If you’re a retailer, nothing brings more holiday cheer than the add-on sale. Everybody wins!

Ancillary sales at retail are “plus business”, an avenue for capturing additional revenues and gaining market share. In working with many leading luxury retailers, I’ve seen as much as 20% of holiday revenue come from add-on sales. What’s more, your store increasingly becomes a destination where clients know their needs will be met. That means more top-of-mind thinking for your brand and a shared win for you and your clients.

Sales associates win too. For them, creative recommendations can mean additional income, stronger client relations, and more opportunity for future business. And with the ever-growing need for clienteling, this is an ideal time of year for sales associates to build client trust and expand their client base.

So, if everyone wins, add-ons are easy, right? Unfortunately, no. If it were a question of only offering incentives, retailers would have solved the problem years ago. But most sales associates are already motivated to make add-on sales. They would if they could!

Typically, we hear these explanations from sales associates who have tried but not succeeded in add-on sales:

“The client said they had a budget, so I was nervous about asking them to spend more.”

“When I asked if they wanted to see something else, they said they were in a rush.”

“I was afraid that by sounding too pushy I would end up losing the sale of both pieces.”

These comments often signal that sales associates simply aren’t comfortable with add-on sales.

Earning the Right

It all comes down to “Earning the Right” to ask questions and make knowledgeable recommendations. Over years of training and coaching literally thousands of sales associates, my team has found that top sellers share several attributes by which they Earn the Right for add-on sales.

First, they have the mindset of a sales consultant. They’re genuinely curious, give themselves permission to inquire, know how to ask effective questions, and are comfortable making pertinent recommendations. They’re adept at quickly understanding – and meeting – the client’s needs and dreams. Because their intention is to first understand and “solve” rather than sell, their recommendations are more likely to be trusted. In the end, rather than a selling environment, they create a buying one.


Second, the best sales-expanders have product knowledge. They know what’s in stock, what’s selling well, and what items can be creatively sold together.


Third, they’re skilled at “asking and linking”— asking open-ended questions, capturing information, and linking it to their recommendation, all while building exceptional rapport.


Pearls for the Holidays

In understanding the barriers and what top salespeople do day in and day out, how can you boost holiday sales and profits? Here are several tips for sales associates to Earn the Right to add-on sales:

  1. Make it your mission.As a professional sales consultant, dedicate yourself to solving clients’ gift challenges, both explicit and implicit.
  2. Ask and link.Ask open-ended questions that yield relevant information on clients’ needs, preferences, and dreams—and link every recommendation to these needs.
  3. Watch your timing. Too early can confuse; too late, and the client may have mentally left the sale.
  4. Never ask permission.For example, never say, “May I show you something else?” Instead, make clear statements: “Because you said you had two daughters, I’ve selected these earrings for your other daughter, Barbara. You said she likes pearls. What do you think?”  
  5. Begin with “because”.To ensure your recommendation is persuasive, begin with the word “because” as in the example above.
  6. Review the inventory.Throughout the day, continuously review the inventory on hand, and think about category and item connections.
  7. Leverage the silence.After you make a recommendation, give the client time to consider it. When you continue to speak, you diminish the chance of making a sale.
  8. Don’t set limits.Rather than deciding how much the client is willing to buy, continue to make useful recommendations until you get a clear sign to stop.
  9. Target every sale.Set a goal to make an add-on recommendation for every sale. Even the best salespeople don’t succeed every time, but they understand the law of large numbers, so they ask every time.


When you think you don’t have time to do this, do it anyway.

Sure, the holiday rush is fast and furious. Who has time for in-depth questions? At the very least, every sales associate should say to every customer, “I’d like to make your shopping easier this holiday season. Who else is on your list?”


Then, expand opportunities by parlaying purchases to the opposite gender. For example, you may say, “Because you really like this watch for your husband, let me show you the woman’s version.”   


In sum, you’ll know you’ve Earned the Right when clients ask for you in the future. Why? Because of you, they found the perfect gift.

Reinforcing the Mission

At Shanker Inc., the heart of our success is helping managers reinforce profitable behaviors in their sales staff. The holiday season is a prime time for reinforcement. Strengthen the Earn the Right mission in your sales associates by listening to, observing, and shadowing them. Then, offer candid feedback and help them to ask better questions.

Monitoring performance is key. Post daily and weekly successes for each associate and for the total store. Before each person leaves for the day, review their results and the store’s results. Financial incentives can then play a role in improving performance, but make sure they’re offered in a way that everyone can win.

Make time in meetings to talk about product categories, natural add-ons, and categories generic to the holiday season that are natural entrées to a recommendation. Prepare the add-ons list for new and part-time employees.

Make sure every sales associate asks of every customer, every day, “Who else is on your list?”

Add-on sales are yours for the asking. Now, all you need to do is ask! When everyone in your store has Earned the Right, you can be assured of a great holiday season. Here’s wishing you abundant add-on sales this holiday season.

Martin Shanker is the President of Shanker Inc, a global consultancy working with luxury brands developing sales teams to stay relevant in these evolving times. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s, Van Cleef & Arpels and many other luxury brands.