“I need to upsell an item for charity during the online checkout process…”

4 min read Ashlea McKay

“Dear Optimal Workshop

I need to add an upsell item for a charity group into the checkout process. This will include a ‘Would you like to add this item?” question, and a tick box that validates the action in one click. Which step of the checkout process do you think this would be best on? Thanks in advance.”

— Mary

Dear Mary

About a month ago, I found myself with some time to kill in Brisbane airport (Australia) before my flight home. I wandered on into a stationery store and it was seriously gorgeous, believe me. Its brick-walled interior had an astroturf floor and a back corner filled with design books — I could’ve spent hours in there.

I selected a journal that facilitates daily ranting through guided questions, and made my way to the counter to pay. Just as I was about to part with my hard-earned dollars, the sales assistant offered me a charity upsell in the form of a 600ml bottle of water for $2 (AUD). Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with Australian domestic airports, but a bottle of water bought from the airport costing less than an absurdly expensive $5 is something I’d written off as a unicorn!

Yes, that’s right. $5 for WATER is considered normal, and this nice man was offering it to me for $2, in a colored bottle of my choice, complete with that feel-good feeling of giving to charity! I left the store feeling pretty proud of myself and silently had a giggle at people who were buying bottled water elsewhere.

Getting the balance right

Charity upselling at the check out can be a tricky thing. If we get it wrong, we not only fail to raise money for the charity, but we also risk annoying our customers at a moment we want them to be particularly happy with us. The experience I had at the airport is one that I would describe as near perfect. Not all experiences are as positive. It falls down when people start feeling pressured or tricked; when it turns into an ambush.

I like the approach you’re looking at. It’s non-threatening and seamless for the user. So, where should you position it in the checkout?

Online checkout is a process like any other: it follows a uniform, often-linear order, and each step involves an action that moves things forward.

From my vast online shopping experience (and I do mean vast), I’ve observed that the generic checkout process looks something like this:

  1. Add item to cart
  2. View cart (option to skip and proceed straight to checkout is also common)
  3. Proceed to checkout
  4. Sign in / Create account / Guest checkout
  5. Enter billing address
  6. Enter / Confirm shipping address
  7. Enter payment details
  8. Review purchase
  9. Make payment
  10. Confirmation / Payment decline screen

There are two ways that I would consider approaching this and it largely depends on the actual charity upsell item itself.

If you’re offering a product to purchase for charity, offer early

If we’re talking about the equivalent of my water bottle (offering a product), then I say introduce it early in the checkout process (either Step 1 or 2). Why? Because the customer is still in buying mode. Once they click ‘Proceed to checkout’, they transition and their focus shifts to the business end of their purchase. The stationery store at Brisbane Airport offered the water before telling me how much I owed them. I hadn’t quite got to the real world version of checkout mode, which for me was Where did I put my debit card? mode.

I quite like the way Oxfam Australia handles the charity upsell by including an ‘Add to your gift’ button (screen 1) which takes you to the charity upsell option (screen 2) and guides you back to the previous screen, all before checkout.


charity upsell at checkout

charity upsell at checkout

If you’re asking for a donation to charity, ask later

Now, if we’re talking about a donation, such as rounding the purchase price up to the nearest dollar, or asking straight out, it’s a slightly different story. I’d say add the charity upsell option when they first review their whole intended purchase. It might be before confirming the shipping address, or even just before confirming payment details. They’ve got money on the brain, and they haven’t quite sealed the deal. And it can only be good for the charity if the customer can easily see how small the requested donation is compared to their entire purchase (ahh, the art of persuasion…).

Once they start typing in their payment details, they’re essentially signing on the dotted line and entering into a contract with you. So there’s no asking after that.

David Moth published an interesting article discussing upselling and the online checkout process that’s worth a look, so do check it out.

In the end, this is something that you’ll still want to test with users, and ultimately it will be up to them. If you have scope, try out a few different options and see which results in more sales. Hopefully this post has given you a good place to start.

All the best Mary!

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Ashlea McKay

Ashlea McKay is a UX researcher, writer and keynote speaker with an industrial design background. She has more than a decade of professional experience spanning both the public and private sectors. Ashlea co-founded Optimal Workshop's UX advice column in 2015 and is based in Australia.