For tea sellers ONLY

Hi,
Figured that most of the small shop owners, we have tried a lot to market our products. Perhaps this would be a good post to share some good as well as bad experiences. All and any suggestions are welcomed. As people from “the other side” of shopping experience, I feel we have a lot to talk about. Share what works for you, what does not, or simply – what frustrates you about the business. Just unwind…
If your shop is running smoothly and your life is a bliss – this thread is NOT for you.

68 Replies

I will start by saying that my site is www.RedLeafTea.com
Any critique is welcomed, since you can not make it better if you don’t know what is wrong.
My frustration is that when some parts of website are not working correctly for any particular reason and it will take days or weeks before someone, like a client, good Samaritan will let you now that this part is not working correctly. I wish there was a better way to find those problems sooner so that they can be corrected right away. I know that as a customer, I get frustrated when I spend time on getting my order wright only to find out I can not finish the purchase due to some glitch. All that precious time wasted… :-(

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I’ll jump in, My site is www.theteamerchant.net
and although at first i liked my site now i want a complete redo. The conversion rate is poor, and the pages do not have good calls to action, I also need to redo all the my initial copyright making it more personal and less “business speak”. Its amazing what you learn going through the process. Oh and BOTS!!! i hate bots i get spammed constantly on my reviews with bots spamming ads. So very annoying i need one of those human checks.
As far as marketing i have found giving out free samples to never work unless you can sell the tea right at that moment, even if the people say the tea is amazing. The only time Free samples seems to work for me is in wholesale situations or when you can talk and sell tea with the client as they try the tea.

Right now i’m not concentrating on as much as i should on the tea retail business, as many marketing campaigns have not done well and have disheartened me about online tea retail. So i’m actually working on a new product for the industry that should be very good, more info on that as soon as the patent gets situated.

I know what you mean about the online marketing for tea company. I have spent (read wasted) a lot of money on Google PPC ads and the only ones that made money was Google. I have tried to hire someone to do organic SEO, but it’s a slow process and for some reason after latest Google update, my ranking went WAY down. If it was not for the hope that my matcha will make money, I’d probably be closing the business. Too much competition, plus you need serious money to be any thread to big companies like Adagio who have many people working for them. In my business, it’s just me.

Zen Tea said

My site is www.zentealife.com
I launched my website this spring and haven’t made any patrons yet. Customers occasionally buy teawares, but not tea. I felt like I need customer’s reviews on my website for better understanding for our products.
I spent $3,400 so far for my website, but there’re a lot of sections to be improved. Also my main obstacle was language barrier for online business.
I worked with 2 web design companies, but none of them was responsible for their work. It is really expensive to modify wedsite in North America.
Thesedays I’m looking for freelancer or companies through Odesk and Elancer.com. Feels like I can save money and meet responsible web designer, because of feedback system of Odesk(Elancer).
I knew I can’t compete with big companies like Adagio and Teavana. But I’ll do my best.

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I generally don’t worry much about other aspects of the business. But Currently I’m curious how people would deal with fraud online payments. I haven’t experienced more than very few of such fraudulence cases and they won’t cause me a bankruptcy. But I wonder if it’s worth the time and energy at all spending time trying to do anything about it?

But overall I think tea buyers are much more easy going and honorable people than buyers in many other retail fields. So let’s just hope this doesn’t happen too much :-p

Last year I have 3 cases of fraud. Since than I have learned that if shipping address is in a different state than billing address, most likely it’s a fraud. Some people, want to have orders shipped to where they work, but I don’t think many drive out of state to their work. In some cases, I simply call and ask for reason why the shipping address is different from billing. It does help.

Red Leaf, then I’m quite lucky! I was debating whether I should do something just not to make whoever did it think it’s ok to do something like that. But like you said, being pro-active is probably the most important!

I agree with Red Leaf Tea. I haven’t dealt with more than a few of these cases. The major red flag is a large order with different addresses. If you aren’t sure ALWAYS call the billing customer. Trust me they are grateful. And if you can’t reach the billing customer hold the order until you do or they call you back.

