Merchant Cross-Selling Offers Walk Fine Line Between Creepy And Just Right

Attempts at cross-selling and upselling consumers are as easy as they are bungled. One irrelevant offer that’s either out of step with a consumer’s wants or veers into the realm of pestering can ruin an otherwise good relationship and reduce the likelihood of future sales — resulting in the exact opposite outcome of what was intended.

It’s a scenario Chief Technology Officer Brett McLaughlin said has affected him personally when a simple purchase of cheap sunglasses to take on vacation triggered weeks of daily text message offers that ultimately drove him away.

It’s a problem that becomes worse for subscription services, noted McLaughlin. The wrong attempt at upselling or cross-selling ends up being the negative poke that pushes the consumer to hit the pause or quit button out of annoyance.

It’s clearly a high-stakes gambit, but it is also a problem that brands can solve with the use of better data, as well as one that is likely an easier fix than they might have expected.

“That’s the trick with data science: The more you try to figure out the user, the more you learn — but there’s a point when there are diminishing returns, and you realize you can’t model everybody,” explained McLaughlin. “And we’re learning that there’s enough disparity in what people want, that it’s very hard to say this model is the best model, as much as I want it to be.”

A Polarized Environment

When it comes to upselling and cross-selling, there is almost no neutral ground, McLaughlin noted, as there are almost no users who react neutrally to these events.

Consumers either see the offer as something they want, which connects them to something they are enthusiastic about getting, or they aren’t interested at all and are almost universally annoyed.

The risk to the merchant isn’t just that they fail to make the upsell, but that the consumer ends the transaction or relationship entirely.

“We’re finding that there is no point more stressful than the point of sale,” said McLaughlin. “Everybody in the industry knows this because that’s where they’re spending all their money and dollars. We’re trying to get across that this is not a situation where you have a free shot.”

Data is a part of a solution to the problem, but it’s not a magic wand. There is no perfect data input that will result in the output of the perfect solution every time. That’s not how human consumers work, said McLaughlin, and data isn’t capable of perfectly forecasting the future. But when leveraging data properly while also protecting customers’ privacy, he noted, merchants will hit more than they miss.

Building The Data-Driven Path

Data isn’t a silver bullet solution for all decisions. Still, by leveraging it better, and other similar providers can help merchants access targeted cross-selling that takes a deeper look at consumers’ purchasing patterns across a wide swath of merchants.

“Typically, this is sort of like a ‘non-creepy’ Facebook,” McLaughlin noted. “We’re not storing that individual’s preferences as much as we’re gleaning a little bit about their purchase and we’re relating it to similar purchases made on similar sites by similar profiles — not the individual’s Instagram use, but what people who buy this item typically want.”

It’s a broader look at everyone, and it will become increasingly important for merchants that want to leverage data to build from a single sale to an ongoing relationship between a consumer and a brand.

“It all comes down to a thousand iterations of the same problem,” said McLaughlin. “How well do I know my user, and how do I make sure that everything they experience is pleasurable to them, so they want to come back?”