The Art of Cross-Merchandising: Boosting Sales Through Strategic Product Pairings

Whatever your business, it is wise to consider and implement the art of cross-merchandising. It is a proven technique which boosts sales. There are many products which lend themselves to being displayed together, such as bread and butter, wallpaper and wallpaper paste, and different clothing elements that can make a complete outfit,  but there are other product pairings which are less obvious, but very effective at boosting sales.

In this article, we will explore what cross-merchandising is, consider various cross-merchandising techniques and cross-selling strategies, and provide some different cross-merchandising examples for you to consider.

What is cross-merchandising or cross-selling?

Cross-merchandising is the art of displaying items together from different product categories. The aim is to create a display that will remind a customer of a need for something other than what they were initially looking to purchase, or spark an idea for using the product that they wanted to buy. A good cross-merchandising display will also streamline the shopping experience. Using mannequins to assist in such displays can be very beneficial as it brings life to a store display. You might also wish to consider the role of mannequins in online shopping, too. 

The reason the art of cross-merchandising is often referred to as cross-selling is that customers tend to buy the secondary product alongside their initial choice, thus increasing sales.

What are the benefits of cross-merchandising?

Whether online or in-store, cross-merchandising offers a number of benefits to the retailer, which include:

  • Increasing sales growth
  • Promoting new products
  • Creating interest in slow-moving products
  • Helping customers choose certain complementary products
  • Increasing average transaction values
  • Triggering impulse buys
  • Streamlining the shopping process
  • Inspiring customers by giving them fresh ideas 

Similar to the ‘you may also like…’ feature on e-commerce websites, by combining products that work together on displays, retailers are increasing the likelihood of customers purchasing more than one item and are improving the customer experience.

Beneficial cross-merchandising techniques and strategies

There are many cross-merchandising techniques and strategies which can be implemented, depending on your store layout, products you have on display and the customers you want to attract.  Some can be used regularly; others can be introduced at certain times of the year. It is beneficial to implement these strategies with a number of product ranges to gain the best results.

1.      Impulse Sales

One of the most commonly used cross-merchandising techniques is placing a primary item with a less expensive, but complementary item, promoting a joint purchase. 

Examples of these might be premium cheeses with bottles of wine; mobile phone cases next to mobile phones; magazines and snacks near the checkout; Sellotape, ribbons and gift tags near to wrapping paper and Birthday cards.

2.      Incentivise impulse buys

This is where minimal cost, but very useful, items are placed in prime locations. Items such as lip balm, snacks or costume jewellery are placed in areas such as checkouts, entrances, end displays or sale areas, allowing customers to pick them up at a whim due to their usefulness, but relatively low-cost compared to the rest of their shop. A recent survey found that UK shoppers spend £416 per year on unplanned purchases or impulse buys.

3.      Themed cross-selling

Thematic displays could bring a number of products together from different departments which help to spark an idea for customers. This is a great strategy often used during particular holidays or sporting events. Often, some of the items might be bespoke or not available at other times of the year.

Examples could be a single display including various sexy lingerie, party dresses, jewellery, premium chocolates, cards and red roses during the run up to Valentine’s Day or football shirts, balls, shorts, flags and other supporter items, beefburgers and baps, beer and disposable barbecues during a World Cup or similar football competition.

4.      Substitute Options

This cross-merchandising technique can boost margins as it promotes alternative solutions next to other products. 

An example could be displaying different types of sauces together – some premium or known-named brands, some own-brand. This can either showcase the more expensive option, incentivise the customer to purchase a new option or highlight the benefit of the own-brand. Other examples might be selling diced onions close to regular onions or placing branded t-shirts next to plain white ones.

5.      Bestsellers

Cross-merchandising best selling products alongside complementary or substitution products means that customers are drawn to what they know, but will also consider the rest of the products on display.

An example might be a mannequin displaying a pair of bestselling jeans with a statement top or with a piece of jewellery or bag.

6.      Complementary displays

Similar to substitute options, this cross-merchandising technique arranges displays with items which complement each other. Ensure that it is clear that these items are meant to be used together. Without a clear understanding of the product pairing, customers may even decrease sales. Use photographs, captions or examples.

