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Dunkin' pushing cashiers to 'upsell' in afternoons

If an iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts is part of your afternoon routine, expect a nudge to buy a cookie or doughnut you didn't plan on.
/ Source: The Associated Press

If an iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts is part of your afternoon routine, expect a nudge to buy a cookie or doughnut you didn't plan on.

Dunkin' Brands CEO Nigel Travis said in a phone interview Thursday that the company is pushing to get its cashiers to "upsell" to afternoon customers. It's part of an effort to increase sales after stores have emptied out after the morning rush. In the afternoon, customers who do come in are mostly just searching for a drink.

Upselling of this kind — often called "suggestive selling" in the fast-food world — is common. Who hasn't been asked "Would you like fries with that?" But it's not a strategy Dunkin' has aggressively pushed in the past, because most the chain's business is in the morning when customers are in a rush and speed is the top priority.

"People tend to be in a slightly different mode in the afternoon," Travis said. "In the afternoon, they tend to be more relaxed."

For Dunkin', that means cashiers can take the extra few seconds to ask customers if they want a doughnut, cookie or even a sandwich along with that coffee. Travis said the need to upsell would be emphasized in an upcoming talk with U.S. franchisees.

As an extra temptation, the company has also been rolling out small cases in some stores to display items like cookies and Danishes more prominently at the counter.

"Franchisees are kind of excited about it, Travis said. "It's a way to push various items."

It's a tried-and-true strategy. The head of the U.S. division for McDonald's Corp., Jeff Stratton, has said in a past interview with the AP that keeping the chain's apple pie dispensers visible to customers right behind the cashier helps drive sales. If McDonald's were to put the dispensers in the back kitchen area, he said apple pie orders would probably be cut by half.

Some people may think they're not susceptible to such tactics, but Travis says the evidence shows otherwise. He cited an example of a company where he previously worked that used video cameras to study the eye motions of customers while they waited in line. Customers would look up at the menu board to decide what they wanted while in line. But once they reached the counter, they'd look up at the menu board again, he said.

That second glance at the menu suggested people are susceptible to changing their minds, Travis said.

Attracting more customers in the afternoons — and getting them to buy more when they visit — is critical for Dunkin' Donuts, with convenience stores, fast-food chains and packaged food companies all pushing into the breakfast business. Dunkin' Brands Group Inc., based in Canton, Massachusetts, cited that intensifying competition Thursday as one of the reasons for its underwhelming sales increase of 1.8 percent at established U.S. locations in the latest quarter.

The disappointing results prompted Dunkin' to trim its U.S. sales forecast for the year. It now expects growth of 2 to 3 percent at domestic Dunkin' Donuts locations, down from the 3 percent to 4 percent increase it previously forecast.