Lately we’ve been having some spirited discussions about “upsell” and its ubiquity in our daily lives. Of course it’s a basic tenet of business, and has surely been around since long before there was a buzzword for it (“how about a gourd with that beard, then?“). Furthermore, if you want to be successful in business, you’d better be good at it. But lately I’ve been noticing how upsell is becoming more and more blatant and in some cases downright absurd – and the seconds and minutes that are stolen from me while I field litanies of upsell questions are starting to add up. Experiences are suffering.
LEVEL 1: FAST FOOD
At its most basic, it appears as “would you like to Super Size that for just a dollar more?” – it’s a pretty logical question in the workflow, doesn’t take much time, and requires only a simple “yes” or “no” to get past it. Fair enough. I have no doubt that this little phrase has proven extremely lucrative.
LEVEL 1.5: CHAIN CAFÉS
A slightly evolved variant is the “can I get you something to eat with that?” that you’ll now experience at Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, etc. It irks me a tad that I have to field this question anytime I just want a simple coffee drink, but maybe I’m in the minority there (I’d be willing to bet the contrary, though). It’s a slight interruption, one question long, and I guess it could be argued that it’s reasonable given the workflow.
LEVEL 2: RITA’S WATER ICE
It becomes a little more irritating as the queries veer further from the likely goal in pursuit of the upsell. Ever go up to a Rita’s Water Ice on a scorching hot day, order up a cool, refreshing treat, and then be asked “would you like a hot pretzel with that?” Hm. Actually, when I started sweating through my shirt and pulled over for some refreshment, I hadn’t really considered a warm hunk of bread. Now I’m used to it of course, but the first few times it definitely threw me. Yes, in the grand scheme it’s a small hurdle between me and my cherry gelato, but OK, now I know Rita’s has pretzels. And you do too.
LEVEL 3: BEST BUY, APPLE, CAR DEALERSHIPS
Let’s ratchet this up a notch. Go buy some electronics from Best Buy or Apple, and wait for the significant upsell at checkout for a warranty or “Apple Care” protection plan. And how about buying a car? After you’ve made peace with the monthly payment you’ll be shelling out for the next five years, you need to meet with the head of sales or someone similar and endure the endless waterfall of warranty combinations that could ratchet it up hundreds of dollars…and the “hm…should I?” question is sometimes literally phrased as a question of life or death. I always feel assaulted by this process. One reason is that at no point can you simply end the transaction – you’re forced to hear the explanation of each option, and it’s time intensive.
JUST PLAIN ANNOYING: THE USPS
And finally, the upsell experience that got me thinking about writing this in the first place: the U.S. Post Office. Every time I go into any local post office, the experience goes something like this:
- Stand in line and clearly listen to every person in front of me endure the script I will be hit with when I reach the counter.
- Approach the counter with an oversized envelope to ship.
- Be asked if my envelope contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous. It’s federal law, so even though it’s annoying and I said “no, it’s only a DVD” after “liquid”, and then “no, no, no” afterward, I get it.
- Be told that it can arrive by 9:00 AM tomorrow morning for $32, though I already said I just wanted whatever was cheapest. Repeat this, and perhaps hear one or two more options before reluctant acceptance that I’ll just be going with Priority Mail for $1.32, thanks.
- Be asked if I want confirmation or tracking. I’ll give them this one, sometimes I do.
- Be asked if I want any stamps. I’ll give them this one too, sometimes I do.
- Be asked if I want any packing materials. Now this is getting a little silly. I saw the packing materials display, and if I wanted them I would have grabbed them. I endure.
- Be asked if I want to open a P.O. Box. OPEN A P.O. BOX. Every. Single. Time I’m in there. Who in their right mind figured they should add this to the script these poor clerks have to recite all day long? FOR WHOM IS A P.O. BOX AN IMPULSE BUY?
- You get the picture. Depending on the length of the line in front of you, this process can eat up your lunch hour in a jiffy.
Now think of your online business transactions. Most self-respecting e-commerce retailers wouldn’t think of forcing their customers to endure experiences like those described above (to be sure, there are definitely still exceptions). They know that if they employ annoying upsell tactics they’ll be skewered by the design community and their users will flee for alternatives. Teams of goal oriented, user-focused designers (the kind that are often employed to design digital experiences and too often not for real-world ones) would never allow this kind of workflow interruption and non-sequitor questioning/clicking on the way to goal completion.
