Finance Consumer Garry Linnell and why the plague of up-selling is so frustrating
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Garry Linnell and why the plague of up-selling is so frustrating

garry linnell
Upselling goes back to the bloke who invented the wheel and suggested his first buyer might like a second wheel to go with it. photo: TND/Getty
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It started when she leaned in one night for a kiss and I turned away.

I didn’t want to appear cold and rude because I’ve loved her since the day we met.

Still do. But I couldn’t help it.

Her breath stank like those overflowing bins at the rear of a seafood restaurant on a hot day.

In the mornings she would lean over and affectionately nuzzle into my neck. We’d lie there together, all warm and content. And then she would sigh. Deeply.

Within seconds the paint began peeling from the walls.

Our relationship was now in danger. The bond between us, forged by years of intimacy and trust, was beginning to snap.

There was only one choice: Take her to the vet.

Which is how my wife and I found ourselves descending into yet another never-ending world of upselling.

Our dog is six and we didn’t need the vet to tell us she had a decaying tooth.

Almost as bad as her fetid breath was the bill to have the teeth cleaned and fixed – a little over $400.

But that was just the start.

The vet suggested a full blood analysis to make sure all the dog’s organs were functioning well. That would be another $150. Nice trick.

We said no because she runs around like a pup, eats well and seems like every other normal dog.

But that’s how upselling works. They plant a little seed of doubt. They tickle your conscience until a little guilt rises to the surface.

It’s only another $150 so you can rest easy at night. Don’t you want the best for your dog, mister?

There’s another trick, too.

Many vets insist on annual vaccinations for your pets.

They don’t mention that more than a decade ago a pile of research emerged suggesting your animals are better off having booster shots for the major viruses every three years.

The old car dealership trick

It’s similar to the old car dealership trick. To boost repeat business they insist only their workshop is capable of keeping your vehicle serviced.

Don’t you want the best for your family, mister? Don’t you want peace of mind, knowing only we can keep you safe?

On the way home from the vet we stopped off at the petrol station to fill the tank.

The guy at the counter asked if I would like two packets of gum for the price of one and an energy drink with a half-price salad that looked like it was harvested during the Middle Ages.

The old play-on-your-Fear-of-Missing-Out trick.

This is great value, mister. Offer closes Friday.

Upselling is the dark art of getting a customer to make a higher cost purchase than originally planned.

garry linnell
Dealers will often try to up-sell you with car accessories or dealer servicing. Photo: Getty

It’s been around for a long time, of course. Goes right back to the bloke who invented the wheel and suggested his first purchaser might like a second wheel to go with it. When the buyer agreed, he was also sold a cart to go with it.

But now it’s reached epidemic proportions – would you like fries with that? – because so many organisations now factor it into their business model.

Driven by budget expectations that as much as 30 to 50 per cent of profits should come from upselling, they assault your senses with any number of offers.

Buy wine at a bottle shop and for $10 more you can get a six-pack of beer brewed with pristine water from a remote Icelandic fjord and bottled by a team of virginal Austrian handmaids.

Purchase a cheap airline ticket online and spend the next 20 minutes navigating bundles of upselling offers. Can I decline the $15 seat booking fee and stand instead, please?

Rent a hire car. Only $35 a day? They must be kidding. And yes, they are. Add in the insurances and tolls and you don’t get it for under $100.

Frustrating consumer experiences

Along with the abysmal standard of customer service in this country – and the unbelievable number of ‘customer satisfaction surveys’ that arrive in your inbox seconds after a parcel is delivered or a purchase is made – upselling would have to be one of the most frustrating consumer experiences.

There is no escaping it, from Amazon teasing you with ads showing what “Other customers also bought” to streaming services and just about every other business offering “standard” and “premium” packages.

But the vet?

There was a time when veterinarians were as revered as the family GP.

They were serious and well-credentialled people in white coats.

Now, with the growth of the multibillion-dollar pet market and the broadening of one-stop pet superbarns, many of them now apparently come in pin-striped suits and read the Australian Financial Review.

Upselling might be a sales technique we are forever doomed to confront. But in the end it creates confusion, uncertainty and, ultimately, cynicism in the mind of the consumer.

I’ve been through all three stages.

Give me the fumes of bad dog breath any day.

It sure beats the insincere heavy breathing of a tosspot salesperson flogging me things I don’t need.

  • Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine