Is there a phrase or word to describe when you sell something small in order to establish a business relationship, build confidence and establish a market/infrastructure in order to sell consumables, service, other products or similar later on?

Bait-and-switch is wrong because what is being advertised is what is being sold, at the advertised price and there is no requirement for further purchase but its main purpose is to increase other sales. Selling razors or ink jet printers cheap in order to make money off razor blades and ink cartridges later on are typical examples.

EDIT: A slightly better example might be an auto manufacturer, since razors don't come in very different price steps. Suppose Honda pushes in a developing country to win a cyclist over to using a moped. Once they have made the step to using a motorized vehicle, they have established a relationship with the customer and they grow accustomed to it. From there, they can sell consumables for the moped and a new one once the first wears out but furthermore a motorcycle or even a car at a higher price. The initial moped was a real product and not sold at a loss, buy they have a grander scheme of offering an entry level product to the market.

  • Fun fact: for a lot of years (and they might still) Wal-Mart took a loss on every bottle of laundry soap they sold because they knew it would attract the main housekeeper where they could make massive amounts on paper products and groceries.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:10
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    In some circumstances this is called "predatory pricing". Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 16:59
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    The only phrase that really hits the nail on the head here is gaining a "toe-hold", "gaining a toe-hold on the market". (You can google any number of uses of that.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 17:00
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    Actually I've just realized your question somewhat confusingly has both an (A) toe-hold example (exactly and precisely what say automakers were doing in the developing world say in the 90s) and (B) a "you must buy the consumables after buying the razor/printer" example. A and B are totally different.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 17:04
  • @JoeBlow Sorry about that. I gave two examples looking for something in-between. Consumables isn't key here, cutting yourself into the market is or creating one if there isn't one in the first place. It could just as well be a service and not a product you are selling. Paying for internet/satellite radio subscription paved way for Netflix and similar services one the consumers mindset had accepted the idea of such subscription services, then you increase the scale and price of the goods/services once you are "in".
    – winny
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 21:39

5 Answers 5


I believe this type of thing is called a "loss-leader" - supermarkets use the tactic to draw consumers in on the promise of a few of their product lines being cheap - knowing that in the course of their shopping - customers will probably buy other goods at higher prices. Another description is that of "upselling"which is another tactic used by online retailers who tempt buyers with a small purchase and then - at the point of ordering - try to sell additional items which are usually higher in price.

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    I leared a new phrase today. Thank you! The "loss" part is discuraging but according to wikipedia, it should be bang on - "It is offered at a price below its minimum profit margin—not necessarily below cost" and "... drills or electric saws, for cost or below. They do this expecting customers to buy accessories such as blades, drill bits, stands, or cases, along with the new tool."
    – winny
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 13:09
  • Hello and welcome to EL&U. Part of the culture here is to substantiate answers by reasoning or by citing relevant sources, or both. This helps others to decide for themselves whether an answer fits the question, and to what extent it does. I've added a couple of links to your answer with this in mind. Feel free to edit further or to roll back my edits.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 13:23
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    2 popular loss-leader items today: printers (buy a cheap printer, spend a lifetime buying ink), microsoft xbox systems (they broke even/ lost money on systems, made money on the games+subscription services) (forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/09/06/…)
    – chiliNUT
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:12
  • loss leader: "A featured article of merchandise sold at a loss in order to draw customers - drawing card, leader" -- WordWeb Online
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 1:47
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    To clarify, the razor/printer example is a "loss-leader", while the Honda example is "upselling".
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:07

You probably mean lock-in, though the initial sale triggering it is not necessarily something small. When a sale causes a lock-in condition, the buyer is forced to buy more from the same entity in future to continue enjoying their initial investment be it through consumables, spares, upgrades or maintenance services.


lock-in NOUN

1 An arrangement according to which a person or company is obliged to deal only with a specific company.

‘This creates a lock-in condition for the customer, which means higher costs for upgrades, service and expansion.’
‘The customer base is an important element of market power for aircraft manufacturers since there is at least to some extent a lock-in effect for customers once their initial choice of aircraft is made.’

  • Great! This is even closer! In the razor blade example, you have a meachnical lock-in due to the mechanical design of the locking mechanism but I was fishing for a slightly broader term since even if there are compeeting razor blade complaies and the customer in question buys them instead, at least you have won them over from using an electrical razor in the first place so your pool of customer is larger and the overall infrastructure (foam and what not) and mindset has been invested in by the customer.
    – winny
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 13:19
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    While a worthy phrase, lock-in is more about razors, printers - it's not the "Honda-bikes-mopeds" example the OP gave.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 17:01
  • Sure! The bike-moped-... example was added in the question after I added my answer. Consumables/spares/services for the vehicle still involves lock-in (though to a lesser extent), but yes, anything more will more likely be a combination of up-sell/cross-sell/brand-loyalty. Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 5:44

Gary Cooper's recommendation of up-selling comes close, but since the seller's goal is to keep you buying more things over a period of time, the more accurate term would be cross-selling.

Up-selling usually refers to getting a customer to purchase a more expensive version of what they came for, or extra accessories. Examples would include the sport/limited edition of a car, a cover and insurance for a tablet computer, or "fries with that."

In cross-selling, salespeople target existing customers and tell them how great this new thing they have (camper trailer, motorcycle, certificate of deposit) goes with the truck, moped, or checking account they already own. (Of course, the customer has to know this is happening, otherwise the salesman might be working for Wells Fargo. [obsnark])


What the company is doing establishing brand loyalty which is the tendency for a customer to buy products or services made by or provided by a specific organisation.

Brand loyalty is often thought of as loyalty to a manufacturer (Jane always buys Ford cars, Andrew always drinks Budwiser beer) but it can also apply to retailers (Karen always shops at Wal Mart) and even insurance and banks. In fact retail banks have some of the most brand-loyal customers of all organisations. This is probably the reason why banks have, in the past, offered good deals to students because graduates tend to be higher earners and, because of brand loyalty, they have the students as customers long after they have graduated.


A search for King Gillette (the founder of Gillette razors and inventor of this business model) led me to this description of the model:

Freebie marketing

Freebie marketing, also known as the razor and blades business model, is a business model wherein one item is sold at a low price (or given away for free) in order to increase sales of a complementary good, such as supplies.

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