e-Commerce Value Proposition – How to Stand Out

e-Commerce Value Proposition

e-Commerce value proposition is more or less the same as any value proposition. I guarantee that you’ve seen and read far more value propositions than you’re aware of – because they’re everywhere. They’re on home pages and landing pages. They’re on Facebook ads and sales pages. They’re on freeway billboards and curbside restaurant menus.

“Eat at Joe’s – Home of the Foot-long Corndog”

And they pop up in the most unexpected places.

When the voluptuous Italian movie star Sophia Loren said the Hotel Ritz Paris was “the most romantic hotel in the world,” that was a value proposition.

But, for how prolific value propositions are, confusion surrounds them. You’ll find a number of variations on this 4-point list of what a value proposition does.

A value proposition:

  1. Defines who your customer is
  2. States what your product does
  3. Establishes why you’re unique
  4. Shows the end benefit
What is a Value Proposition
What is a Value Proposition

Sophia Loren’s “The most romantic hotel in the world” statement does all of these things. The Hotel Ritz Paris is for lovers; they will find romance there; more romance than anywhere else in the world. Place that sentence next to a photo featuring Sophia’s generous endowments – and you have your benefits. *Photos are used in value propositions a lot, either as supporting players or integral parts.

Value propositions look deceptively simple, don’t they? But they are one of the most important statements you’ll ever make for your e-commerce products. They require thought, consideration, substantial research, and ongoing testing. Furthermore, they’re worth the effort.

When they work, value propositions make the difference between getting the sale – and boosting your bounce rate.

What is a value proposition?

A value proposition expresses what is unique and desirable about your product – but they aren’t a list of features. It answers the question: What differentiates your product from the competition? And the answer must be grounded in something your target audience desperately wants.

However, this approach presupposes that the product is already designed, already built, and just needs the right words to tell people why they want it (because you know they will want it if you just explain it correctly).

And that isn’t a safe assumption to make. In fact, the authors of the book Value Proposition Design take the opposite approach.

e-Commerce value proposition before product?

Value Proposition Design authors Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda and Alan Smith contend that a value proposition is one of the first steps to creating a product customers want.

For e-commerce stores just starting out, this may be an especially useful way to think about value propositions – as not separate from, but integral to product design. It’s certainly a way to differentiate from Amazon and other e-commerce giants and build something uniquely suited to your ideal clients.

This approach actually has much in common with the Lean Startup methodology. It begins with identifying your ideal customer and mapping what they value, then seeing if and how your idea fits.

In fact, problem-solution fit takes up much of the book, beginning with a multi-page, step-by-step exploration of the ideal customer – their desired outcomes and benefits they seek, the pains they experience, and their “jobs” (what they’re trying to get done). Using that list as a foundation, you can then describe how our product/service can create those desired outcomes and how it can alleviate pains.

From there, you would not only be able to build your value proposition, but have the information required to build the product prototype itself (or a minimum viable product, if you’re Lean).

But let’s be real here: most businesses, and certainly most copywriters, only think about creating a value proposition once the product is in motion.

You’re asked to assume that problem-solution fit has been found, and maybe it has.

I would argue that it’s in your best interest to check – because without that core problem-solution fit, your value proposition won’t work.

Check your fit (and find the raw materials for your value prop)

To check your problem-solution fit, you don’t have to interview a hundred ideal customers – thank goodness. There are a number of methods you can use to gather qualitative and quantitative data, like using NPS scores to identify your brand advocates and selecting a few to interview about why they use your product, what their pain points were before the product, and how, specifically, your product/service helps them achieve their ideal outcomes.

That’s a really good way to check your fit, while also gathering first-hand information and quotes you can use later when constructing your value proposition.

Once you have a few options for value propositions, you’ll want to ensure fit by testing them, as Jamie W did for ZapFlash (as shared on CopyHackers). Jamie found that the wording in Option B resonated with the college student segment of her audience:

Value Propositions Can Be Tested
Value Propositions Can Be Tested

Copywriter Lauren Van Mullem uses qualitative data to inform her value proposition copy in a slightly different way that is also very effective, and a little faster and easier. She uses testimonials.

“When I need to very quickly understand a product or service’s value, I ask my client to send me all the testimonials they’ve received from their ideal clients – and only their ideal clients. The ones who pay the most and are happiest with what they receive. Then I read through all of the testimonials and categorize them based on the benefits and pain points they state. Patterns emerge very quickly, so sorting them into just a few categories is easy. These categories very clearly show the value people get from the product or service, and the core needs that drove them to buy. Out of that foundation, I can write every other piece of marketing, including a value proposition.”

