Upsell vs. cross-sell: What's the difference and how can you use them effectively?

Upselling or cross-selling are two of the smartest things you can do as an ecommerce brand.


Because they can increase your AOV and LTV without your team doing any additional marketing work or adding marketing spend.

Upsells and cross-sells can be implemented at many different stages of the customer journey through your website: On the product page, the checkout page, after the checkout page (but before the thank-you page), or through an email post-purchase. 

No matter when you're implementing upsells or cross-sells, they work by helping your customer add items to their cart that will enhance their current selection. This is not only beneficial for your AOV, but it also increases the likelihood that your customer will get full use and benefits from their purchase. In turn, this leads to a better customer experience and repeat customers.

Making the decision to start an upsell or cross-sell strategy is easy. But then comes the real challenge: What strategy do you use?

Do you opt for a true upsell? Or do you go with an Amazon-style cross-sell

In this article, we're exploring the difference between upsells and cross-sells and helping you determine which is best for your Shopify store. 

Upsell vs. cross-sell: what's the difference? 

The difference between an upsell and a cross-sell is this:

An upsell aims to get the customer to add another item (or more of the same item) with the goal of increasing average order value. A cross-sell aims to get the customer to add to their current cart with a complementary product (e.g. products that should be used together). 

In both cases, the order value of the customer's cart goes up, making it a win for your store. 

Let's take a look at real-life examples of upsells vs. cross-sells. 

Upsell vs. cross-sell examples

For a traditional upsell example, check out luggage brand Away. On the product page for their regular-sized carry-on bag, a button invites customers to consider instead their "Bigger Carry-On," for a higher price:

For a good cross-sell example, CBD company Indica Dreams invites customers to add complementary items to their cart at checkout. For instance, having a CBD oil tincture in the cart triggers an offer to add CBD pre-rolls to the cart: 

Types of upsells and cross-sells (and when they occur)

There are several opportunities to offer an upsell or a cross-sell to customers as they shop online. Let's take a look at the most common types:

Pre-purchase, on the product page

The first place to suggest an upsell is on the product page, right after the customer has added the product to their cart. At this point, it feels natural to suggest an additional item to add.

For example, Physician's Choice implements a pop-up offer for the customer to add two more bottles (for a discount) right after someone adds one of the item to their cart: 


During checkout, on the checkout page

The next place to offer an upsell or cross-sell is on the checkout page before the purchase is completed. This feels like the online version of including magazines and candy bars (impulse purchases) next to the checkout line at a physical store. 

For example, 100% PURE offers customers an upsell to add a 0.3 oz eye cream (a small purchase) to their cart on the checkout page:

After checkout, before the thank-you page

This is the first opportunity to offer a post-purchase upsell. Post-purchase upsells are ideal for merchants who don't want to put the original purchase in jeopardy by overwhelming shoppers with offers. Instead, the offer comes after the initial purchase is completed, but still early enough to feel relevant and be completed in just one click.

For example, CartHook's test store, Canopy, shows what the post-purchase upsell page would look like, right before the thank you page:

After the purchase, in an email sequence

The final opportunity to upsell is after the purchase in an email sequence. Customers will likely be checking their email for a confirmation, so it's a good time to include an upsell in the thank-you/confirmation email.

For example, Yoga Accessories sends this thank-you email to customers, which includes a few upsell items at the bottom: 

How to strategically use upsells and cross-sells for your Shopify store

As we've seen, there are multiple opportunities to implement upsells or cross-sells on your store. Many brands start with one simple upsell or cross-sell to see how it performs. 

But you can also create an upsell strategy that includes more than one upsell or cross-sell—at different points in the customer journey. A full-fledged strategy like this will increase the chances that a customer will take your upsell or cross-sell.

Example upsell vs. cross-sell strategy

Let's take a look at a sustainable paper goods company, Who Gives a Crap, for an example of a successful strategy. The company makes good use of both upsell and cross-sell strategies at different points in the customer journey. 

When a customer clicks to add toilet paper to their cart, they receive a targeted cross-sell, asking them to add complementary products, like paper towels and tissues. At this stage, a cross-sell makes sense. The customer hasn't gone to the checkout page yet, so they're likely still in shopping mode and may be receptive to an invitation to add other products.

But once the customer gets to the checkout page, the strategy switches to an upsell, inviting customers to upgrade to a subscription and save $10 in the process. At this point, the customer is less likely to add something entirely new to their cart, but they may be interested in an upgraded version of their current items. 

Ultimately, the answer to, "Should I do an upsell or a cross-sell?" largely depends on the answer to the following question:

Do you have complementary products? Some stores have products that don't make sense to be used together. This can make a cross-sell trickier. So, if you don't have complementary products, your best option is to simply upsell additional items.

If you can do both an upsell and a cross-sell, the best option could be to combine them, like our example above. When in doubt, test different options and track which performs better for your store.

Start using upsells and cross-sells today 

As you've seen, upsells and cross-sells are easy, fast ways to start increasing your AOV and LTV. The right strategy for your store is likely a combination of each of these.

To implement your upsell or cross-sell strategy in a seamless way with your Shopify checkout, try implementing them post-purchase (after checkout but before the thank-you page). 

This period is perfect for introducing urgency to your offers because it's the only time the customer has access to the offer. Additionally, a post-purchase upsell will never compete with the original purchase, ensuring that the customer completes their checkout without decision overwhelm.

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