Super Size Me – The Art of the Upsell

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Upselling is an unavoidable part of doing business and the art of the upsell has graduated far beyond the ubiquitous line, “would you like fries with that.” Just about anywhere you spend money, the salesperson is going to try and make you part with more of it. I understand it from a business perspective, but it can…

Upselling is an unavoidable part of doing business and the art of the upsell has graduated far beyond the ubiquitous line, “would you like fries with that.” Just about anywhere you spend money, the salesperson is going to try and make you part with more of it. I understand it from a business perspective, but it can be annoying at times.

Last night I ordered a pizza online from Papa John’s. After entering my order I was taken to a separate screen trying to sell me extra dipping sauces, an order of cheesy bread, or any of their other appetizers (I already had an appetizer in my order). After declining that option, I was taken to another screen that offered to send me a free Netflix trial. I’m already a subscriber, so no thanks.

Altogether, I had to go through about 6 different screens to complete my order, and no, I will not store my credit card info in your system, but thanks for checking that box as the default option. (rant over). Papa John’s ordering process may not be very good, but the pizza was excellent!

Last weekend I got the oil changed in my car (at a national chain that I would prefer not to name). They told me it would take about an hour. An hour later they called my name to the desk and pulled out a list of everything I had agreed to pay for – an oil change, tire rotation, and 50 point inspection (all for around$20!). But then, they showed me another list of “recommended maintenance.” My car is exactly 2 years old, and the total cost of the recommendations came to almost $1,000. Wow!

The first recommendation was a full set of new tires. My tires are the original factory tires and have 25,000 miles on them. They are still good for quite a few more miles, but the repair shop was willing to swap them out a little early for my benefit (or so they say). I verified my tires are still safe for driving, and I will make sure to replace them when it is necessary. But not before then.

They also recommended doing an entire fuel system cleaning (around $80), change the air filter ($30), and a full alignment (either $75 or $160 for a lifetime alignment). None of these were necessary. In fact, I bought an air filter the next day to do it myself ($12 at Auto Zone), and when I removed the old one, it was not even remotely dirty. My owner’s manual recommends changing the air filter at 35,000 miles.

The worst part was not only did they try to sell me unnecessary maintenance, but they stopped working on my car while they tried upselling me. (they couldn’t very well finish until they knew if I wanted new tires, a fuel system cleaning, a new air filter, and an alignment). After declining the upsell, my car sat untouched for an additional 20 minutes before they put the tires back on and finished up. Thanks!

I have considered not returning to this shop, but I only go there for oil changes. I can regularly get coupons on my grocery store receipts for $12.99 oil changes, and $5 tire rotation and 50 point inspection. With tax, oil disposal, and everything else, it comes out to about $21. I can’t beat that deal anywhere, and it is a national chain that uses quality products. So, for now, I will just get my oil changed there, and beware of the upsell.

Shop with a plan. The best way to abvoid the upsell is to shop with a plan in mind and avoid spending unnecesary money. Salesmen make their money by convincing you to buy a product or service whether or not you need it. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Would you like fries with that?

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Traciatim says

    With synthetic oil and a premium filter you could avoid the oil changes even longer. Sure they are a little pricier, but I think it’s well worth the difference. The air filter thing really depends on where you live I suppose. I just change mine once a year when the car is in for anything else, usually before the winter sometime. If you lived in a dusty area though, it may need to be changed more or less often depending on the situation. The shop I take mine to just does it when I ask without a labour charge if I’m getting something else done, so that I find works out well.Depending on your climate (East Coast Canada here), winter tires should not be an optional item. This year I’m running on some very used all seasons, my back ones are actually riding the wear markers. I almost spun out with my kids in the car yesterday during a storm, it was not a fun experience. I would be willing to bet that with the conditions on the road if I had of had the cash to get a new set of winter tires the same situation would have been smooth sailing.

  2. Ryan says

    I’m glad to hear you spin out wasn’t too bad! Not fun, especially with your children in the car.

    My manual calls for oil changes every 5,000 miles and the oil I use is a synthetic oil blend, so I don’t have to change the oil very often. It’s never too dusty or humid where I live, which is good for the air filter. At one time I lived in west Texas, where it is imperative to change the air filter often! I can also use year round tires because we really don’t have too much snow or ice where I live. If I lived further north, I would definitely use winter tires.

  3. Mrs. Micah says

    I. Want. Papa Johns.

    Boo, Ryan, you made me hungry. I’ve tried to use their system too…it’s kind of annoying.

    I think that the only reason car places offer those kinds of discounts is because they hope you’ll take at least one of their upsold items. If you factor in the suggestions and the time it takes to reject them as a “price” of sorts, that might work.

  4. Ryan says

    I’m happy to purchase their loss leader and do more research for a better deal elsewhere. It would cost me at least $5-10 more to get an oil change elsewhere. Their location is also very convenient.

  5. Hilary says

    There are a couple of places I shop that seem to do the upsale each time and I’ve gotten to where I make a “preemptive strike” and tell them all the things they are going to say really quickly and tell them I don’t want them or which ones I do want and which I don’t.

    Also I use synthetic in my old car and get that changed at a place that will top off for free which is a good thing on an older car (though sometimes they give me evil looks because I get the expensive stuff even though I drive a 93 geo prism.) Synthetic does not need to be changed nearly as often as they recommend.

