Mike O’Donnell: The online art of a good cross-sell

Mike “MOD” O’Donnell is a professional director, facilitator and a regular columnist.

OPINION: For the first time in a couple of years I jumped onto the Jetstar New Zealand website last week.

After a pandemic-driven break from air travel, it’s chocks away for business and recreational travellers again, so many previously mothballed online travel portals are going gangbusters.

In this case I was seeing if I could grab a cheap seat back from Auckland for my partner.

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Booking a flight? Be prepared for some cross-selling.

Lawrence Smith/Stuff

Booking a flight? Be prepared for some cross-selling.

A few years ago Jetstar – after pressure from Consumer NZ and the Commerce Commission – moved from “opt out” pricing on its website, to “opt in”, so that travellers didn’t inadvertently end up paying for features or services they didn’t need.

So today the online experience is very different to five years ago.

The pages load faster, boxes are unticked and there’s less advertising as you wade through your purchase journey.

Not that they don’t try to cross-sell you with all their options. Once you’ve selected the flight and date, the process starts.

First it’s about baggage, encouraging to book additional baggage and asking you “are you sure” if you fail to select it.

Then it’s about baggage again, telling you that its 73% cheaper to buy additional baggage now rather than at the airport.

Done poorly, and cross-selling it’s an annoying money grab that annoys customers and derides their choices.


Done poorly, and cross-selling it’s an annoying money grab that annoys customers and derides their choices.

Then a new screen asking you “are you sure you don’t need checked baggage” and warns you they have very strict baggage enforcement.

Then a new cross-sell starts. This time gently making you aware you’ve probably got a bit of a crap seat and encouraging you to pay between $5 and $15 for a better one.

Get through that and a fresh cross-sell gets under way, this time about extras like hotels, rental cars and meals and snacks on the aircraft.

Assuming you say no to all of those offers, they ask for your details and as part of this seek to sell you a text reminder ($1.49) or insurance ($12.30). Then once again they check in, just in case you’ve changed your mind about paying more for baggage, meals or special seating.

Then it’s on to payment when Jetstar try to sell you “FareCredit”, giving you credit if you choose to cancel the flight (just $17.90).

Mike O'Donnell talks us through the art of a good cross-sell or up-sell.

Kevin Stent/Stuff

Mike O’Donnell talks us through the art of a good cross-sell or up-sell.

Last but not least, comes the planet. You get the chance to offset your carbon emissions ($1.84). Then you pay. Almost immediately Jetstar sends you an email just in case you’ve forgotten about the ability to pay for more baggage.

Phew! That’s quite a line-up of cross-selling. Ten different pitches (not including the carbon credit) from the time you select your seats to the time that you pay.

On the one hand it’s a withering volley of revenue grabs that slows down the purchase process and gets increasingly on your wick. On the other it’s a rational process for maximising revenue.

And really it’s just a more blatant version of the most effective cross-sell in the world. Would you like fries with that?

A simple little question that allows McDonald’s to sell over 4 million kilograms of fries every day worldwide. Yep every day! And then there’s the offer to up-sell your drink size, but asked in a way that almost makes you feel cheap if you decline.

These two little techniques – the cross-sell (buying related products) and the up-sell (buying a more premium version of the same product) – are two of the most effective ways to increase sales. And as businesses in Aotearoa enter the most challenging trading conditions seen in 14 years, they deserve a revisiting.

Mobile phone businesses are a good example. Why wouldn’t you buy a $30 cover to protect a $1200 phone. Likewise, if you take out a home loan, then straightaway the bank knows you are going to need home insurance. And they already have the house details.

We’re also starting to see it in professional services. Like where an audit company delivers the financial audit, and offers a discounted rate on a carbon footprint audit. Or where a website design company, offers up website hosting.

But the real masters of the art are e-commerce websites.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Jump onto Amazon or Ebay, and their algorithm deals up both “other buyers also bought” and “other buying options”. In the case of Amazon, Jeff Bezos has confirmed that up to 35% of its US$469 billion (NZ$754b) annual revenue comes from cross-selling.

So that’s a cool $164b extra a year from a clever, data-empowered cross-sell. But its also confirmation that good cross-selling is all about timing and relevance. And respecting the customer and their intellect.

Done well, like McDonald’s or Amazon, cross-selling shows customer that you care about their needs and the context you are dealing with them in and offers value.

Done poorly, and it’s an annoying money grab that annoys customers and derides their choices.

Which is pretty much how I felt on the Jetstar website as it continued to barrage me with baggage offers.

After all, good cross-selling shouldn’t make customers cross.

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