She also has another hack – taking excerpts of the actual words and phrases used within the testimonials.

“Using the exact same words and phrases as the ideal client is a psychological trigger that makes you sound familiar to other similar people. Cialdini, in a nutshell, tells us that people buy from people they like – and people like what’s familiar. What is more familiar than reading the same language you would use? The way we speak and write marks us culturally, socioeconomically and geographically, and as marketers, we can use that to create a feeling of kinship.”

So, compile your testimonials. Sort them into themes and categories, and highlight words and phrases that perfectly encapsulate common pain points and benefits. From that pool of material, you’ll find where your solution fits, and how to sell it. Then, as always, test.

How to write your value proposition

Writing a value proposition is a little like making pumpkin pie – everyone has their own favorite recipe. And, if you want a great recipe, you’d do well to ask the best pie bakers you know. Here’s how three of the savviest copywriters and marketers approach value propositions.

Joanna Wiebe, Conversion Copywriter, Founder of Copy Hackers

A value prop expresses what your prospect strongly desires 1) that only you offer or 2) that you offer best / most interestingly / most beautifully / most affordably / etc. A quick formula for your value prop is this:

Our customers are loyal to us because they want {highly desired X}, and we offer them that {in Y way}.

Amazon can say, “Our customers are loyal to us because they want a huge selection of brands they love at prices they love, and we offer them that with fast, free shipping.” Even Walmart can’t say that. Alibaba may be able to say the same, though, which is perhaps where the convo shifts from value prop to brand – is it a coincidence that Amazon is now running highly emotional ads, like the dog-and-baby or man-walking-dog commercials, to make us feel something for their brand?

Brand is the ultimate differentiator.  

And that brings us to the real question: What do your customers really care about? Yes, the whole world wants the best stuff for zero dollars delivered instantly. But what do YOUR customers care about? And does what they actually care about highlight a chink in the giant’s armour? For example, might your customers really want to know the people behind the business? They can’t get that from Amazon. Do they love a great personality? Amazon doesn’t have that. Do they go batsh*t crazy for killer design? Amazon definitely doesn’t have that.

Punjammies couldn’t be more different than Amazon, and their value proposition works exceptionally well for their audience, making these pajamas unlike any other sleepwear online.

PUNJAMMIES Value Proposition
PUNJAMMIES Value Proposition

Their homepage reads:

PUNJAMMIES(R) are loungepants made with hope by women in India who have escaped human trafficking. Whenever you purchase PUNJAMMIES(R), you invest in the freedom and dignity of these women and girls who are working to forge a new life for themselves and their children.

Now that is a powerful differentatior.

Angie Schottmuller, Growth Marketing Advisor & Keynote Speaker

Ask a client for their value proposition, and you’ll likely hear their latest sales promotion (e.g. 2-for-1) or get a deer-in-the-headlights reaction. It’s a misunderstood, outdated, fluff phrase. Just referencing the word “proposition” misdirects our desired thought process. (We’re targeting simple, meaningful facts — not opinions, schemes, or sexual suggestions.)

Instead, ask clients to describe their DIFFERENTIATOR.

  • How does your product/service differ from status quo? (i.e. Describe the contrast of current and future state.)
  • How does your product/service differ from the competition?

Descriptive responses to these questions identify key features from which we can derive benefits/value. If you’re stuck on features, ask, “Which means?” Repeat this process until you reveal the feature’s meaningful benefit, impact, or usefulness for the customer.  

Example Product: HP Spectre Laptop.

Differentiator: Solid-State Drive (SSD) [feature] >> No moving parts [feature] >> Runs silently and loads faster [benefit]

We have no idea what makes us unique unless we compare ourselves to others. Identify your differentiator to discover your value.

Differentiator is the new value proposition.  – @aschottmuller

The Purple Mattress company cleverly places their value proposition in the blurb you see on the search engine results page. In fact, not only do they declare themselves to be “the world’s first” and “the biggest mattress-tech advancement” – they even made up their own differentiating test, essentially creating a value proposition out of thin air.

Purple Mattress Value Proposition
Purple Mattress Value Proposition

The “Raw Egg Test”? No other mattress company has ever claimed that.

Talia Wolf, Conversion Optimization Consultant & Trainer

When asked “What is your value proposition?”, most companies reply with a long list of features, pricing and benefits that makes them different. However, there are many brands in the world targeting the same customer as your own; and some have better products, better features and better pricing than your own.

So, how do you really stand out? By emphasizing the customer’s value.  

