Submitted By: Miranda Harple, Penn State Extension Marketing & Business Development Education Specialist and Brian Moyer, Penn State Extension Education Program Associate, Business and Community Vitality
What is a value ladder? A value ladder is a marketing tool that allows businesses to gradually increase the value they offer to their customers over time. It’s a way of building a relationship with the customer, by starting small and adding more value gradually as trust and confidence in the brand grows. At the bottom of a value ladder are low-cost, entry-level products or services that are easy for customers to try out and experience. As the customer becomes more engaged, the value of the offerings increase, leading to higher priced products or services that are more comprehensive or specialized. Ultimately, the goal of a value ladder is to build a long-term relationship with the customer, leading to loyalty and repeat business. It’s a valuable tool for any business looking to grow its customer base and revenue over time.
But how can you build a value ladder for your market?
Let’s say someone comes to your market to buy apples. How you and your associates interact with that customer can move them along the value ladder. Is anyone asking the customer questions such as “What apple variety do you like?” “How are you going to use the apple?” If it’s for baking, the variety of apple the customer chooses may or may not be appropriate. By asking questions about their preferences and needs, and providing helpful advice, you can create a positive shopping experience and establish trust.
That’s step one, engaging a customer, building a rapport with that customer, and helping solve a problem by connecting the customer with the appropriate product. You have also established a value for the customer that is more than the price of an apple. The customer gained some knowledge, and good customer service and (hopefully) had an excellent outcome with the product they purchased. We have started a journey along the value ladder, and the higher up the ladder the customer travels, the more money they’re likely to spend.
The other thing that was gained from that customer experience is a level of trust. Trust is critical for the value ladder experience. If there isn’t any trust, there isn’t any movement along the ladder. When the customer trusts you, the customer places value on your business. They are glad you are there. They want you always to be there.
Your market layout can offer a similar experience of moving a customer along the value ladder just by how they move through the market.
A clever example is an orchard-run market known for its apples and peaches. On recent visit, we saw upon entry, customers are “forced” to move to your left and move clockwise simply because if you turn right when you come in, you are at the checkout counters. When you enter, you see what you expect: apples, peaches, etc. From there you enter the deli area, facing prepared foods, the bakery, and other specialty food items. Continuing the clockwise movement through the market you enter a coffee bar with high-top tables. You then pass their hard cider offerings, almost as an impulse buy, to the checkout counters. I defy anyone to come there and just purchase apples.
Markets can build a value ladder by offering a variety of products at different price points. One effective way to do this is by enhancing their product mix with higher priced items that offer more value to customers. By offering products that are of higher quality or unique in some way, you will attract customers who are willing to spend more. It may start with basic products that cater to budget-conscious shoppers like fruits or vegetables. From there, you offer a range of items like jams, jellies, and honey. These will typically be priced higher than other products but will offer additional value for customers who are willing to pay for it. At the top of the value ladder, you can offer premium products like artisanal cheeses or fresh-cut flowers, which come with a higher price tag but also represent the ultimate in quality and exclusivity. By providing customers with increasingly exclusive products, you can turn casual shoppers into loyal patrons who keep coming back to your farm market.
Pricing strategies can also be used to encourage customers to move up the value ladder. For example, offering bundle deals or discounts on larger purchases can incentivize customers to spend more. By utilizing these tactics, markets can build a strong value ladder that allows them to offer premium products to their customers and increase sales at the same time.
We regularly hear discussions around “how do we get more customers?”. Getting new customers is nice, but it’s expensive. Focus on keeping the customers we have coming through our market doors and moving them along the value ladder. Start by providing exceptional value to your current customers. By doing so, they will become advocates for your business and refer others to your market. Building a positive cycle of engagement and loyalty can help you sustain your business over time. As customers climb up the value ladder, they can bring in new customers through word of mouth. So, the key is to prioritize existing customers and provide them with exceptional value.