Examples could be ice cream sauces or wafers near the ice cream cabinet; plumb lines, wallpaper brushes and wallpaper adhesive near to wallpaper samples or flower pots, seeds and watering cans near to bags of compost. Unusual pairings needing explanations could be a display of locally produced items which don’t have any connection to each other apart from being local; frying pans, flour and eggs as a product pairing for Pancake Day will look strange if customers don’t realise that Shrove Tuesday is approaching.

7.      Underperforming products

Placing slow-moving products in different areas can gain them more attention. It may be necessary to try out various locations, monitoring how well the product does in each one.

An example of this type of cross-merchandising could be a new or unfamiliar brand of sweet being displayed in the cleaning aisle to make it stand out rather than placing it alongside familiar brands of the same sweet in the confectionery aisle.

8.      Product demonstrations and samples

Particularly beneficial for selling food and drinks; kitchen gadgets and tools or other items that can be shown being used in a way that might inspire customers to use them. This can be a great way to show off slow-selling products as well as new products. By placing the products near the demonstration station, they can be picked up easily. It is also important that the demonstrator fully understands the product and can answer any customer questions.

Examples of this cross-merchandising technique are demonstrating a cleaning cloth and solution; tasting cubes of a new brand of cheese or demonstrating a variety of different and quirky uses for plastic storage boxes.

9.      Bundling and Add-Ons

Packaging several products together to be sold as a group can be beneficial. This can include items from various departments and include items that might not be big sellers individually. Bundling can be used to encourage customers to purchase more in one go either with or without a discount.

Add-Ons are particularly used in online sales where complementary items are shown on different product pages so that they can easily be added to the shopping basket. Similarly, being offered more expensive, premium versions with extra benefits or warranties, for example, are examples of add-ons as they will increase the value of the sale.

Examples of the bundling cross selling strategy might include a bra, knickers, a camisole top and a piece of jewellery; bath items such as towels, bubble bath, lotion and a bath pillow. Add-On examples might be a pair of shoes or other outfit additions shown next to a dress as well as various colour options for the dress to encourage the purchase of more colours; the suggestion of insurance or warranty

10.   Using Lifestyle Examples

Used primarily online, this cross-merchandising strategy is used to show examples of products being used or worn in ‘real life’ in different scenarios. Working in a similar way to real life demonstrations in store, these can be beneficial as they show customers how they might be able to use or wear your products as well as showing related products at the same time, encouraging further purchases.

Examples will be the use of photos illustrating products being used; blog posts outlining various uses or styles; influencer demonstrations of your products; including information in online or physical catalogues on how others have used or worn your items. 

Other considerations

When considering implementing a cross-merchandising strategy, there are some general sales ideas which can assist but that aren’t specifically part of the strategy.

Product Placement

It used to be a common belief that products you wanted to sell or those which would give you a better margin should be placed at eye-level. Recent research, however, indicates that such products should be placed 14.7 inches below eye level, at around  chest level for the average customer.

Loyalty Programmes

Designed to reward customers when they return, loyalty programmes often offer exclusive deals or discounts.They can also help with any cross-selling strategy, as the offers or discounts can show items included within the strategy directly, or simply encourage the customer to return to the store, so that customers will be able to experience the product pairings and cross-merchandising ideas that you have implemented.

Team involvement

Providing staff with training to effectively cross-sell will reap rewards. Ensure that they know about the products that you are focussing on and consider incentivising them for making sales or suggesting suitable products to include in any cross-merchandising strategy.


In today’s world, it is relatively easy to track and monitor customer buying habits and spend with point of sale (POS) systems and electronic tills. Using analytics that technology can provide helps you to better understand purchasing patterns and product preferences than simply ‘gut instinct’. Such analytics will enable you to make personalised cross-selling recommendations and improve sales.


It is always useful to consider what competitors are doing. Considering how similar stores are operating as well as looking at smaller or larger competitors can be beneficial. Industry leaders will typically have large teams to help them make merchandising decisions, so by examining what they are doing will help the smaller business who doesn’t have access to such large teams.

How can Proportion London help?

Providing innovative display solutions for high-end and high street brands and museums, wherever a cross-merchandising strategy involves mannequin or rail displays, we can help. 

Whether you wish to purchase or hire display mannequins of all shapes and sizes, why not contact one of our specialist advisers to discuss how we can work with you to help deliver your cross-merchandising plans.

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