    Filters cost about 1/3 the cost if you do it yourself as you did… and they are usually easy access and easy to replace in less than 5 minutes even for someone who knows very little about a car. Next time I replace mine though I’m actually going to buy a reusable one for a little more upfront that only needs to be rinsed down every so often (I forget what they are called … and they may have something that has to be sprayed on them, I can’t remember.) This will save money in the long run and one more thing I won’t be tossing in a landfill.

    Wheel alignment can be a good thing for the wear and tear of your car as well as the wear of the tires especially if you drive over speed bumps regularly or have hit anything that might have caused things to get dis-balanced. Also if you feel any kind of shimmy when you get up to high speeds a wheel alignment might take care of that as well. I’m not saying this needs to be done with every oil change but if it’s been a long while or you’ve noticed increasingly heavy wear it might be a good idea (though I doubt they looked at your tires or car for that matter before suggesting you get it done.) 🙂

  6. Hilary says

    Thanks for reminding me of the exact product name on those reusable air filters! Looks like it would cost me about $24.32 through (I have an amazon prime account so I have free 2 day shipping.) Obviously price on that is going to vary from car to car some but it’s only $9.91 for the oil and cleaner kit so not a bad deal at all. 🙂

    I did mention the wheel alignment partially for the benefit of others who might be reading the comments as well since getting your wheels aligned can sometimes be worth your money (maybe not at $70 but there are reasons a car may need it…)

    FYI on the prime that I mentioned – I know it’s technically not free shipping but if you split the cost between 4 family members it’s $20/year per person ($80/year total) and it works out to be a good deal if you all shop on amazon with any frequency. My parents, sister, brother and I all share a prime account (and we don’t even live in the same place anymore. You can have different shipping addresses.) This year my brother payed for it and then shared it with us but we all agreed we’ll split the cost in renewing it next year because it’s paid for itself in shipping costs we would have spent without it.

    Mmmm … it’s almost January. About time for me to be upsold on something from Chick-fil-a with one of their coupons. Looks like the upsell will be the coffee since January’s coupon is free breakfast chicken biscuit minis. 🙂 Now THAT’s an upsell I can plan for and won’t mind.

  7. Ryan says

    Hi Hilary, Thanks for all the great comments! The air filters you are referring to are the K&N air filters. I bought one for my last vehicle. They actually have a lot of benefits – they last 1 million miles, and you clean them then spray them with oil when they dry. They let more air flow through which can increase your horsepower slightly. They are also better for the environment because they produce virtually no additional waste because they are not meant to be changed – only cleaned. They do cost anywhere from $40-50 each, which is the only downfall.

    As for the alignment, my tires are wearing evenly. There are only 25k miles on the car, and I think things are fine in that department. I’ll get a realignment when I change my tires because it is usually a good idea to get it done then.

  8. Rob in Madrid says

    Ryan Air has perfected the art of the up sell, when you go and book a flight you have to decline all the extra options, such as priority boarding and travel insurance. Well when you click through to buy the ticket you find they’ve add back in the travel insurance, took me 4 tries to get rid of it. Not a big deal when the total cost of the flight was under 40€, but it was more the annoyance of it than anything.

  9. Ryan says

    I remember traveling Ryan Air when I lived in the UK. he fares were great – provided you didn’t want to check luggage, sit in a premium seat, or eat or drink anything on the plane. Then the flight attendants sell all kinds of goods the entire time! But, it amazed me how little you could get away with spending if you wanted to! 🙂

  10. fathersez says

    Upselling is another great invention of the “marketing experts”. First they hit us with “advertising terrorism”, then this.

    And I really, really hate all those default choices they make for us when we order online. We have to be so vigilant to protect ourselves.

    Am I the only one thinking so, or is the world slowly deteriorating to a cheating one.

  11. Ryan says

    “Advertising terrorism.” I love it!

    I agree, I also dislike the default selections designed to take our money. I’m not certain the entire world is deteriorating into a cheating one, but I do think it is imperative to pay strict attention when conducting business. I think it has always been that way though.

  12. Money Blue Book says

    Reminds me of the time I ended up paying for a $14 lunch burger at Fuddruckers for lunch the other day. The lady kept asking me if I wanted cheese, and started listing every single topping one by one. I figured everything was included until I saw the finally tally. I paid it but, made a note to self – extra toppings usually equals extra money!

  13. Ryan says

    Fuddruckers is definitely not on the list of cheap restaurants, but it is usually pretty tasty!

    I went to Applebees for lunch a couple months and they offered $1 brownie bites. It was literally one small square of a brownie, about the size of one of those large puffy peppermints. It’s a brilliant idea by the restaurant – take your regular $5 brownie, chop it into 10 pieces and sell it for twice as much. Everyone on my party passed on the idea (but we had just finished an all you can eat soup and salad meal; we didn’t even have room for Jello!)

  14. Ryan says

    I love Papa John’s. 🙂

    We rarely buy it though. We love cooking and it’s so much cheaper to cook your own food. But sometimes… it’s just great to order out!

  15. Jon says

    Any reputable shop will inspect your vehicle. It’s actually a disservice if know one lets you know if your car needs any additional work. You’d hate to break down somewhere because no one check your fan belts. But remember it’s always buyer beware.

  16. Ryan says

    Thanks for the comment, Jon. I realize that auto repair shops check everything, and they should. Not only for their business, but for the safety of the cars on the road and the people who drive them. But in my experience, some shops are a little overzealous on the upsell, and/or recommend changes to be made before they are necessary.

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