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Does anyone has any experience of trying to offer your product to Wholefoods?

James R said

I noticed you’re in Chicago, if you’re interested in grocery wholesale send me a PM. I work for an independent grocery chain in the chicago area.

Nik select said

You can only send private messages via Steepster to people who are following you and whom you are also following.

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Hi! speaking of adverts… I am setting up an affiliate profile with Amazon and other places. Would anyone be interested in profiling their teas on my site? I haven’t got it up and running yet so I’m not sure how it’d work but thought it would be awesome if I could support the tea companies that bring me so many tasty cups of tea!!

it isn’t live yet, but I’ve named my site teatreaty.com

Sure. Let me know when it’s up and we can work out the details :-)

great!! I look forward to it!

Kally Tea said

Hey Indigobloom, would love to chat a little with you about the Amazon thing too. Have tried to read up on them and how it works. Maybe a few of us together, hmmm!

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inguna said

Here are just two reasons why many small online tea retailers struggle:

• Not clearly defined unique selling points. You have to be able to tell me in 30 sec or less why exactly I should buy tea from you. How you are different. Many smaller shops look exactly the same: not great.

• Poor branding. This is an old article but I think it’s worth reading: http://informationarchitects.net/blog/a-word-on-design-value/

What to do?
• Hire a professional designer and developer. See how the best of the web looks in 2012. Example: http://www.designfridge.co.uk/ (my personal favorite web design gallery)
• Learn what content marketing means. Great example is Kate Spade. Have a look at her blog. Verdant tea is doing some good content marketing.

Some sound advice can be found here: http://www.antemeridiemdesign.com/index.html
(where I work as a designer) Browse through the blog articles.

We are also going to publish an e-book “New Rules for building a successful business online” soon. There will be promotions when it will be available for free I will let you know when.

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inguna:
Thank you very much for your insight. I always welcome free advice, and even it does not directly involves my business, I think everyone can find something they can learn.
I hope you do not mind my 10c:
1. I like your blog post. I was actually one of the people that hired cheap developers and paid for it dearly later on. I have found a great group at www.cs-cart.com that still work on my shopping cart changes if I need them and they guarantee they work.
Please note that not everyone has big budget to start the business with (I see that one of your clients is Adagio Tea, aren’t these the same guys who sold Banana Republic?). I’m not sure about other stores since I don’t have much knowledge about them, but I started my business with only $2,600. That’s all the money I had at the time, so to pay $100/h for someone to help me build my business was simply out of the question. I’m not saying that your work is not worth that money, I’m simply stating that not every one can afford your service.
2. The designs you showed at one of the links are beautiful, no question about it. After checking them, some sites give a lot of info, some stores only have a few products and the one I checked: http://www.giftgee.com/
has a VERY nice first page, but the buy page seems a bit lower quality. I’m not trying to criticize it!! I’m just wondering if the trend now is to put your best effort into first page and the rest try to match the theme. To be honest the site here:
http://eaudenous.com/
definitely makes me jealous :-(
One thing for sure, if my business pick up enough to afford your service, I will contact you for the new design quote.

inguna said

GiftGee had a VERY limited budget, something along the lines you had. So the first page is custom designed but the rest is a Claim the Web template which I have tied to customize within the limits of the budget and yes, of course it’s lower quality.
I have no affiliation with Claim the Web. In fact, I think they are pretty awful. But have tried to accommodate a client with a smaller budget. Also the site is pretty old and today there are better options available.

To be honest it’s hard for me to visit websites of smaller tea vendors because my hands start to itch and and I start talking to myself and my blood pressure rises because in my mind I have already visualized a much better version :)

But the point I wanted to get across is this: you can’t think in terms of “cheap” and “expensive”. You rather have to think: “if it’s worth the investment?” or “will I sell more if I do this …” Example: When Chinese Laundry did the whole re-branding their sales increased by 40 % and 40% is HUGE.

