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.