What Cinemas Can Teach You About Upselling

concession stand

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade then you probably know what customer service looks like in modern cinemas.

Cinemas are well known for the fact that as soon as you pass the ticket office you are being persuaded to do some further shopping (mostly food). For a cinema you’re worth much more than a single ticket’s price.

But the fact remains the same: the main product is still the movie itself. It is what every customer is interested in and what they spend their money on. Only some of them also buy upsells.

You don’t go to a cinema to eat a great quantity of popcorn (at least it’s not your purpose). I don’t know if you have but I’ve never met anyone in a cinema bar who wasn’t intending to watch a movie later on in the evening.

That’s why the most important thing about upselling is not the upsell itself but the main product which the customer came for in the first place. That is the thing on which you should focus all your marketing efforts. Because, if you don’t sell the main product, you will never have the opportunity to upsell.

What Makes Cinemas So Damn Good At This

Let’s look at the path every customer in a cinema takes. Let’s name the customer “Bob”.

The story begins when Bob sits at home and wonders what to do on a Friday night. A brilliant idea strikes his mind ñ the cinema! So he visits the website of the nearest multiplex and searches for the information about the movies that are currently being shown. He chooses the movie, the seat, ends the reservation process and leaves the site.

Couple of days later, on Friday, Bob leaves his home and heads to the cinema. After reaching his destination he does a quick stop at the ticket office where he receives his preordered ticket, pays for it, and heads to the screening room.

But, usually, there’s one important (at least for the cinema) thing on his way. A giant food and drink stand. The size of those things is usually so big that you simply can’t miss them. That’s where the upselling starts.

Bob has come all the way down here without being pushed to buy something else than Bob initially wanted himself. There was no one standing in his way. Bob has personally reserved the ticket, got to the cinema and received his ticket in the ticket office without being afflicted by anybody. But as soon as he did it, various other things were suggested to him very clearly.

Let me say that again cause it’s the most important fragment. Bob saw the offers for additional products after he has bought the main product offered by the cinema.

After visiting the food stand Bob can finally see the movie. But the story is not over yet because now Bob has to watch all the commercials before the actual movie starts. He will also see several trailers which will try to convince him to visit the cinema next week, and then the whole story starts again.

What is the effect of upselling by cinemas? Usually the value of each customer doubles once they visit the food stand. I don’t know what percentage of customers do it but from a short observation I would say that it’s about 60%.

And that means that with no extra money spent on marketing a cinema was able to increase its revenue by 60%. That is the real value of upselling. It’s (almost) free money.

How To Act Like a Cinema

First and foremost, you have to decide what your main product is. What is the thing you are really selling (or giving away for free).

(I won’t go into a process of market research here, competition analysis, creating and developing your own product, but that essentially is your main task… which you may already be done with, or maybe not yet.)

Once you know what your main product is, you have to focus all of your marketing efforts on promoting that main product. You have to somehow create the best possible method of promotion and implement it (measuring the results at all times).

Once this whole machine is deployed and working fine it’s time to think about upselling.

You can brainstorm a little and think about things that your customers might like to have in order to make your main product more enjoyable (more complete, prettier, faster, smaller, bigger, whatever).

When we’re talking cinemas, it’s obvious that upselling is about food and drinks. It sure was easy to come up with… If someone has been sitting in one place for two hours or more then he will probably want to have a snack or a drink at some point.

But let’s look at a less obvious example. Suppose you’re selling software. If you want to make some extra money without spending any additional funds on marketing then you can think about offering some kind of extended guarantee (from 2 to 5 years for example), or individual 3-hour support, or special customer training via Skype, or cheaper updates’ package for next versions of the software; there are many possibilities.

You can also consider what you originally wanted to include in the main package but you abandoned the idea because you didn’t want to scare some customers off with a higher price. Such a thing might be a great subject to upselling after the customer has already bought the main product.

Is It Worth It?

Will everybody buy your upsells? Well, they won’t and that’s obvious. However, ones that will are going to bring you almost free money, so it’s worth to have some upselling set up in your marketing funnel. Who doesn’t like free money put your hands up.

Do you know any other places that have refined the upselling process to the max?

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland who shares his thoughts at newInternetOrder.com. Tune in to get his internet marketing tips and other online business related stuff.

70 thoughts on “What Cinemas Can Teach You About Upselling”

  1. Aboutonline says:

    I have noticed that a lot of affiliate marketers are doing this now, the whole buy this for only $37 dollars, then after you buy that there is usually at least 2-3 more pages offering you amazing deals after that! And by the time you are finished buying the amazing $37 dollar deal, you have spent more like $200!