I have seen it so many times when people hire “cheap” (a.k.a. unqualified/desperate) “specialists” and end up re-doing things. And when all $ is added up it’s not so cheep any more.

Please, don’t ever feel intimidated and assume that everything is very expensive.
We are pretty reasonable people :)
Also, it is incredibly important to work with people you trust/like otherwise it ends in mutual disappointment.

I agree with you, my grandma used to say “What is cheap is really expensive and what is expensive is really cheap”. Buy a quality tool and you won’t have to buy another one in a long while.
As someone, somewhat new in business and promoting, what kind of budget you estimate is needed nowadays for brand promoting, to start with?

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inguna said

If you want some more specific advice feel free to send me a private message.

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Has anyone else experianced problems with USPS recently?

Oh my goodness! I just realized that several packages I sent out last week on a same day didn’t have any tracking status till now. Fortunately they are not tea packages. But still it will cost me a fortune if all of them simultaneously lost. This is really terrible. Is USPS having some systematic problem now?

I know that the Post Office closest to us has been closed, but I know this is not an insulated event. I’m guessing perhaps they cut out a bit to much. My problem is when they don’t take responsibility for their mistakes.

That’s indeed a concern. I heard usually we don’t get anything back if usps does lose a package. It could kill small sellers when all the packages sent on the same day experience the same delay or loss.

By the way, an item I bought from ebay a few weeks ago was like this, and I thought the seller messed up. But suddenly the tracking status shows it’s at our local usps station, and nothing on the tracking status before that. So I guess it’s usps that messed up with tracking and the package was badly delayed. But from that experience, I keep my fingers crossed and hope those packages I sent out last week were not lost and were only delayed :-p

Phew… most of those trackings started to show up. A few are not up yet but maybe they will be up tomorrow :-)
I do hope USPS works out well. If they keep losing business, we will end up paying more for shipping no matter by USPS or by private couriers.

Kally Tea said

As we understand the USPS tracking number and how it works, it is like this:
Tracking code is generated at time of printing label and postage
Then when the postman/woman picks it up or we deliver it to them it is scanned.
Then there is no tracking what so ever on the journey until it reaches the final post office destination and ready to go out for delivery.
This is unlike FedEx or UPS where they track it at every time the “touch” it, as well as when they deliver it.
They have more inexpensive rates sometimes, but as you say, the stress until it pops up on a final scan can be very frustrating.
We feel your pain, shipping is a huge part of any business isn’t it? We HATE charging our customers the freight, but what can we do? Gas gets higher, it’s gonna get worse… Errgggh!

For USPS, the tracking number is assigned as soon as the label is printed. The problem is that many people on the way that handle the package do not scan it. People like mailmen or workers at the processing plans. In some cases the package does not get scanned until it gets delivered, and in some cases it gets delivered and never updated at all. UPS and FEDEX is much better at this game, but also more expensive. Plus Post Office closing many stores and loosing many employes on the way sure did not help.

I am slowly losing what respect I had left for the US Postal System. YES the last week or 2 have been crazy. We ship both first class and priority and the priority should take no longer than 2-3 days from the the time they are picked up. I’ve been looking at a week or more and the customer doesn’t care that it is not our fault. The only thing you can do really is, if the package arrives late and the customer complains is offer to refund the shipping. It’s at least something. But if the package does end up lost the USPS won’t give you a penny unless it’s insured.

I know! USPS has closed so many offices to save money and the people that are left to do the same job just have a hard time to keep up. I would switch to UPS, but I don’t have that volume needed to get a sufficient discount. I could insure the every package, but the cost is much greater than replacing a few orders a year. I was thinking of adding an option for customers to pay extra $1 for insurance at check out, so that if they elect and package gets lost, I would ship it right away and not have them wait until Post Office get’s back to me, but I gave up on this idea. Now I only insure every order over $100 and some oversees orders.

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