I recently had a chat with Tim Donaldson of Informal Tea, I asked him some questions regarding his online store and the nature of online business. You can check out his store at  informaltea.co.nz. Here’s what he had to say:

How long have you been involved in eCommerce? How did you get started?

We launched our eCommerce website around 2011 which coincided with the launch of the tea company itself.

What shopping cart platform do you use? How do you find using it?

Alongside the tea company, I also happen to run a boutique design studio called The Suburbs. So I personally work with Shopify as both a business owner and a website designer. In the past I’ve looked at other eCommerce systems like Magento, but we’ve ended up working exclusively with Shopify for a couple of reasons. From a designer’s perspective, the coding system they use is really nice to work. Overall it’s just feels a lot faster and more flexible to work with which generally results in cheaper build cost.

From a store holder’s perspective, I believe their back-end admin is superior to other systems. They put a strong emphasis on good design which makes it quick and easy to learn. They also have some of the best customer support I’ve come across — if I ever have a question or problem that I come across, they’re super quick, friendly and helpful with their response.

So how competitive is the online tea industry? Can you give us any tips or share any stories on how you have grown your online store?

I’m not sure if there is anything particularly unique to the tea industry but having a link between the online world and the real world has been really important for our business in general. So right from the start we’ve done taste testing at farmers markets and festivals to help build a physical presence and meet other tea drinkers.

It’s really important for us to have a good search ranking too. Google is one of the first stops for a cafe owner or customer when researching new teas, so as a fairly new company its essential that we’re right there on the front page and not left undiscovered on page 3 or 4.

Whats a major hurdle you have faced in selling online?

Getting traffic to your site is one of the main problems any online store will face regardless of industry. Keeping a freshly updated blog is always good for building up keywords and content for google. And networking is just as important online as it is in the physical world — getting your products or business featured or reviewed and then linked to from other websites is really good to build exposure and consumer trust.

It’s always important to look at why people buy online too. Will they be visiting your site out of convenience, looking for a superior range of products or simply searching for cheapest price? We aim to have the best tea in New Zealand, so a big chunk of our homepage is dedicated to explaining what makes use different from everyone else. But that would obviously be inappropriate for a website where customers want to find their product, buy it and get out of there as quick as possible!

So Tim where to from here for Informal Tea? What do you think the future holds for online retail?

First and for most it’s all about the tea, we’re continually refining our current blends and improving the quality of products we source. The goal is to make our teas so good that no one else can replicate them! But at the same time we’re also developing and testing new tea blends. And we’re really keen to improve our distribution systems worldwide so we can offer better delivery speed and price to places like the United States, Australia and Asia.

Thanks Tim for sharing, I wish you all the best with your online business.

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