    1. PPC Ian says:

      Yeah, this happens a lot in lead gen too. You fill out a form for one school and then when you’re done, you’re thrown into the next one, then another, etc. The lead quality gets reduced but lots of lead gen companies do this.

    2. Abhik says:

      Yes!! That’s how marketing works 🙂

    3. Yeah you are so right. These deals are sometime so lucarative you can’t say no to and you end up buying or filling a form almost everytime. They turn the triggers on.
      Ppl are making money not just frm their sales page, but also frm their thank you page, error page etc.

      1. fas says:

        Yeah but it can suck for the buyer.

        1. Fernando says:

          It does actually.

          1. Karol K. says:

            Well, not always. Some people really know how to put together a good upsell. Hate the player don’t hate the game 😉

    4. Karol K. says:

      Yes. A lot of affiliate and internet marketers in general do this kind of stuff. However, traditional – offline – salesmen have been doing it for a long time. Internet guys are just trying to catch up.

  2. Michael Kwan says:

    Somewhat unrelated, but I wish the theatres around these parts allowed us to pick our seats ahead of time like that. The free-for-all is always…. interesting, especially on opening nights.

    1. Fernando says:

      Where do you live?

    2. Exoclyps says:

      Now that’s something I wouldn’t want. Imagine coming as a couple and… no thank you.

    3. PPC Ian says:

      That would be awesome, I’d pay more to reserve my seats. I’d pay for an extra ticket so I can leave a seat empty and don’t have to sit next to anyone!

      1. Fernando says:

        Well, that’s weird.

        1. Krystle IVM says:

          In our country, there are indeed cinemas that allow you to reserve your seats ahead of time… like a day or two before you watch the movie maybe? 🙂

          Btw, the movie thing was a great analogy. I love watching movies but I never thought of it that way. 🙂

      2. Karol K. says:

        I must admit, buying every single ticket and being the only person in a cinema sounds like good fun.

  3. billg says:

    Theaters only get 20% of the ticket for the first few weeks a film is shown, the other 80% goes to the studio. Theaters are really in the concession business, not the movie business.

    1. Karol K. says:

      Sounds reasonable. Similar to any other retail store.

  4. Thank you john for this great and amazing article which I never thought of.

    1. Abhik says:

      It’s not John.. Have you read the article fully?

      1. Haha, this is actually a guest post written by Karol. lol

        1. Karol K. says:

          Indeed. 🙂 Anyways, thanks for your kind words.

  5. Karol, that’s a very good post indeed. Hope to see more from you.
    The way you have explained upselling is relly awesome. You don’t have to buy and read big books on Internet Marketing to suceed indeed you can learn it from the things happening outside the internet.

    1. Abhik says:

      Right, only when you keep your eyes open.
      That’s not something people do very often.

    2. Karol K. says:

      Thanks. Adapting some techniques from the real world is very often a good idea. If something works in one medium there’s a big chance it will work in another.

  6. Fernando says:

    John, you are right about the giant food and the drink stand. At least me, as a customer, I just buy it, I don’t even know why. Somehow someone has made of that a ritual when you go to the movies.

    1. Don’t worry all people do the same… 🙂
      And ppl don’t even care if they are getting food and else at higher prices there.

    2. Abhik says:

      Ditto!! Me too always do that same.

      1. Fernando says:

        But it’s so crazy, most of the times I’m not even hungry!

    3. Karol K. says:

      It happens to all of us. Most of the times I’m not even hungry either.

  7. John, You are so right! You should always try to get more out the clients that you have already sold to. Thanks for a great article.

    1. Abhik says:

      The post is written by Karol K. btw.

  8. Susan says:

    Great info. I never thought about upselling that way before. Thanks!

  9. Hi John,
    I have never thought of the business end of things in relation to the Cinemas. I do know that after visiting the Cinema, at the end of the night I have no spare change in my pockets.

    Someone once told me that “The American Economy is geared to strip every dime out of your pocket”. You can place the Cinemas along with the tax man at the head of that line.

    1. Karol K. says:

      It’s funny how we can smell an upsell from a mile away when buying something on the internet. But we’re fine with it when it happens in real life (in a cinema for example).

  10. Exoclyps says:

    Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland who shares his thoughts at newInternetOrder.com. Tune in to get his internet marketing tips and other online business related stuff.
    This part would mean that John wasn’t the one who wrote this, right?

    1. PPC Ian says:

      That is correct. This is a guest post, John did not write it.

  11. Exoclyps says:

    This would me that John wasn’t the one who wrote the post, right?

    1. PPC Ian says:

      Exoclyps, why are you asking the same question over and over?

      1. Exoclyps says:

        I’m sorry. The site acted up weird for me before and my post didn’t come through. Lead me to thinking that using the “cite” tag and so on made it so the post wouldn’t display.

