Framing product recommendations in online stores

Most online shops feature recommendation bars to make consumers aware of suggested purchases. The way of presenting these suggestions differs significantly from webstore to webstore. Their suggestions are framed in simple terms such as “more …. ” (Ikea), “others also bought” (H&M), “if you like this, your might also be into this” (Urban Outfitters), to more advanced suggestions helping customers to find related products “frequently bought together” (Amazon), or “do more with your purchase” (Best Buy). How effective is the framing of related products of these websites? Does the way it is framed matter? Nearly every webstore has a slightly different name for the recommendation – which seems to point to a specified strategy.

Recommendations of Urban Outfitters of similar products (this is not upsetting since the suggested items are not more expensive or profitable)
Recommendations of Urban Outfitters of similar products (this is not upsetting since the suggested items are not more expensive or profitable)

 In the end, besides helping customers navigate through a dizzying number of products on offer. Whether mentioning it is recommended for them, for the product they have selected or a favorite of other customers, these efforts have the goal to sell more products. They aim at either cross-selling or upselling (Moth, 2012). Cross-selling means that users are shown additional items they can use in combination with the selected product, or that are identical to the selected item. Upselling of products means that a similar product of better quality or with more features is suggested. Whereas cross-selling only drives 0.2 percent of the total number of purchases, upsales drive 4% of the purchases (Moth, 2012).

Example of cross selling from Amazon
Example of cross selling from Amazon

Thus, it might not matter how the suggestions are made, but what kind of suggestions are made to the consumer. In addition, when suggestions are made is important as well: cross-sell recommendations do increase sales by 3% when they were presented on the checkout page (Keegan, 2012). For stores it thus is extremely relevant whether they will label products as upsales or cross-sales.

Also, webstore developers in their enthusiasm to sell more products sometimes seem to forget that the recommendations serve to make the choice for a customer easier. They might be more interested in which products are sold with the product they have selected than all the other options – and their specifications.

Research into customization found that consumers generally liked options that are recommended by other consumers (Herrmann et al,. 2013). By framing an option this way, customers select the suggested items more easily because they trust the other customers in their judgment. Furthermore, negatively phrased advice has stronger effects than positively phrased advice (Breugelmans et al .2012). Phrasing the recommendation thus might help: “This item should not be bought without …”. As long as customers do not feel like the recommendations are not meant to persuade them they will be more open to suggestions (Campbell & Kirmani, 2000).



  • Breugelmans, E. et al. (2012). Promoting Interactive Decision Aids on Retail Websites: A Message Framing Perspective with New versus Traditional Focal Actions. Journal of Retailing. 88 (2, 2012) 226–235
  • Campbell, M. and A. Kirmani. (2000). Consumers’ Use of Persuasion Knowledge: The Effects of Accessibility and Cognitive Capacity on Perceptions of an Influence Agent. Journal of Consumer Research, 27, (1), 69-83.
  • Herrmann et al. (2013). Option Framing and Product Feature Recommendations: Product Configuration and Choice. Psychology and Marketing, Vol. 30(12): 1053–1061.
  • Keegan, R. (2012). eCommerce Merchandising Strategy: The Art of the Cross-Sell. Got Groove. Retrieved on 6 May, 2014.
  • Moth, D. (2012). Upselling is 20 times more effective than cross-selling online. E-commerce: Achieve digital excellence. Retrieved on 6 May, 2014.

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