Suggestive Selling 101

Pet specialty retailers can improve sales and service by teaching their associates the art of suggestive selling.


In a specialty business like pet retailing, your associates have many opportunities to make an excellent impression on your customers and to boost sales at the same time. People shop at independent pet stores to find solutions to their problems. They expect to receive knowledgeable advice and useful information. When your associates suggest additional products that add value to a shopper’s original purchase—or make customers aware of items they may not have realized they needed—they create a positive shopping experience that benefits both sides.

It is easier than you might think to train your team to make suggestive selling a routine part of their conversations with customers, once they become comfortable with the process. Your associates may feel awkward making recommendations at first, because they don’t want to seem pushy, or they just may not know what to say.

Pet Store Pro’s new “micro” chapter, Suggestive Selling for Associates, teaches pet store employees how to use four easy techniques—cross selling, bundling, upgrading and substituting—to provide great customer service. Associates can complete the course in about 15 minutes and will learn lots of pet-retail-specific tips to apply right away.

The chapter is designed to help new and experienced associates:

• Understand how suggestive selling benefits both your customers and your business.

• Make connections with customers by talking with them, listening and observing.

• Identify ways to help customers get more value or enjoyment from what they buy.

• Recommend relevant add-on items that increase total ticket value and overall sales.


When associates recommend products and services that naturally go together, they help customers get more from their original purchase. Cross-selling can also save customers time by reminding them of items they intended to purchase but forgot. Since customers often buy these items together, even without prompting, they usually welcome the reminder and are open to suggestions.

Associates should use the cross-selling technique when a customer is buying a product that is often used with another item. Examples include:

• Litter pan and litter.

• Dog collar and leash.

• Aquarium tank and cleaning service.

• Reptile enclosure and heating lamp.

The more your associates know about what your store sells and what your customers purchase, the better they’ll become at suggesting items that complement one another. To help your team identify cross-selling opportunities quickly, encourage them to pay attention to merchandising displays to find products that go naturally together. Associates should also read your store’s sales flyer, so they can let customers know if items they may want are on sale.

Suggesting groups of products that are packaged together, such as pet starter kits and gift sets, makes shopping more convenient for customers. Bundling makes it easier for shoppers to make a selection, while saving them time and giving them the confidence that they’ve purchased everything they need.

Associates should use the bundling technique when customers:

• Know what they are looking for and are in a hurry.

• Need supplies for a new pet adoption or purchase.

• Ask for gift ideas for a pet.

• Are concerned about the cost of individual items.

Associates should become familiar with pre-packaged sets of products when stocking shelves so they know what’s available for bundling. Many stores have checklists for new pets that will help them identify everything a customer might need.


Upgrading—or upselling—encourages customers to spend more now to save time and/or money in the long run. Stocking up on favorite items saves shoppers time and minimizes trips to the store. Upgrading to a larger size may result in a lower cost per unit. Suggesting a product with higher-quality features can help customers avoid problems and enjoy their purchase more.

Associates should use the upgrading technique when customers:

• Qualify for a price discount by buying more than one item.

• Get a better value if they buy a larger size.

• Comment that they really like an item or have problems finding it.

• Consider buying a product that has received poor feedback.

Although suggesting that customers buy in bulk is relatively easy, recommending quality upgrades means associates must be able to compare the features and benefits of different products. To identify upgrade opportunities, associates should listen to customers’ comments and observe their non-verbal signs. It’s also important for your team to learn what customers think about past purchases and the reasons for product returns.

When your store doesn’t carry or is out of stock of a particular product or brand, your associates can use the substituting technique to save the sale. Suggesting a different but equivalent item means customers won’t have to visit another store to find what they need. Associates should take care not to criticize the shopper’s usual brand, especially if your store doesn’t carry it.

To convince customers that a substitute makes a good fit, associates need to be able to explain:

• How different sizes or formulations of a brand compare to each other.

• How the brands your store carries within a category compare to each other.

• How the brands your store carries compare to popular brands you don’t stock.

Practice Makes Profits

As your associates become more comfortable in their roles and learn more about the products in your store, suggestive selling should become something they do automatically. One of the best ways for your team to practice is to role-play with associates, family or friends. You might provide scripts or have associates make up their own based on the products they see customers buying most often.

Associates can use the following guidelines and phrases to help tailor recommendations to individual customers.

• Use “you” rather than “we recommend”—for example, “You might also like this option.”

• Use “need” or “want” to link the suggestion to the customer’s emotions—for example, “Do you need cat litter?”

• Communicate value, including time or cost savings, when appropriate—for example, “If you buy one, you get the second for half off.”

• Share what other customers are saying—for example, “We’ve been hearing good comments from our customers.”

Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association. She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since its launch in 2008, more than 21,500 pet store owners, managers and sales associates from over 4,500 retailers have used Pet Store Pro. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit to register and begin using the program.

This article was adapted from “Suggestive Selling for Associates,” one of 27 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. In addition to explaining four specific suggestive selling techniques, “Suggestive Selling for Associates” also provides pet-specific examples, interactive knowledge checks and lets students listen to experienced sales associates use each technique to help apply lessons quickly.

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