The Upsell Always Sounds Good

The upsell comes in many forms. It might be something small like the pastries flirting with you from the counter in the coffee shop while the barista asks “Can I get you anything else?” It could also be bigger, like the time when the car salesperson tries to convince you that the new car you just bought needs an extra layer of paint protection. And then there’s the electronics store clerk who always gives you the opportunity to buy an extended warranty on any gadget.

Plumber James
Plumber James from MoToMo via Flickr

Yesterday, I managed to (mostly) resist a very persuasive upsell from a representative of the plumbing and heating service firm that we use.  He had come to the house because we hadn’t had hot water for a couple of days.  Our hot water tank was fourteen years old, and we already knew that it wouldn’t last long. The plumber gave me an estimate of $350 to fix one part and another $700 to fix another part if that didn’t do the trick.  I really didn’t like the idea of spending that much money on an old tank, so I decided to get a new tank instead.  That wasn’t the upsell; the add-ons came later.

I was happy to get the new tank, and after it was installed the technician went around the house making sure that the plumbing was working as it should everywhere. He produced a report on his findings and identified three things that he thought we needed:  $85 for some high-tech biological drain cleaner, $350 for replumbing under the kitchen sink to stop it gurgling, and $850 for an electronic furnace filter.

I turned down the replumbing and the electronic filter.  I did, however, buy the drain cleaner.  If it works, it will be worth it. The technician assured me that we only need to use two ounces each time and that this product is much kinder to the pipes than the popular brands that we usually buy. It sounded good to me.

Yonkers Honda
Salesperson handing over keys from via flickr

But that’s always the thing, isn’t it?  The upsell always sounds good, or it sounds like a bargain, or it sounds as though it is essential to the long life of your car, gadget, furnace, or pipes. You have already committed to the primary purchase, so the add-on doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Somehow, your mind tricks you into thinking that something costing a small percentage of the item you just bought is no big deal.  It’s all about the comparative cost.

It helps in making that choice if the salesperson is attractive and charming, but you and I are not susceptible to that kind of thing, are we? Nope. Not at all. Once we have bitten the bullet on the big-ticket item, the extra thing seems neither here nor there. That is, it feels that way until the next day when we realize we just paid $85 for drain cleaner.




  1. I am so smiling right now I believe I can resist most upsells but to tell the truth I am sure I have succumbed to many of them.

    • I’m sure you are better at it than I am! If I’m alone I tend to agree to more things than I do when I have someone else with me. I don’t know why that is, but I’m sure there’s a sound psychological explanation.

  2. When I bought one of my new cars, they had an “insurance” you could buy… pretty $$…. but if you didn’t need it after 5 years they would refund all the $$……………………………… wait for it…………….. yup…. 5 years later, found the forms….. and GOT all my $$ back!!! winner!…. but they got my $$ interest free for 5 years…. worth it!

  3. There’s a name for it…called “open wallet syndrome” I Love it when it’s an honest discovery and the add-on or upsell saves me a trip back or a second in-home-call-fee. Like needing a cord for the new computer you might not have at home, or something that a mechanic discovered while changing your oil that needs attention. I do not like it when it’s just a way to increase the bill. It’s when the rep is looking out for MY best interest that I love it and when they’re looking out for Their best interest that I find annoying. The trick is, recognizing the difference. It was easier to say no to all but the minimum when I was broke…and less so now…I could easily see myself saying Yes to everything your plumber suggested…Yikes!

    • I’m sure the plumber was right that those things were needed; they just were not all urgent. When I take my car in for a service now I always ask which recommendations are essential and which can wait.

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