This isn’t to do with the amount of features you have or how many years you’ve been in business; it’s to do with the customer’s emotional value.

Marketers tend to forget that there are people behind those screens, not just devices and geographical locations. People buy on emotion. They face different challenges and are searching for the one to solve it for them. In order for you to stand out, you will need to highlight what’s in it for your customer – how does your solution make them smarter, safer, happier or even loved?

Once you identify those key emotions and values your customers are looking for, you will be able to translate them into your design using color psychology, persuasive copy, the right images, fonts and many more.

So next time you’re crafting your value proposition, remember: what customers really care about isn’t the what, it’s the why.

Purple Carrot, an ingredient + recipe delivery service (like Blue Apron, only vegan), perfectly leverages the key emotions of their target audience in their value proposition.

Purple Carrot e-Commerce Value Proposition
Purple Carrot e-Commerce Value Proposition

Who wouldn’t want a mouth-watering vegan meal that makes them feel great?

Value proposition design

Successful value propositions aren’t just about the words – they’re about effectively conveying an idea. And ideas are communicated as much through images, psychology, color choice and design decisions as by the text on the page.

Shanelle Mullin, Content & Growth at ConversionXL, shares a recent study the ConversionXL Institute conducted of how value propositions are displayed.

ConversionXL Institute recently studied (via eye-tracking and a questionnaire) a few common ways sites display value propositions: 3 simple bullets, 3 bullets with descriptions, 5 bullets, and a short paragraph.

We found that you should limit other elements on the site or, at least, other elements near the value proposition. All elements on the page should be super relevant to the value proposition.

Ambiguous imagery was found to be a major source of confusion and misunderstanding.

In our study, the headline was “Get A Complete View Of Your Personal Finances” and the imagery was three different devices displaying the same financial dashboard. We found that an overwhelming amount of participants then focused on just one element of the value proposition, “connecting all devices.” For some, the imagery even made them think about “selling computers.” Yikes!

Frilly wording wasn’t found to influence perceived understanding, but it was found to influence recall. Test explicit descriptions of features and benefits for yourself.

Lastly, don’t worry about your value proposition being too long. We found that users noticed the value proposition more quickly when it included more text (i.e. took up more real estate) and they spent longer on it when there was more to read. Instead, worry about communicating clearly.

Of course, value propositions aren’t relegated to the “Hero” or header section – you can also put them on Facebook ads that lead to landing pages, like Vinley Market.

Vinley Market’s Value Proposition
Vinley Market’s Value Proposition

Vinley Market’s value proposition is consistent between their Facebook ad and their landing page, but not identical (due to character count constraints, no doubt):

Ad copy: “We are obsessed with uncovering the best boutique wines at amazing prices.”

Landing page copy: “We are obsessed with uncovering the best boutique wines that majorly over deliver for the price.”

Notice that the copy on the landing page sounds much more like a value proposition because of the “the best X” “that [differentiator]” construction. Design-wise, their landing page is clear, with minimal distractions, and they have a rather lengthy value proposition statement that covers what they do, what a primary fear of their target audience is (avoid the trap of pretty labels), and a promise that they’ll make it easy.

They also do one very important thing: They offer social proof that the wines will, in fact, be good (another psychological trigger from Robert Cialdini) by promising to send only “the bottles our buyers are most excited about.”

It’s great e-commerce copywriting because it makes the value you can expect so very clear, while covering common objections and addressing common fears.

So you’ve got your value proposition – now what?

Hurray! You’ve written your value proposition, your designers have crafted a simple, yet powerful image to go with it, and you’ve got your call-to-action button primed and ready.

Now what?

Pop the bubbly and relax?

Hah! No.

The most important part of the value proposition process is the one that’s talked about least – testing. Even if you think you did everything right, even if you consulted your customers, triple checked fit, used their language, and honed your benefits – the only way to ensure your message resonates with your audience enough to measurably increase conversions and sales is… to measure. You have to track what happens.

You’ll need to measure and understand the traffic reaching your page, including what they’re reading most (or least), how long they’re on the page, and how many click your CTA button and convert into customers.

Then, you can begin to A/B test variations on your value proposition wording and delivery to optimize it and win more conversions.

Then you can pop the bubbly.

Has an e-commerce value proposition recently caught your eye (or earned your dollar)? Share it with us on Twitter @Objeqt.

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SaaS Consultant & Customer Success Evangelist. Founder at Authentic Curation. Moderator at @ProductHunt & @GrowthHackers. Previously: Growth at @Inboundorg. INFJ.