You Want Fries with That? Retailers Profit from Suggestive Selling

suggestive sellingI am guessing that most of us would have to admit that at one time or another we have succumbed to the fast food drive-in experience.  In case that doesn’t sound familiar, I will try to jog your memory.  You pull up to a nationally known burger joint, stare at the menu board to figure out what will do the least amount of damage to your arteries, while some barely audible kid’s voice blares at you from a tin speaker.  Whatever I order, whether it is a hamburger at lunch or a cup of coffee in the morning on my way to an appointment, the follow-up query seems to always be, “do you want fries with that?” The amazing thing to me is that it always seems to be fries that are being pushed even if fries don’t exactly match up with my order.

The suggest sale of fries must work for most consumers or they wouldn’t continually do it. Knowing the nature of sales people (especially in retail), suggestive selling is a technique that must constantly be reinforced. I would assume that to not suggest fries is met with some mild admonishment at the very least and with a much harsher reprimand or some equally punitive reminder at worst.  The bottom line is that the margin on fries must be outstanding.

The Power of Suggestive Selling

The lesson here is that suggestive selling not only works, but can add significant percentage to store sales volume and margin. When practiced consistently, suggestive selling not only adds additional sales and profits, but also demonstrates improved service and therefore VALUE to the customer. Inexperienced or poorly trained sales associates are happy when a customer simply makes a buying decision for a primary item.  The only other decision that needs to be made in their mind is method of payment.  The seasoned sales person on the other hand, sees the selling process as just beginning when the primary item is agreed to.

Getting sales associates to remember to offer additional items to a customer requires constant attention.  Making a game out of suggestive selling can make for a lively morning meeting with the sales staff.  Give the same item to several different sales people at the same time and allow them each thirty seconds to pick up as many additional items as they can think of.  Thirty seconds is about the time you have to take a customers purchase to the check out area. Have each associate explain what items they found, why they felt they would be a good complimenting purchase and add up the total value.

Give the winner who has come up with the most profitable list of add-on sales some small recognition ($5 or $10).  This is all about more sales and you want to instill the fact that the more you sell, the more everyone makes. Watch how this simple little exercise translates into more added sales during the days that follow.  Better yet, use it as a kick off to a week long contest on suggestive selling. Give prizes for first, second and third place.

I have heard store owners complain that some sales people feel that they might be pushing something on the customer that they don’t want. My answer to that is always the same, if the customer doesn’t want it, she will let you know. If you don’t ask you will never know.  One of the main responsibilities of the sales associate is to give the customer the opportunity to make the purchase. After all, isn’t that what they are being paid to do?

Retailers continually struggle to reinvent themselves, refine assortments and closely manage expenses and inventory. I encourage all retailers to pay more attention to suggestive selling practices. Next time someone asks you if you want fries with that, you will be able to recognize suggestive selling for what it is, more sales and profits.

Ritchie Sayner is Vice President of Business Development for RMSA Retail Solutions. Contact Mr. Sayner at, or 816-505-7912.