Cross-Selling and Product Recommendations in the Online Shop: Learning from Amazon & Co.

Most shop operators focus their marketing on gaining visitors from search engines and other sources. The virtual sales area itself, however, can also be optimized in a way as to sustainably increase sales numbers. Here we will introduce some particularly well constructed examples and WordPress tools used in existing shops.

Cross-selling, i.e. the sale of matching items or products and services complementing each other in an online shop requires very little technical know-how, as there are plenty of tools to help you (more about that later). The most important part here is to have a “nose” for which product recommendations represent an actual added value for your customers. Only then will they actually utilize them.

The Power of User-Generated Data

The right combination of matching goods is what we call added value. You can leave that to algorithms, which are tried out in A/B tests with each other, or you can do the upkeep yourself. More often than not, the manual option is a lot more exact and efficient, but will really be feasible only in small-scale webshops. The visual presentation of the product recommendations is just as important. Industry leader Amazon is seen as a pioneer in this area, using simple but very effective references to similar products:

Amazon’s Browsing Trends
One of Amazon’s countless recommendations

Smaller online shops in particular, will only rarely have the kind of market and data power to offer meaningful options of the following type (there are some few exceptions, more about those later):

  • Customers, who have looked at this item have also seen
  • Customers, who bought this item also purchased
  • Is often bought together
  • What other items did customers purchase after viewing this item?
  • Your last viewed items and special recommendations – inspired by your browser history

The shop recommendation marketing should, however, not always be taken to extremes. After all, the most sophisticated calculation algorithms can still fail in conjunction with unexpected human behavior: Every one of us is familiar with the kind of product recommendations at Amazon and other mega-shops that make you wonder what the operator is thinking.

Tip: If your online shop contains products that are no longer available, recommending other similar items may be worth your while. Have a look at the transcript of our online shop SEO interview with Björn Tantau on that particular topic.

Creative Approaches for USPs (Unique Selling Points)

Much more exciting will be a look at a few niche webshops and innovative eCommerce startups. These make up with creativity what others do with the help of enormous databases. The highly original product categories of the eShop pinkmilk, for example, are very inspiring:

Creative Online Shop Categories
Recommendation marketing by way of niche categories

These are simply product recommendations and cross-selling approaches: People, who want to order the kiddie plate “Zoo”, will probably be enticed to buy the learning cup “Lion” as well, which looks so cute on the emotive category image… The online shop for young families, by the way, operates an exemplary content marketing as well, which you can read about in this posting.

Fashion eCommerce: Print Media as Role Model

Online startups in the fashion sector like to emulate the indirect recommendation marketing of glossy print magazines. Most effective here are clearly defined product environments, like “bag y would be a perfect match for dress x”. These are presented as follows:

  • Seasonal Trends
  • Reader or Celebrity Tip
  • Before/After Story

and many more. One example as used by, an as yet pretty young startup (here the original):

kleidoo Shop
A selection of matching garments and accessories

Added value content like these mean recurring work in terms of preparation (assembling products), logistics (products must be in stock in appropriate numbers), and the creation of matching visuals and text content. Return customers will also expect new content all the time for e.g. “Look of the Week”, “Offer of the Day”, etc., which means that relevant resources in terms of time and personnel must be set aside.

Innovative fashion webshops, for example Mey & Edlich, offer their customers a selection of outfits that are shown underneath individual products:

Fashion Outfits
The perfect all-round outfit to match your favorite product

This type of offer not only provides advice for uncertain customers, it is also a lot more expressive than the “Other customers also purchased” function. Here, a well-versed editorial team specializing on fashion decides which garments really fit together. This type of offer increases the trust of (potential) customers. It also entices customers to select an ideally matched three-piece ensemble instead of simply a pair of trousers and a jacket. In effect, the average cart value will most likely increase. Cross selling is closely related to sales psychology, which in turn results in new online shop marketing trends, like narrative retailing.

From Simple Product Lists to Content Recommendation Marketing

The online shop meine möbelmanufaktur demonstrates, how in this context advice content can be linked with indirect recommendation marketing:

Product Advice
Advice content with visualized product examples

The shop not only links virtual planning tools and exhaustive advice content on the topic “Making the most of pitched roof areas”, it also provides a range of matching product ideas. (The screenshot here only shows a small excerpt of the offering.) The whole thing is created just as non-committally as the friendly advice from the furniture salesman with a slight Swedish accent we know so well from our offline forays. It also conveys the necessary competence, which virtual showrooms as a rule have a very hard time in bringing across with any credibility.

All of the examples mentioned here can be adapted to entirely different sectors or situations as well. It will be well worth your while to keep an eye on exciting new startups in the eCommerce environment: You can use these shops as a source of inspiration for your own cross-selling ideas.

Tools for the Implementation with WordPress and WooCommerce

Cross-selling can be implemented with WooCommerce’s own tools, but for the most part in manual processes only. Relevant instructions can be found here. A partial or complete automation, on the other hand, can be achieved with the following plugins and extensions:

  • WooCommerce Conditional Content: This extension is not only used for the direct integration of product recommendations. You can also use it to overlay dynamic content, like product news, special campaigns, recommendations, advertising, etc. Particularly interesting: These shop news can be added according to specific conditions, like user/customer, role of the user, products in the cart, availability, etc.
  • Product Bundles: The name says it all: you create bundles of simple and/or variable or downloadable products. You can filter out special variations, and adjust the presentation of the bundled products in contrast with individual items.
  • Smart Offers: This tool is listed in the WooCommerce shop, but it actually is an unofficial plugin by a third party provider. According to the manufacturer, it is supposed to allow fully automated up, cross, and down selling, just like at Amazon & Co.
  • Chained Products: Another plugin for the creation of product bundles, specifically for digital items.
  • Recommendation Engine: The function “Customers, who have looked at this item have also seen” can be implemented with this plugin, as can the display of similar products that are often bought together.
  • Cart Notices: Similar to “Conditional Content”; this extension offers help for the display of dynamically generated product tips. Here an example: Once the customer has reached a specific cart total, he will be offered free shipping if he adds one more item.

Important: The tools we have talked about here were not actually tested by us beforehand. Make sure to get plenty of information about the actual functional scope on the linked product pages. We would be really grateful for you leaving any tips you may have in the comment section if you have experience with any of the tools introduced here.

The WooCommerce Extension Library is expanded periodically. Doing some research of your own for similar tools will therefore definitely be worth your while.

Recommendation Engine Plugin
The Recommendation Engine creates an Amazon ambiance in your shop (screenshot: © WooThemes)

You don’t always have to use WooCommerce extensions or a WooCommerce shop. Pure WordPress plugins are enough for the implementation of product recommendations and more. A good example is the pretty popular Widget Logic Plugin, which allows the controlled addition of HTML and other content based on rules. The plugin poses virtually no limits for your creativity – you can implement products instead of text messages or advertising banners, and all that on the basis of logical conditions with virtually limitless depth. (Users who are well-versed in using source code will usually implement these directly, without the use of the plugin.)

Here some other WordPress plugins that can be helpful in the creation of additional sales potential:

Searching the WordPress plugins for related products will return a number of solutions for a wide variety of use cases.

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Editor at MarketPress. Passionate blogger, corporate blog expert and book author (e.g. "Blog Boosting"). Co-organizer of WP Camp Berlin.

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