As a public service to our wonderful readers, BrightReviews is launching a brand new series of articles designed to help you avoid some of the most common “sins” television marketers commit. Read, learn, and share these tips so you and your loved ones don’t get burned. Last week we disclosed Sin #1 and today we bring you Sin #2. Read on!

The Upsell is another sneaky Sin, often accomplished in a number of ways by certain websites before, during, or sometimes after the checkout process. While this is a tactic used by many legitimate businesses, our dictionary defines Up-Sell (v.) “The act of trying to sell more of one item, or tempting the consumer with additional add-on products or services in an aggressive, oftentimes deceptive, manner.”

Why do marketers do this?

Simple: money (and science)! A customer who has clicked the “Order” button, is psychologically ready make a purchase. Statistics show that upsells can drive 4% of sales and it has been estimated that 30%-60% of customers go for the bait. When you’re a large direct marketing company, this can translate into lots of extra $$$.

Statistics show that upsells can drive 4% of sales

Popular Upsell #1 – The “Add To Cart” Confusion

The first way an upsell can happen is if you’re not paying close attention. When you get to the order page, some merchants automatically add the item to your cart and then have a button at the top of the page (set to 0) that asks:

How Many (Items) Do you Want?

Instinctively, many people change that number to 1, not realizing there is already one in their shopping cart; clicking the “1” now makes 2 items (which usually include inflated shipping and handling – see Sin #1) which they aren’t aware of until after the items are received and/or billed. We’ve heard about this tactic hundreds of times. Ronald Watkins from Tuscaloosa, AL writes about his experience with Dump Cakes:

Well I saw the infomercial and thought that sounds good - 2 books and a pan for $10 plus shipping. Well the website never gives you an accurate total until AFTER the order is placed. When filling out the form it showed my total to be 17.99, after placing the order it shows a total of $27.99...  

Another variation on this Upsell is a product that advertises as “Buy One Get One” or “2 for the Price of 1.” This button may read something like:

How Many Buy One Get One (Items) Do You Want?

Again, some people instinctively click “2” – but this actually means you will be paying for FOUR items… or maybe more! Frances Tegano from Las Vegas, NV says when he ordered Dutch Glow:

I ordered two bottles, they sent me 6! They set two separate shipping charges on the invoice each shipping charge was $23.85 total shipping was $47.70 OMG!

This kind of confusion can even happen when you try and order over the telephone, especially if it is an automated system and you don’t speak to a real person. James Kuhn, from Merrit Island, FL recounts his experience trying to buy the Micro Touch One Razor in such a fashion:

My CC was charged $68 and I did not purchase $68 of merchandise! This is outright theft and fraud!! I terminated the phone call because the 'system' kept trying to force me to purchase more and when I kept pushing #2 (The "no" function button) the 'system' would continually try and force me into additional purchases!

Solution: Only buy from websites that show you the contents of your shopping cart, along with the total, before it’s complete.

  • A good rule of thumb is to avoid one-page sites that ask for a credit card immediately and use the words “PROCESS ORDER” – the fine print will note that “you are placing a live order” which means, when you click, it’s completed without a chance to review.
  • DON’T purchase over the telephone unless you speak to a live person (although they still might try to Upsell you).

Popular Upsell #2 – The Add-Ons!

This is usually achieved by tempting you with a product that looks cool, useful, and reasonably priced. But click on the Order page, and suddenly you are confronted with a half-dozen other accessories or extended warranties that, if purchased, quickly jack up the price. (The classic example often cited by marketers as their inspiration is: “Do you want fries with that shake?”)

We’ve seen this a lot with vacuum cleaners or exercise equipment, for example. Offering an Extended Warranty is often a common tactic, because, according to this research paper, selling one to the customer can increase profits up to 40%.

Solution: Ignore the add-ons, especially an Extended Warranty, or simply decide to not purchase the item if it starts looking too expensive. (According to Consumer Reports, Extended Warranties are rarely used or end up saving you very little in repair costs. )

Finally, the WORST kind of Upsell – The Pop-Ups!

This is a sinful practice by some of the most unscrupulous marketers, where, somewhere during the checkout process, a dreaded pop-up window appears with some kind of SPECIAL OFFER! Whether you click on it to close it or try to hit your back button, these offers suddenly get added to your cart and you are billed for them whether you want them or not!

Brian from Massachusetts writes about his experience with My Spy Birdhouses:

They try to add all kinds of things to your order. I declined. However, after providing my CC info, got the total and they added on the "free" feeder for an extra $7 shipping. There was no way to revise or cancel. I hit the back button and it processed my order with the extra item and fee.

Solution: Call Customer Service to deal with the issue, although many times this in itself can be a nightmare.

We will discuss Customer Service in our next installment, but in the meantime, we hope these tips will help you avoid the Upsell.