NEW YORK -- As every penny counts, businesses are asking front-line workers to step up efforts to "upsell," to persuade a buyer to take an extra or two that adds to their transaction.
The tried-and-true retail tactic helps McDonald's sell millions more fries each year. Approaches can be modest — like McDonald's "Would you like fries with that?" — or more pushy — such as the waiter asking for the third time whether you want another glass of wine.
As long as it does not alienate customers, the technique can add to the bottom line.
Southwest has gained $100 million in annual revenue with an upsell to its Business Select-class fliers. For $20, up to 15 of them can buy their way to the front of the line for first crack at Southwest's non-reserved seats and carry-on space. They also get frequent flier credit and a cocktail.
"Technically it's an upsell to our Business Select fliers. We wanted to add value rather than slap on a fee for everyone. But the reason was to boost revenue" says Beth Harbin, Southwest's spokeswoman.
That kind of sell works better than a pushier approach, says marketing expert Steve McKee.
"If you are putting customer needs first and being sensitive to what people need in this environment, it can help you," says McKee, author of When Growth Stalls: How It Happens, Why You're Stuck & What To Do About It. "You can sense when someone is trying to upsell you vs. when someone is trying to meet your needs. In this environment, people are going to be ultrasensitive to someone who is trying to take money out of your pocket."
Some other examples:
•Old Navy. The 1,000-store retail chain's "Steal that Look" effort trains workers to put together and sell customers on an entire outfit of apparel, shoes and accessories. They are given scripts "so it's not so robotic and trains them to have more targeted talking points," says spokeswoman Louise Callagy. The goal is "to engage customers more directly while they are in stores to improve overall sales."
•Hudson News. The chain is using Dasani bottled water, a top-seller at its 400 newsstands in stations and airports, to add sales by asking buyers of other items, "Do you want water with that?"
"We started it at the end of last year when the economic crisis really started to rear its little head," says spokeswoman Laura Samuels. "We started to look for things that would be beneficial for customers and increase our bottom line."
There are 15% to 20% fewer shoppers, she says, but they are spending more. "That's a lot of, 'Do you want bottled water?' "
Not everyone, however, thinks "upsell" is the best strategy.
T.G.I. Friday's trains workers to push its loyalty program of discounts and promotions for regulars.
"By recognizing (regulars) in ways they appreciate, we increase their frequency of visits," says Andrew Jordan, chief marketing officer.
The added payoff, says Jordan: Regulars "spend significantly more per average check."