November 30th, 2008 | 6 MIN READ

How Strong Is Your Value Proposition?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Do you have a unique value proposition for your online store?

You do if you can answer this question:

Why should your ideal customer purchase from you rather than from anybody else?

I would even go so far as to ask yourself, what one thing about your company, your product selection, your customer service or your customer loyalty is so compelling, that even if a product was out of stock, or some functionality were broken on your site, a customer would stick around and buy something?

The folks at Marketing Experiments believe so strongly in the importance of the clarity of the value proposition that Dr. Flint McGlaughlin was bold enough to say if you get your value proposition right, you can get many other things wrong on your landing pages and still improve conversion dramatically.

Creating a unique value proposition requires you to differentiate your online store from the other retail options your customers may be considering, making you their best choice. You can present offers like free shipping, 24/7 live chat support or no hassle returns -- but these are not unique value propositions -- it's unlikely you are the only shop that offers these perks.

You can have value-added offers in common with your competitors, but to have a strong value proposition, you must excel in one area over them. And once you have this value proposition established, you must communicate it clearly and support it with every other element on your site.

Check out a sampling of statements below, and ask yourself which ones are effective value propositions:

a. #1 Printer Ink Seller (

b. We offer expert advice and lifetime product support (

c. AltE is the premier retailer of renewable energy goods. We provide not only the expertise and the technical service the Do-It-Yourselfer needs but also a place for learning & sharing with others who have the same passion. We are Making Renewable Do-able. (

d. Most popular online leather store (

e. The internet's largest discount jeweler (

f. Personalized Orders for Christmas are Printed & Shipped in 1-2 Business Days Guaranteed (

g. High quality, unique wedding favors that reflect your personal style (My Wedding Favors

Personally, I don't feel any of the above are good value propositions. Here's why:

"#1 Printer Ink Seller" Why should I believe you? #1 for what? Volume of sales? Customer service rating? Largest distribution?

The Biblical proverb says "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth." There is wisdom in this proverb for marketers - the post-modern consumer will not believe your own "puffery." As Dr. Flint McGlaughlin mentioned several times, you can't convince today's post-modern consumer that you are the best, the highest quality, the most popular or the largest without backing up your claims with facts. If everyone is saying they are #1 in XYZ, or the best, or the biggest, or the most popular - who do you believe? Probably none of them, and you'd trust the site that doesn't boast anything at all.

Any way you can back up your claims with quantifiable proof, rather than subjective, qualitative statements (aka market-ese) will help. Numbers talk.

"We offer expert advice and lifetime product support" Is this the only retailer in its category to offer this? Does it excel in one area of product support - a guarantee no one can beat? A service no one else offers? If that's the case, make the customer understand that they can not get the same advice or support anywhere else.

"AltE is the premier retailer of renewable energy goods" This statement falls under the "why should I believe you?" umbrella. "We provide not only the expertise and the technical service the Do-It-Yourselfer needs but also a place for learning & sharing with others who have the same passion"
Is your community the most active or most helpful for the renewable energy do-it-yourselfer? How can you back that up? Are you the only community that can also provide product advice and the ability to buy product?

"Most popular online leather store" What makes you most popular? How can you back up this claim with customer testimonials, awards or industry endorsements? Should I care if you are the most popular but can't offer me what I want?

"The internet's largest discount jeweler" I don't believe you. I've never heard of you. What does largest mean? Do you have the best selection? How will you support this proposition with every other element of your landing page?

"Personalized Orders for Christmas are Printed & Shipped in 1-2 Business Days Guaranteed" While this is clearly a valuable guarantee - it reassures the customer a personalized order will be produced quickly, it only speaks to customers who want personalized items (would be a great value proposition on personalized item pages). It's not clear enough - will the item arrive in 1-2 business days? How long is the typical shipping time? How do you back up your guarantee if something goes wrong?

"High quality, unique wedding favors that reflect your personal style" This is a nice statement, but it doesn't communicate the uniqueness of the online retailer. I'm sure there are several other options that sell "unique" wedding favors that can accommodate one's personal taste.

The goal is to communicate so much value to a customer that you eliminate the need to buy from anyone else. If you can't, you'll survive off of what Dr. Flint McGlaughlin calls "pockets of ignorance" - there may be someone who can deliver a better customer experience faster and cheaper than you, and your customer should really buy from them! But without knowing there is a better option, the customer buys from you. Dr. Flint asks, if you don't have a strong value proposition, why are you in business?

Easier Said Than Done?

It's easy to say "just figure out your value proposition" like it's easy for Donald Trump to say "if you don't have a wealthy father, then I suggest you get one."

Many online retailers really don't have anything Earth-shattering to offer above and beyond free shipping, 24/7 customer support, hassle-free returns, a decent selection of products and hopefully a user friendly website. It's tough to position yourself in a way that can't easily be matched by competitors.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't give thoughtful consideration to what your value proposition could be and how to communicate it clearly on your website. The upside is, most online retailers don't have good value propositions. So even with me-too guarantees and offers, you can at least minimize the motivation for a visitor to shop somewhere else by communicating what you do do well (yes, sounds funny but I meant to say "do do.") Chances are, you'll still win sales from "pockets of ignorance." But your site and conversion won't be optimal.

Check out Marketing Experiments' full webinar on value propositions and this list of additional resources.

It's easier to find a parking spot at the mall on Christmas Eve than it is to find examples of online retailers that have a really clear, well supported value proposition. We're going to stay on the topic of value propositions this week. I've teamed up with Tony Valcarcel from Marketing Experiments to analyze 3 of the top online retailers' value propositions and communication of them, so check in daily or subscribe today.

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