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Upselling Your Customers Isn’t Salesy, It’s Great Customer Service

How could a retailer not upsell?




SPEAKING AT GLOBAL PET EXPO earlier this year about luring customers into your store using old-school marketing techniques, I asked at the end, “Now that you’re successfully luring customers to your store, how many of you upsell to your customers?” In the audience of 90 people, four people raised their hands, and two of those were from the same store. I was a dumbfounded at the lack of response. How could a retailer not upsell?

So, over the next month, I did some secret-shopping to see how upselling and customer service were going in our industry.

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One pet store that failed big time was a small chain retail store that also has self-service dog-wash stations. I brought my dog there after a muddy walk in the woods, and I was greeted nicely by one employee — “Hi, here for a bath?” — while paying attention to my dog. “Yes,” peering back to see there was a Husky in the middle bath who the owner was bathing. As I walked to the back of the store, the employee said, “The tub on the right is out of order, but the one of the left works.” But the tub on the left was too low for me to bathe my dog without hurting my back.

So I went back up to the front and said, “I think I am going to come back,” as my dog was wagging and begging for attention. “Oh, OK … your dog is so cute. Can I take a picture of him?” After the picture was taken, and more treats were given to my dog, I said it again, “I think I will come back.” And after a few moments of the employees — all three, including the manager, making a fuss over my dog — I left.

They let me leave the store! There were no other customers in the store. They just lost the sale of the bath — and a dog toy that I always purchase after the bath.

The employees could have educated me about products to solve my muddy dog problem before I walked out the door. How? Simple question: “Can I show you something?” She could have led me over to the aisle where they have products to help clean my dog — bath wipes, sprays, dog towels, even car-seat covers — and explained them to me.


Instead, they were more interested in taking pictures of my dog than helping me (the customer) solve the problem I had (a muddy pup). They could have upsold me products I didn’t know I needed, thus having a better profit than if I just washed my dog … which I wasn’t able to do in the first place.

Fantastic customer service could have been:

  • Offering to call me when the tub was free.
  • Scheduling an appointment for me — even though there is a first-come, first-serve policy. (Make an exception!)
  • Telling me to come a few minutes before they opened, to ensure a tub.
  • Offering to wash the dog for me since the lower tub hurts my back.
  • Asking whether I wanted to pre-pay for the bath, to ensure I would actually come back and bathe my dog. (I haven’t been back since.)

Upselling doesn’t have to be salesy or make you feel uncomfortable, but rather using education to teach customers about the products in your store, which will naturally get them to purchase. We are experts in the industry and know what the products are — but the average pet parent is not that keen on everything we stock in our stores, what they do, how they can be used and so on. Customers leaving without a purchase is obviously not what we want. Providing education about a product, great customer service and informing them how products can be used is more likely to lead to the cha-ching of your cash register.



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