        If my extra messed up comments could be deleted I’d be thankful.

  12. Exoclyps says:

    “Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland who shares his thoughts at newInternetOrder.com. Tune in to get his internet marketing tips and other online business related stuff.”

    This would me that John wasn’t the one who wrote the post, right?

  13. Donny Gamble says:

    Cinema’s definitely have upselling down pat. especially when they put too much salt and butter on the popcorn just so that you will have to purchase something to drink to wash it down.

    1. PPC Ian says:

      Haha! Yeah, nothing like washing down junk food with even more junk food!

      1. Abhik says:

        Or should you say washing down money with even more money 🙂

        1. These theatre and movies are favourite hangout place for young ppl and couples.
          They are so free to wash down their money to have some fun.

          1. Dan Lew says:

            Yeah movies suck the young people in. Young people are the suckers for upsells 🙂

          2. Exception will always present ! I am young but not sucks the upsell in movie Theaters, LOL

    2. Exoclyps says:

      To me the corns tend to get stuck in my trout, so if I don’t have enough drink I’ll be annoyed half the movie.

      Which I tend to be anyways if I forget to pee before it starts. Pouring down 1l soda in your body sure has a side effect.

    3. Dan Lew says:

      Haha, that’s exactly right and what good is a movie without popcorn right?

    4. Karol K. says:

      That’s clever – not cool, but clever. I have to admit.

  14. Dwight says:

    I was just thinking of this the other day, know the most profitable thing sold at theaters? It’s the popcorn, very high margins, not to mention they inundate you will all the local ads and hot trailer preview to upsell you on another movie down the road.

    Dwight Anthony
    Financially Elite Blog dot Com

    1. Exoclyps says:

      So true. First you buy your movie ticket for $15. After that you pay another $10 for your popcorn and soda.

      1. You have so much fun that you make a plan to come again next week and it goes on repeating and you don;t even realize how much you have spent. Plus you do a lot of mouth to mouth advertising as well and drag your friends too.
        Thats’ how I would like to do Marketing. 🙂

  15. Abhik says:

    It’s always a good practice to push the buyer after the main sale has completed.

    1. Karol K. says:

      Sure it is. There’s no additional cost of reaching them.

  16. Dan Lew says:

    Even the movie itself have their own upsell like they have their special promo cups and figurines 🙂

  17. Dan Lew says:

    Movies in Thailand allow you to bring your own food in 🙂

    1. Server Admin says:

      That’s great! But then again, not sure I want to smell everyone’s dinner while watching my favorite movie. 🙂

    2. Karol K. says:

      What exactly do you mean by “your own food”? Can I bring some roast chicken with potatoes? 😉

  18. Dan Lew says:

    We blindly pay for an upsell without even noticing, that is the real key in upselling successfully!

    1. Karol K. says:

      Agree. Good upsell is something the customer actually wants to buy.

  19. Great learning point from “Cinemas Upselling”.

    I always try to observe McDonald on their promotion and their staff’s upselling skill.

    Thanks John’s post.


    1. Karol K. says:

      McDonalds’ guys are the masters of upselling. Their best upselling phrase: “want fries with that?”

  20. I kind of get sick of the constant selling – previews and commercials – even product placement in the movie itself!

    1. Fernando says:

      I hate commercials, but I love trailers. Favorite part of going to the movies.

    2. Server Admin says:

      When it is really cheesy product placement it gets annoying, but those that sneak in that you don’t even realize until you think about it later – are great.

    3. Karol K. says:

      I think that product placement might very well be one of the best ways of advertising. Instant social proof. You see people-popular people-using some specific product. It’s hard to come up with something better.

  21. Personally, I think you’ve used a bad analogy in using the cinema. Most people are well aware of the upsell and make alternative arrangements BEFORE they buy their ticket, making the upsell the bad guy. A better example is a fast food drive through, when you end up with a “Go-large” extra fries and free cardio-vasular aftercare services.

    1. Server Admin says:

      Ever made alternative arrangements BEFORE buying your ticket, i.e. getting some Mcdonalds and try bringing it into the movies? Wasn’t pleasant rushing to down a big mac to get into the movie to get a good seat when rejected at the front door.

      A great example imo – like a football game and the expensive beers and hotdogs.

    2. Karol K. says:

      You’re not allowed to bring your own food in most cinemas. And being rejected at the front door is not a pleasant experience.

      However, I agree with your drive through example. It’s hard to resist those super-size options since they’re only slightly more expensive.

  22. Upsell may lead to more revenue source if we can give the whole focus to build the main product as much possible closer to the perfection because that attracts the buyers to main or side products.

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