Suggest product pairings to boost your sales
Recommend pairings of two different products to seem like an expert (e.g. a rug to match a sofa). In experiments, that increased ad clicks by 21%
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Imagine you’re redoing your home office and you’re at a furniture store. You found the perfect sofa and call over a salesperson to lock in the order.
After you tell them you want the sofa, they suggest two throw pillows, explaining how their color and design perfectly complement the sofa you’ve chosen.
Impressed by the suggestion, you agree, and on the way to the counter also pick up a small rug they suggest for your bedroom.
Coming in to buy a sofa, you end up leaving with two throw pillows and a rug as well.
How did they convince you to buy these other items?
P.S.: For in-person interactions, other techniques like smiling slightly instead of broadly can make you seem more competent and boost sales.
Previous insight: The 3 science-based rules of writing (more insights here)
Recommend product combinations to establish yourself as an expert and boost your sales.
Channels: Sales team | Customer service | Product recommendations | Influencer marketing
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: June 2022
Give customers recommendations about whether to pair (or not) different products (e.g. what color tie to match with a shirt).
Try it in 1:1 sales (e.g. in stores, sales calls), in your ads, through influencers on social media (e.g. recommending a certain mascara and eyeliner combination), or anywhere else where you can give recommendations.
You will seem more like an expert, people will be more likely to buy and listen to your other recommendations.
When someone (e.g. salesperson, stylist, waiter, designer, shop assistant, influencer) suggests combining two products to use or buy together, it makes them seem like an expert in the category.
Because of their higher credibility as experts, people are more likely to follow their recommendations and buy.
As part of a series of 9 studies:
People rated their perceived expertise of a chef who prepared a box of pantry items:
7.37 (out of 9) when he recommended combining different species (e.g. try pairing cardamom with fenugreek seeds)
6.57 when he recommended substituting a spice (e.g. try cardamom for tangy freshness or fenugreek seeds for a sweeter flavor)
5.72 when he recommended a single spice
An ad with recommendations from a skincare company’s advisers to combine two products in a beauty routine had a 21% higher click rate (CTR) in Instagram carousel ads (vs a single product recommendation).
The effect works:
No matter whether a combination is encouraged or discouraged, and no matter whether the customer actually needs the advice
On any other products in the category, once expertise is established
More strongly, the more explicit a combination recommendation is
🧠 Why it works
When someone recommends pairing two items, we assume they understand how multiple items interact with one another. That feels like a deep understanding of the product category.
We view being able to curate a set of items together, as compared to pushing a pre-made bundle or promotion, as a sign of expertise, so it doesn’t matter if we’re being suggested or discouraged about a pairing.
Because we value expertise, we look at their opinions on the subject favorably, making us more likely to buy what they recommend.
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The effect isn’t as strong when the two items being recommended are used separately, as compared to (roughly) at the same time. For example, a recommendation to pair a moisturizer immediately after washing your face in the morning will be more effective than a pairing of a moisturizer to put on before sleeping alongside a morning face wash.
The effect doesn’t work if people consider themselves to be experts in the category already.
If the combinations recommended are either very common (e.g. try mixing lemonade with iced tea) or so unconventional that people aren’t willing to try them (e.g. mix milk with lemonade), they don’t make the recommender seem like an expert.
The researchers studied recommendations made by other people. Recommendations from AI or algorithms weren’t tested. It’s unclear whether the effect would be the same. On the one hand, they might make the brand feel more competent and boost sales. On the other hand, people tend to be more judgmental of technology than other humans, which could reduce the effect.
🏢 Companies using this
The fashion industry has jumped on this:
Nordstrom offers personal stylist sessions at their stores
Website Smart Closet has users who share virtual outfits and lookbooks based on their current wardrobes for others to view
Old Navy seeks customer submissions of outfits pairings to share on their social media
Interior design studios and furniture shops do this extensively, advising patrons on items that go together or don’t.
In beauty and cosmetics this practice is already widespread, with makeup and skincare brands offering consultations and consulting sessions at their outlets.
L’Oreal Paris frequently posts recommendations of product pairings for different looks using their products on their website and social media.
Sephora’s Beauty Studio has members of their team provide consulting sessions and recommend combinations of products and techniques for various looks.
⚡ Steps to implement
Train your salespeople to proactively suggest combinations (or what to avoid mixing) to customers.
In-store marketing encouraging customers to seek advice from salespeople (e.g. signs saying, “Ask our team which pants match this blouse”) can help position them as experts to customers.
Direct mail and personalized communication could extend this effect after the first item has been bought. For example, fashion retailer Mango sends follow-up emails after a purchase with suggestions of other items to pair with the purchase.
While it wasn’t tested in the study, you can also experiment with recommendations based on personal attributes (e.g. a moisturizer to use for oily skin).
Try recommending combinations of more than two items (e.g. a full outfit). It might be even more effective.
You can try running ads where a stylist or salesperson recommends pairings (e.g. lipstick to match a shade of blush, or options of matching pants for a blouse) to increase sales of both items together.
🔍 Study type
Lab and online experiments and field study (A/B test with 80,297 clicks on Instagram carousel ads for skincare products).
You Should Try These Together: Combinatory Recommendations Signal Expertise and Improve Product Attitudes. Journal of Marketing Research (June 2022)
Jennifer K. D’Angelo. Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University.
Francesca Valsesia. Foster School of Business, University of Washington.
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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