Special Offers

The three offers when a bracelet are added to the basket are:

1) Another silver bracelet that is only $15 when you buy something else. The item is a great bargain, and because another item must be purchased to qualify for the sale, it does not encourage the customer to change his or her mind to spend less money on a similar product.

2) A link to the silver cleaning product category page, where there are 3 inexpensive items that are highly relevant to the item in the shopping basket and will enhance the user's experience with the product.

3) A free "gift card" which one might expect is a gift voucher but really is a free card you can personalize and send with a gift. Though this does not add to the order, it does give customers the warm fuzzies that you're doing them a favor. Good for the overall shopping experience.


Like Blue Nile, Macy's has a special deal with purchase - a Christmas Shrek doll. The placement of this offer in the top right is hard to miss, and the red text indicates a sale, even before you read the offer. Macy also chooses "Your Offers," "Special Offer" and "Your Price" which sound more personal / exclusive.

The Sharper Image

Back in April, Jason posted a hilarious example of bad cross-selling, where The Sharper Image suggested a wet/dry shaver to go with a RipStik Caster Board.

Sharper Image RipStik

Wacky Sharper Image Cross-Selling

"Honey, do you think Billy's ready for a wet-dry shaver?"

Suggested items for this product have since improved, but it's gonna be hard to live this one down.

What Do You Think?

Cross-selling strategies can be controversial. What do you think as a customer or as a marketer about cross-selling on the view cart page? Does it distract users from completing the sale? Does it help customers by pointing out related items? Have you had success with cross-selling you'd like to share? Drop a comment!

Looking for more ecommerce tips? Check out our video ecommerce tips (updated weekly) or our Twitter stream @elasticpath (updated daily).

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