For instance, on Amazon the upsell is EVERYWHERE, but it’s off to the side and there if you’re interested. On Amazon, you don’t see your final cost and THEN get solicited for additional warranties and protection packages to jack up that price (though a default to Free Shipping when it’s available would be a nice touch, guys). On Amazon, you get recommendations based on what is in your cart and what you’ve purchased before, not random recommendations from a vast list of products simply because they exist. These are just a few examples of how digital experience design has now evolved to the point where it can have positive impacts back to poor experience design in the real world. We’re not going to get away from upsell, and I’m not suggesting we should – but like most things, there’s a right way and a wrong way.
Congratulations to Conshohocken’s own Blackfish Restaurant for being named #1 of the “50 Best Places to Eat Right Now” by Philadelphia Magazine.
Have you ever wondered what happened to that gift bottle you brought to the Think Brownstone Holiday Party? There’s a good chance one of us grabbed it and walked a few doors down Fayette Street with a client, spouse or friend to Blackfish, one of Conshy’s best BYOBs.
Congrats Chef Chip and all the staff at Blackfish, you deserve it.
[Psssst Phillymag - don't think we didn't catch your not-so-subtle jabs at Conshohocken in the writeup. Our office may be in the 'burbs, but we love Philly. We're there all the time for fun and work. Some Brownstoners even live there. It's a shame you can't find a way to congratulate a place in the 'burbs without taking a shot at it.]
This is one of my favorite tweets from 2010:
It’s a favorite because it helps me believe that Carl and I might not be crazy. I’ll tell you, it felt crazy to leave our jobs in the fall of 2007 to start Think Brownstone. It felt crazy to take on our first couple of employees and the responsibility of making payroll each month. And if you had predicted in 2007 that Think Brownstone would be what it is today in 2011 we would have called you crazy.
In 2007 we expected that our company would do user experience design – that we’d help our clients design intuitive interfaces for websites and web applications. In 2010 we did lots of that. But we also helped a client create an entirely new consultative sales approach, including new infographics, marketing collateral and sales aids. We helped another client teach its top executives about the ins and outs of Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels in order to inform the creation of an important new social media policy. And we helped another client navigate a season of significant organizational change, providing support to a newly-formed department in creating strategic roadmaps, articulating vision, and executing on new and different roles and responsibilities.
In 2007 we expected that our company would eventually grow to be approximately five people – a lean, mean UX design machine. But in 2010 our team surpassed twenty with the addition of eleven new employees. Our new team members have backgrounds and skills as diverse as the projects we’re working on. To highlight a few: Mike Colibraro (aka “8-bit”) is a whiz on the Wacom tablet and has a remarkable ability to visualize concepts in the form of a quick sketch, detailed illustration or beautiful infographic. Mike Pitone (aka “HD Mike”) brings deep e-commerce and branding experience – valuable assets for our clients as they seek to establish or strengthen their brand identities. Brad Sukala (aka “Brakula”) brings e-Learning and project management chops to the table as he helps us keep our design work user-task-oriented and our projects on track. Matt Pitone (aka “brother Matt”) came to us after a stint designing physical interfaces inside mine-resistant military combat vehicles – knowledge he draws on as Think Brownstone works with clients to design more real-world physical experiences. And Emily Bryan (If I shared her nickname she’d kill me) brings leadership experience from the non-profit world to bear as she helps Danielle grow our Strategy practice.
2010 was a great year for Think Brownstone, and so a great big THANKS is in order to all of you who helped make that happen – you know who you are, and you’re awesome. We think we’ve got something really good going on here, and so we are raising our expectations and re-envisioning what the future might hold for Think Brownstone. As our company grows, Carl and I are committed to growing in such a manner that ensures the work we produce remains of the highest quality. We know this involves a combination of calculated risk (not hesitating, lest we go the way of the squirrel) and responsible restraint. We know this involves taking the time to personally build into our team members and also establish the processes and systems that will help them do their best work.
Thank you for trusting us as we do our best to build an extraordinary company.