The Art of the Upsell

Stephen Yagielowicz
My lovely wife, Dawn, and I recently returned from a wonderful cruise to Alaska, where we spent a week sailing the Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Icy Strait Point and the Hubbard Glacier; Skagway, Juneau and beyond.

It had been about a year since our last cruise, which took us all throughout the Hawaiian Islands, but the comparisons and contrasts between these two vacation adventures went much further than that of climate and geography.

While the Hawaiian trip was aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines (and as befits the location), was a more inclusive and laid-back affair, the Alaskan cruise was with Royal Caribbean, a company that is attempting to master the art of the upsell.

For those that haven't been on one of these megaships, cash and credit cards aren't required, as you establish an account at boarding that allows the use of your stateroom key as identification and as a payment mechanism — making purchases at any of the ship's vendors or services as easy as the swipe of a card.

Just as in the ship's casino and those of Las Vegas and elsewhere where tokens (and now, simply a bar-coded strip of paper) allow patrons to spend freely with the psychological advantage of not parting with "real money," the cruise ships make it incredibly easy for you to attain all that you desire — whether you really want it or not.

For example, on the first day of the cruise, we went down to the spa to book treatments on the days that we wouldn't be in port, but sailing instead — a great way of ensuring that you get pampered during the most convenient times by booking early. Rather than being greeted by a mere front-counter clerk, however, we were soon seated with an extremely persuasive "spa consultant" who really did her best to drain my discretionary dollars with tales of the benefits of wrapping us in seaweed. While I was able to keep spa costs within reason, Dawn and I were both talked into more than we came to purchase.

Breakfast presented another opportunity for a sale as we entered the Windjammer Café and were immediately greeted by a gentleman with an entertaining contraption that made fresh-squeezed orange juice, right then and there. "Sure, I'd like a glass!" I said, eyeing the tasty looking oranges being reduced into juicy freshness. "Your SeaPass card, please" he replied.

Now, it's not that they don't have "orange juice" in the restaurant, available for free as part of your included meals — but the dubious (though adequate) Tang-like beverage they were serving was a far cry from the pulpy goodness of the fresh-squeezed juice — and if you want that premium product, it will cost you over and above what you have already paid for. But hey, at least the option is available for discriminating consumers.

And speaking of food and drink, soda, alcohol and other drinks like Red Bull are not included in the ticket price and are all upsells; as is access to the ship's finer restaurants, which impose a per-person surcharge over the base dining room and cafeteria eateries. Want something better than the basic offer, goods and services? It's all here, for a price.

It wasn't just things that I wanted that cost me more than I expected, either, unfortunately. I was hit with a migraine on our first day out and found that I had not brought any Imitrix with me. This was serious, as without proper medication, these migraines can incapacitate me for several days; and this was not how I was going to spend half my cruise. So, Dawn called down to the ship's hospital to get me some pills.

I knew this wasn't going to be cheap, as the pills cost me around $20 each and I'd need a couple of them, but I was thinking it'd be around $100 or so for the trouble — silly me. First off, despite the fact that it was 11 a.m., it was past normal "sick call" hours, so there was $150 "emergency" fee. After a brief examination, I told the doctor that this was not something new for me and all I needed was two Imitrix and I'd be on my way. I wasn't going to be that lucky.

The doctor had me hooked up to an IV, and had me lie on a gurney in the sick bay while being pumped with heavy painkillers that made me vibrate and my teeth chatter. It was not fun, lying there and twitching out, but my migraine ended. Half an hour later, the doctor gave me the two Imitrix I had originally asked for "just in case it comes back …" — and a bill for $600. Thanks.

Of course, this type of unexpected expense is nothing compared to the financial hit that the compulsive can sustain on such a cruise. For example, the ship boasts a tremendous art collection — and an on-board art dealer that offered daily seminars on art collecting as well as several auctions — and a minimum $30,000 line of credit for bidders. Not to be outdone, the diamond merchants offered a similar program.

Everywhere you turned, professional photographers were waiting to take your picture — and if your lady was especially pretty, there was a guy ready to sell you a rose to woo her with, or a saleswoman with just "the right piece of jewelry to match that outfit." And let's not forget the tux rentals and hair salon specials for "formal night."

And speaking of night time, every evening the night steward would come in and turn down our bed, straighten up the suite, and leave us a copy of the next day's newsletter and destination guide — complete with discount coupons, special offers and last-minute shore excursion availability updates. Of course, I always consulted this guide to see what the next day's drink special with optional souvenir glass for only $9.95 was going to be.

At the end of the day, it's really easy to double the ticket price of your cruise in upsell offers alone — and the hit can go up dramatically from there.

The lesson for online adult entertainment operators in all of this is that creative upsells should be used to increase the bottom line and help offset a lower initial purchase price aimed at getting folks through the door. The key is to target and maximize these offers without being so overbearing as to alienate the customer or make him or her feel as though the base offer "wasn't worth it."

Now to read up on all the new spam I've just received about a special offer when I book my next cruise...


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