Shopping for Tea Online
There are so many online tea shops out there. Essentially, we’re all just looking at a picture, description and the price. What helps you decide from one company over another?
Shipping rates, first of all. The tea rates might be good, but if I have to pay 25 dollars to have it sent to me, the rates aren’t that good. Also if their blends are all things I can get locally, what’s the point? So they have to be unique and offer good shipping rates for me.
Seconding aisling of tea; I order from Adagio, for example, mostly custom blends and only their regular teas that I know I can’t get elsewhere in my city or on another site (their Thai Chai or Oooooh Darjeeling, for example). Shipping for them is killer though, so I try to only buy when there are discounts or I have discounts available. And if there is a custom blend that’s unique to the site? Try finding something similar locally. It won’t be the same due to different suppliers and different blenders, but if you can get something that’s not quite the same, but just as good from somewhere local or a site that’s cheaper and has better shipping rates? Go for that, and order the unique special one on rare occasions.
Tea knowledge is what I look at next. If a store spells mate as “maté”, purportes that you can decaffinate your tea by yourself simply by rinsing the leaves and tossing the rinse, or tries to avoid mentioning the caffeine in yerba mate and guayusa by calling it a “stimulant”? I’ll be hesitant to order from them. I’m also incredibly picky and somewhat elitest, so if I see a shop describing how tea is fermented (and it’s not pu’erh) instead of oxidised, that affects it too; I know fermentation was the term for a while because of history, I know, it’s a thing I have.
I’m also very skeptical of any tea company that I see presenting information that I know to be false. A good example is the claim that white teas are low in caffeine.
A company t hat is pushing health claims about their teas also is a big put-off. I steer clear of these companies. Adjectives like “healthy” or “healthful”, or claims of the antioxidant content in teas, I tend to find very off-putting.
Alex Zorach, I completely agree! I really dislike it when foodstuff in general is being put across as ‘miracle food’ which can do anything from help you lose weight to curing both cancer and the common cold and what have you. There is no such thing.
Haha, I really have to agree here. I tend to avoid tea companies that make absurd health claims about tea; it just irks me to no end. On the other hand, when I can tell from visiting a page that the vendor really knows their stuff, especially when I get the impression that they really personally enjoy the products they’re selling, I’m impressed.
I like companies that offer reasonably priced samples, small minimum sizes (1 ounce, 25g, etc.), and that have a reasonable price on the smaller sizes, rather than requiring you to buy in bulk to get a good price. I’m a bargain shopper and I like to buy individual items that cost less than $8 so it’s going to be hard to convince me to spend more than that on one item, unless I’ve already tried it and it’s something I really, really want.
Also, unusual offerings (i.e. teas from a region that I’ve never tried before) can draw me in, and are one of the most likely things to draw me in as a new customer, and keep coming back (as long as you have more things I haven’t tried). More detail in region of origin also makes a great impression. Listing that a tea is from China? That means little to me. Naming the province? Good. Naming the county? That’s what I really want to see. Harvest dates also make a good impression, especially if I’m buying something really high-end.
Besides that, overall transparency, and a website with more information and less marketing, goes a long way. Pictures of the dry leaf are important, pictures of the used (wet) leaf also make a good impression.
If you want to read more about this, I’m constantly writing about this sort of thing on my blog. I also have a series about best practices for tea company websites, which you may find useful.
If you want to you can check out these related threads (the last one is a list of companies):
http://steepster.com/places?near=&name=online (There are over 40 online tea retailers that are reviewed here)
I think the best thing to do is to start small by ordering samples from one or two shops that meet some basic criteria of yours, and go from there. The most rewarding thing for me has been to find a few tea retailers that meet as many of my own personal criteria as possible, and then begin to develop a relationship with them (through reading about them, communicating with them, and purchasing from them), which ultimately builds trust. It takes time and effort, but I find that it’s worth it.
Decide between one company or the other? That would imply I have to stop at some time!
