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Can you Recreate the Personal Connection of Tea Buying in China through Online Retail?

I like to write an article every week. This week I was reflecting on the unique experience of buying tea in China, being asked to sit down, chatting, getting to know your vendor, and leaving with more than tea. You leave a tea shop in China with knowledge, stories, and a personal connection.

I started Verdant Tea to share the culture of tea that I love so dearly, yet I started an online business. The article is an exploration of whether or not it is possible to have a meaningful cultural experience buying online, leaving with more than just tea.

What do you think? Everyone on Steepster has done their share of shopping. Can you get the same feeling online as the tea experience of sitting down with someone? If not, are there ways that the online experience could improve across the industry to recreate that feeling? I am curious to hear thoughts from anyone else.

Here is the link to my own reflections on the subject: http://verdanttea.com/sit-down-have-a-cup-the-chinese-tea-shop-v-online-tea-retail/

13 Replies
Azzrian said

I run an online business. I have a site and a blog. I used to hold chat sessions once a month – sometimes more often – sometimes less often. I found my clients (customers) to really love these chat sessions, it made them feel more connected to me, my services, and it was fun for me as well.
I have not done this for ages now as life got really busy when my daughter had her neurosurgery but maybe I need to considering doing them again.
I believe if you held such chat sessions that you would find it mutually beneficial to both your customers and yourself.

Great idea! I have thought about this quite a bit, and would love to implement a scheduled chat, or perhaps a communal ‘tea tasting’ where we all drink the same tea and talk about it through video or text chat. Technology really does bring us together. Very fun.

Azzrian said

Absolutely! I love the idea of drinking the same kind of tea while chatting – plus it may boost some sales from those who do not have the “scheduled tea” for the tea chat but want to join in and drink with you!

Uniquity said

Wow, I didn’t get my post out fast enough – I clearly agree with Azzrian! : )

Azzrian said

Great minds Uniquity! :)

Bonnie said

That’s the one thing that I had thought about…the live interaction. It would be so great!

DaisyChubb said

Wow – a live chat would be amazing. We could share notes in real time – I would love if there was a voice or video chat element too, but that’s optional and not for everyone I’m sure n_n;

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Uniquity said

Having read the article, I applaud your efforts to replicate what sounds like a truly fantastic tea experience. I have only experienced a few tea shops in person and a few more online. Never have I had the chance to “do tea” in China – however, I must admit I get more sense of personality from your online only store than I do from many other retailers that I frequent in person. As you say, the sales associates are there to sell and their time is divided and all too brief. There is rarely an opportunity to talk tea for more than a few minutes.

In terms of continuing the conversation, I don’t know that it would be practical but maybe you could try to set up a set time where one could go on your site and “ask the tea expert” in live chat – along the lines of the “ask a librarian” chat windows that some public libraries have. It would make interaction more real-time than e-mail correspondance and might spark some live-action tea discussion with multiple customers rather than just the one customer. Of course that would necessitate you or one of your co-workers/employees being tethered to the computer on occasion. Like I said, it may not be practical. : ) Just a thought!

Azzrian said

Genius! :) Clearly we agree.

Scheduled live chat time would be super fun. Interesting idea. Remember the days when specialized chat rooms dominated internet live communication? Now it is all Twitter, etc. It would be fun to bring back a sort of specialized live chat around tea.

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Missy said

I like all the previous ideas. The more people get to interact with you, the more personal it will feel. Web cams and such are a great way to personalize your interaction with others. People can see expressions and, of course, know it is really you. A web cam might not be very practical though.

I was mightily impressed with the customer service when I placed an order. The tea is great but feeling appreciated is going to stick with me for longer. I think you are getting closer to your goal. I know you are one of the vendors who regularly interacts with the tea slurping population. It’s pretty impressive. :D

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Babble said

What a lovely article. There is a Chinese tea shop near me in Florida that has the same vibe you mention. The owners are always brewing a pot of tea and you can walk in and spend hours there. It’s a nice change of pace from the traditional tea shop. Although I will admit I’m the type to ask questions so I definitely squeeze time out of the sales associates at other tea shops more so than the average customer.

I agree with others about the chat. I think this would be lots of fun to do a focus tasting. A website called TChing used to do something similar, but it was not live – people just wrote about it after the fact. The only thing tricky with chat would be settling on a good time. Because of time zones there’s no one good time for everyone. But since a lot of your customers are US or North American based, it shouldn’t be too hard.

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Bonnie said

As far as live chats and finding a right time as Rachel was talking about, the times could be staggered. Inconvenient for Verdant maybe but a Saturday chat one time and an evening weekday chat another time to see what the turnout is would be a good test.

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