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The Importance of Suggestive Selling – Cafes and Coffee Shops

A study of 39 coffee franchises conducted by independent mystery shopping company Mystery Customer Pty Ltd has found that 59% of staff failed to attempt to suggestive sell to customers during the transaction. Earlier in 2013, Mystery Customer conducted a similar exercise with Quick Service Restaurants which revealed that 72% of QSR staff attempted to suggestive sell to the customer.

In the current competitive marketplace, cafes and coffee shops need to follow the QSR model to ensure that they are getting the most value out of every transaction – one easy way to do this is to suggest extras that can enhance your customer’s experience.

What is suggestive selling?

Suggestive selling is when a staff member gives a value-added suggestion to include items to the customers’ original purchase. It can be a suggestion to increase the size of the purchase (upsizing from a small to a large coffee) or to add an additional item to the purchase (suggesting an accompaniment, such as a cake or biscuit, to go with the original purchase).

We all know the refrain “do you want fries with that?” but are you making sure that your staff are making the right suggestion to increase the chance of a “yes” answer?

The benefits of suggestive selling

Some staff members, and indeed businesses, believe that suggestive selling can create a negative mood and is bad for the customer experience. However, when used as part of an overall positive customer experience, it can not only increase sales, but it can also increase customer satisfaction.

Through suggestive selling, the customer may make a purchase they wouldn’t have made otherwise - say you offer a banana bread at $2 extra with each coffee. If you had 450 transactions in a day with an upsell success rate of 25%, you would take an extra $225 per day, $1,575 per week, roughly $6,750 for the month and $81,000 for the year. All this from existing customers with less effort and expense on your part!

Even better, by taking an active interest in your customers’ orders through listening to them and making relevant suggestions, you offer them a more engaging customer experience, increasing their perception that they receive personalized attention and value at that location. This in turn can make them more invested in your location and more likely to become repeat customers.

How to implement suggestive selling techniques

Each time a staff member takes an order from a customer, they should be attempting to suggestive sell. However it is important that staff have been trained not only to offer appropriate suggestions, but also be confident to do so. They also need to see managers getting involved, showing them how to do it and choosing the right associated item to promote.

This online postby Elad Halperin, VP Global Marketing for software company Odysii, outlines ten best practices for suggestive selling, including the following handy tips:

  • Consistency: staff need to have clear guidelines that are used consistently with all customers and be trained to offer a suggestive sell at every transaction.
  • Relevance: staff need to make suggestions based on the customer. Always offer a complementary suggestion to that which the customer has ordered. For example, if a customer orders a low-fat drink then offer them a low-fat muffin instead of a rich chocolate mud cake.
  • Price sensitive: customers respond well to suggestions that are offered at a heavy discount, for example a ‘coffee and cake of the day’ deal, or to items that are less expensive than their original order. 58% of successful suggestive sell offers cost less than 20% of the original price.
  • Timely: Promotions and attempts to suggestive sell need to be presented shortly before or while the customer is placing an order to maximise impact on purchasing decisions. Be careful not to interrupt the customer, instead actively listen to them ensuring that they feel you are more interested in them, rather than their money.

Difference in suggestive selling techniques

Suggestive selling works, however different approaches work better than others. Of the staff members who did attempt to suggestively sell in our recent coffee shop surveys:

  • 5% asked if the customer wanted to upsize their coffee
  • 15% asked if the customer wanted an additional item
  • 20% asked the customer if they “wanted anything else”

While 40% of staff in total asked if customers would like a larger or additional item, staff that made suggestions as to specific menu items were more successful in making an additional sale.

Take this comment from one of our shoppers “I ordered a hot chocolate beverage and was upsold to banana bread and a bar of discounted chocolate from the counter display” or this shopper who was offered a “delicious chocolate” or another shopper who was asked “if I wanted a little dessert to accompany my coffee.” Each of these suggestions gave a specific item for the shopper to consider and 2 out of the 3 shoppers took the suggestion. Whereas the 20% of shoppers who were asked “if they wanted anything else today” did not purchase any additional items.

Suggestive selling is a simple, cost effective (free!) way to promote sales and engage with your customers. Implementing these simple practices will improve your business.

About Mystery Customer Pty Limited

Mystery Customer is an Australian company founded in 2001 that specialises in providing mystery shopping services to businesses in a wide range of industries wishing to monitor the performance standards of their business and improve customer service. Mystery Customer’s services range from monitoring and reporting on customer service standards and compliance with company processes, through to “consumer insights” surveys where actual customers are surveyed using online tools, with sophisticated reporting on results.

For more information contact Terry Ashton on 1300 601 234 or visit

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