A Rant on Upselling

April 21, 2009

  • At Best Buy it might be a statement from a sales associate along the lines of, “And you’ll be taking the purchase protection plan with the memory card you’re buying for just $9.99 more.
  • At Wendy’s, when ordering a chicken nuggets combo meal, the cashier may ask “Medium or large, sir?” to try to catch me off guard, perhaps making me belive that only two sizes (medium or large) are available rather than the three that actually are (small, medium, and large).  Major deception in my book, and the well-known Consumerist has already reported on this practice.
  • At Quiznos, the cashiers will persistently ask everyone about to pay for just a sub a leading question along the lines of “You’ll be making that a combo today, right?
  • The Tripso travel blog reports on clever upselling techniques employed by United Airlines, where flight attendants use portable credit card machines to let people upgrade their original seating choice to a more premium seat even after the flight has already taken off!
  • At a Staples in Newark, Delaware a few months ago, I wanted to buy an external hard drive that was on a clearance sale for $17 (originally priced at $100).  The drive was out of stock, but the sales person of course brought out another hard drive from the back room retaling for close to $100.  I was not interested, and the store was probably annoyed that I didn’t fall for the bait and switch.

If there’s one activity done by businesses that has the potential to infuriate me more than any other, it’s upselling.  I find it to be extremely objectionable.  For one, the upselling tactics often use psychological appeals based on guilt and power.  When you are at the front of a long line and you’re being upsold to, you might be more likely to agree due to the potential for “looking bad” in some way to the people immediately behind you in line.  Second, the upselling attempts take some amount of time (albeit perhaps only a few seconds, but still) to complete, and there should never, ever, ever be an instance when a customer who is not being dealt with at the moment has to wait even a second longer for help because the sales person is trying to upsell another customer.  Third, agreement by customers to upsell attemps has the potential to interfere with budgeting and money management activities, contributing to the debt carried by some people.

Undoubtedly many of you have been upsold before in a retail setting.

I’m contemplating cancelling my entire purchase attempt the next time someone tries to upsell me something.  “You know what, not only am I not interested in the warranty, I’m not going to be buying this item either.  I’m going home and I’ll buy it from Amazon.com instead.  Thank you for your time and have a nice day!” is an example of the phrasing I might use.   Said loud enough, it might make other people within earshot think about thier shopping experiences as well and might lead to a revenue decline at stores that employ these practices, making them reconsider their operations.