Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

How to Successfully Launch an Online Specialty Coffee Shop

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Selling online is an excellent way to increase your income and reach new audiences. Global e-commerce sales are set to exceed 3.5 trillion USD by 2020, according to market research firm eMarketer. And millennials, among whom “gourmet” coffee consumption is as high as 41% (National Coffee Association), are the most likely to buy online.

However, the number of hurdles you need to jump through to launch your online shop can be daunting. Which eCommerce platform will be best for you? How much should you charge for shipping, if anything?

Whether you’re looking to move your existing coffee business online or are starting a brand new business, this article will guide you through some of the major steps you need to take.

SEE ALSO: Specialty Marketing: How to Build Your Café’s Brand

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The more time spent planning, the more success you can expect to see.

A Pre-Launch Campaign

No business can operate without customers! And it helps to have them there from day one.

If you already have an in-store customer base, you’re way ahead of the curve. However, you still need to convert those customers to online shoppers and then use their support to grow your reach.

Send out a newsletter and do a social media blast to get followers interested – and to get feedback on your concept. Even if you’re starting your business from scratch and don’t have those core customers, you should send out that newsletter and social media post to your family and friends.

You’ll also need to keep interested people up to date on your business plans. Use a launch page to kickstart an email-gathering campaign. These are simple one-page sites that explain who you are and what you’re offering.

Once your launch page is up, you can pay for some advertising to send people to your website. Use this opportunity to also work on your branding: what do your potential customers respond positively to? Small-batch coffee? Specialty roaster? Direct trade? Figure it all out now, before you launch.

coffee and notes

Don’t leave your planning to the last minute. Build a pre-launch campaign and start gathering contacts and data.

eCommerce Platforms and Payment Processors

Before you can launch your online shop, you need to decide on the technology you’ll use for selling and taking payments online.  There are many user-friendly eCommerce platforms to choose from, all with their own pros and cons, so be sure to do your research beforehand. Shopify, Big Commerce, and WooCommerce are just a few of the big names.

Choosing a payment processor can also be difficult. As the number of your customers increases, the relatively small percentage processors charge can turn into a large sum of money. Major companies such as Stripe and PayPal take a (small) fee plus a percentage from each purchase, while other processors might have a monthly payment option available. It’s up to you to crunch the numbers and decide which will be best for your business – as well as if you need to increase prices to cover this.

If you’re starting a subscription business, your options will also be limited by the need to integrate recurring payments. You can find a payment processor and work with them to figure out how to implement the system, or – if that sounds too complicated for your team – go with an all-in-one platform such as Cratejoy, which will take care of your storefront as well as the back-end.

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Each payment processor will charge different fees, so crunch the numbers before signing up. Credit: Ana Valencia

Shipping

Don’t leave shipping till the last minute: you need a realistic idea of how much it will cost to send out your orders before you can begin pricing products.

Depending on what you’re selling, you may need to consider free shipping. Ask yourself this: if your customers are already all in your city, and can pay the exact price for your coffee in a store but without the shipping fee, why would they prefer to purchase it online?

Since shipping is never free for you, however, going down this route means you’ll need to work the cost of it into the price of your product.

You’ll likely want to work through a shipping partner – and possibly a separate shipping program – for both domestic and international shipping. They’ll help you print out your shipping labels and purchase postage. For international shipping, they’ll also help you select features such as tracking and insurance, as well as support you in other international shipping hurdles.

What’s more, in some countries – including the US – they’ll often give you better deals than the national postal service or other major carriers. For instance, APC Postal Logistics ships through USPS, but offers a hugely discounted rate as well as customized delivery options.

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Make sure your shipping package meets all your needs. Credit: CrateJoy.

Product Pricing

When selling online, there are costs that a brick-and-mortar store just won’t have. In addition to your payment processor, you’ll also need to take into account shipping, packaging, shipping labels, and anything else that goes out with your online orders. Do your research on how much you’ll be spending on marketing and execution before you price your product.

However, if you’re moving your storefront online, remember that you’re also increasing your competition. No matter many coffee shops your town has, there are vastly more online. This means coffee pricing can become a race to the bottom – but low prices and high costs aren’t a good combination.

You don’t want people to purchase your products because of the price. Instead, you need to highlight your company’s other great qualities – which brings us on to our next point: marketing.

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Pricing your coffee is a delicate calculation. Credit: Mimi Velarde

Marketing and Communications

What’s so special about your product? Is it the most delicious, most efficient, or best for the environment? Or is it something else altogether?

Make sure you know what customers want and expect by gathering feedback and researching your competition. Then use this to create a message that you convey clearly and consistently. It should shape your website, social media, email blasts, and any other communication with customers.

When you’re starting out, several ad platforms such as Google AdWords and YouTube will give you free advertising credit when you spend a small amount with them. This is a great chance for you to try a few ads out risk-free. And once you find something that’s working, don’t stop! Use that same campaign until its effectiveness diminishes, and then go back to the drawing board and put together a new campaign plan.

Email still proves hugely effective for informing customers of new products, strengthening your brand, and opening lines of communication. Don’t neglect your email list; it will become a reliable source of custom.

Some like to sing praises of social media; others say it’s no good for finding new customers. At the end of the day, it depends on your store, what you’re selling, and how much effort you’re willing to put into it. But if you are planning to make social a key part of your communications, a few posts a week just won’t cut it. You’ll want to post at least once a day. Interact with your potential customers whenever you can, and listen to their feedback.

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Eye-catching photos are an important part of online marketing. Credit: Brothers Coffee Company

Joining the hyper-competitive online space is a big decision. It’s a serious investment of your time and effort. But if you’re able to find customers who your message resonates with, you can build a base that will stay with you. Understand your customers, keep your communications consistent, and make wise decisions about operations, technology, and pricing.

Written by M. Little of Brothers Coffee Company.

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.

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