Value Propositions: Online Versus Off-line [VIDEO]
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
This was written for CAS 827: Digital Media Strategies in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
How different was the value proposition for that same product/service from the online to the offline world?
My CTE concerned a leather sectional purchase from Steinhafels (ST) located in Madison, WI. Online, the value proposition (VP) offered robust details (images, 360-degree views, product descriptions, and available locations to view in person). Additionally, a virtual tour offered the opportunity to view the furniture to scale. Specific product benefits were listed (100% leather, customizable configuration, special-order leather colors) as well as accessories (a matching ottoman).
The benefits were clearly communicated in a tabbed format—and included a link to the manufacturer for additional information. ST’s website differentiated mostly by the virtual tour. I have not seen this option available at other Madison furniture stores.
In person, the VP lived up to the reputation. If one compared the product description to the in-person item, they would find a solid match. Of course, it is much more tactile to sit on a sofa than it is to read about one. The physical feel of the product can only be experienced off-line in the physical store. We experienced technical issues on the website, so it was imperative for us to speak with a sales representative in person.
The face-to-face support could have occurred through chat, but it is easier to explain and remedy a situation in person—especially when you can read body language and cues.
Eaton (2019) states that furniture store marketing continues to evolve—but one objective remains the same: make it easy for the consumer to say “yes” (p. 21).
How important is it, in today’s world, that the value proposition is similar/dissimilar across environments (digital vs. offline)?
With respect to overall branding and positioning, the VP must be the same between digital and off-line platforms. Consistent messaging should create the bridge. Regardless of where and how one shops, the VP should remain consistent with the company. This similarity helps ensure brand integrity. If you buy something from Bath & Body Works, the quality and reputation are the same whether you buy online or in-person—an aspect crucial to creating and sustaining brand loyalty.
When applicable, online and offline shopping are companions; shopping is the modern era is a two-step process. Wang and Goldfarb (2018) suggest that online stores are “retail channels” connected by brand: “familiarity generates fluency” (p. 8). If the initial research and data gathering often occurs online—and choices are narrowed, compared, and decided—then the next step is to view in person.
Some items require a tactile determination before purchasing (cars, mattresses, furniture, clothes, eyeglasses, or even smart devices). Other shopping is more conducive to online-only shopping: food takeout delivery; flower delivery; Amazon purchases; or low-risk purchases.
Regardless, both platforms should successfully define the company, the market, and the product, the benefits, and the solutions—while describing the difference between them and other companies through traditional and digital channels (Bosomworth, 2017; Cox, 2018; Eaton, 2019).
However, brick-and-mortal stores are the flagship of the brand and reinforce the brand in a direct way (Wang & Goldfarb, 2018). Unlike online shopping, the old-fashioned maxim of location-location-location is a factor for off-line retailers. When one studies the density of competitors, shopping areas, food, coffeeshops, and other attractive, peripheral aspects that can draw foot traffic, they can help choose strategic locations for stores.
The “what’s in it for me” aspect is different for in-store shopping than for online shopping (Bosomworth, 2017, p. 4).
Recommendations to unify VP
I mentioned in my CTE my wish for SF to enhance their virtual tour process. The current format drops you in front of the store, where you must click around the store randomly until you find the item(s) in question. To unify the online versus offline experience, a geotag on each item would be helpful. Thus, potential buyer could find the item right away digitally and in-person. I understand that part of the process might be to entice consumers with peripheral items as they “walk” or walk through the store.
But in a furniture environment, choices can become overwhelming quickly. Also, the intent may be very narrow. If you are shopping for a dining room set, you may just tune out the sofas or office desks or reclining chairs.
Thus, a smoother virtual tour would get customers to their intended product quickly and not slow down the shopping process. In a world of short attention spans (and the ability to open multiple tabs from multiple companies showing multiple options), a tagged virtual tour could support the urgency and ease of online shopping.
Additionally, combining real-world and digital could integrate in one simple step: image uploads. Similar to paint company, which enable the consumer to upload a picture of their home and add colors to it, Steinhafels could let users upload picture so as to see how furniture would appear in their homes.
Finally, a strong unifier customer support. It’s like the difference between a standard website and the need to modify a site for mobile devices. The products are the same; however, what you see in one area may look different than in the other. Still, there is an audience for each—and both sides of the transaction need to be informative, engaging, and responsive.
Hanlon and Chaffey (2018) summarize online and off-line VPs succinctly, suggesting marketers consider: consumer wants and needs; communication; convenience to buy; and cost to satisfy.
Bosomworth, D. (2017, October 21). Creating an online value proposition (OVP) for your site. Smart Insights. https://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/online-value-proposition/online-value-proposition/
Cox, L.K. (2018, June 5). How to write a great value proposition [Infographic]. HubSpot. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/write-value-proposition
Eaton, T. (2019). Furniture marketing strategy: How to increase sales & revenue. Plytix. https://www.plytix.com/blog/furniture-marketing-strategy
Hanlon, A. & Chaffey, D. (2019). Digital marketing models. Smart Insights. https://d2l.msu.edu/content/enforced/1069161-FS20-CAS-827-730-97R5JB-EL-10-158/DigitalMarketingModels.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=0nKiLothD3KyQON9VIgXuwNuA&ou=1069161
Wang, K., & Goldfarb, A. (2018, April 11). Online versus offline stores: Synergy or substitution. American Marketing Association. https://www.ama.org/2018/04/11/online-versus-offline-stores-synergy-or-substitution/ #Marketing #ValueProposition #Branding #OnlineValueProposition #OVP