In all seriousness though… I’m going to eventually try teas from most of the online retailers that don’t have something seriously bad wrong on the site somewhere. Unless I reach some sort of critical mass in my tea cupboard (which has already grown to having a backup shelf in the towel closet, now that I have to stop and admit that I have a problem).
I’d like to buy from sites that have samples. I haven’t bought samples yet, because I haven’t truly branched out to things that are iffy.
Free shipping is a big thing for me, and it’s also a way that a site will get more business from me. Free shipping at a $30 purchase guarantees that I will spend $30, instead of just buying a few samples. Free shipping at a $75 purchase guarantees that I will buy a few samples ;)
Shipping rates is a big one for me. I’d rather pay a little more up front for the tea than pay an unnecessarily high amount for shipping. I have often canceled orders that I’ve started when I reach the part where shipping is added if it ends up being what I consider too much for what I’m having shipped.
But what leads me to shop with a company in the first place? Usually, it’s something that just piques my interest about a tea. I might read a tasting note here and say “ohh, that sounds good!” or read a tea review on a blog someplace and I’m intrigued enough to shop. At that point, if I feel that my budget will allow a shopping spree then I go for it. I am not necessarily a thrifty shopper, I don’t bargain shop or comparison shop really, but, I do watch my spending. And if I happen to find a good deal, that’s great! Often, a LivingSocial or similar type coupon will result in my trying out a company.
After that, what brings me back as a repeat customer is how I’m treated overall. If I receive good customer service, I’ll be back. If the service is mediocre or bad, I will never shop with that shop again, no matter how good the teas are. There are enough quality tea companies out there that I needn’t stay with one that offers less than stellar service.
Like so many others, shipping rates. I have a limit to how much I’m willing to pay for shipping. Also, where do they ship from? I will always put rather more consideration into it before ordering from a company that ships from outside the EU (where I live), because there is always a risk of an additional import fee. If I think something comes from an American shop, I usually don’t even bother looking it up, actually. American shops with reasonable shipping to Denmark are few and very VERY far between.
The selection of a shop is secondary to this. If I find their shipping rates don’t live up to my demands, I won’t even bother looking at what they sell.
If they do, however, the selection has to be interesting. Either they have to sell something that I have never tried before, or some of my favourite types that I would want to compare with the supply I’m used to.
in my opinion, i prefer to purchase teas from the company who really loved teas, i mean when you see a web page you will get some felling that this company really enjoyed the tea culture or only they want to sell teas. and then take a look at ¨who am i¨, most of the companies they have some discription, pictures they have, …
I see shipping rates mentioned a lot, and while that is a big one, another big one I haven’t seen mentioned is customer service. I hear so many bad things about Teavana’s customer service. I haven’t had any problems personally with them, but hearing so many bad things makes me very wary of purchasing online from them again.
Now, I just ordered online from Verdant Tea and had a slight mix up on my order. I contacted David (the founder) and got a response very quickly (within a few hours). Even though the mix up was only one ounce of tea worth, he is sending me the correct tea but 2 oz instead. He’s also sending me a sample from a new tea that just arrived. This is my definition of excellent customer service and I can guarantee I will be buying from them again because I don’t have to worry if something goes awry with my order. Also, Verdant Tea does have free shipping on orders over $25 in the US and $45 internationally.
I’ve never needed customer service from Teavana, Yogic Chai, or Republic of Tea. I would note that RoT is a very fast shipper. Their offshoot, Rare Tea Republic, sent me a free sample via priority mail without me having to place an order at all.
Rishi customer service has been very helpful whenever I have any questions (although at least once they were unable to answer). Never had any problems with them-these were just inquiries.
TeaGschwendner once failed to ship me a tea-they listed it as “qty-zero” on my invoice and did not charge me. However, there was no explanation if it was backordered, discontinued or what. When I called them, they explained and fixed the problem, shipping out the tea the same day (free shipping).
Trying some tea from new companies soon and hope to continue to have good experiences.