December 14, 2020

Personalising the online coffee experience


We live in an experience economy. Today, the consumer experience is a more valued part of the hospitality and leisure sectors than it ever has been. This means that for many consumers, a “personal touch” always goes a long way.

However, more and more coffee businesses across the world are turning to ecommerce as a way of driving sales – especially during Covid-19. Between roaster subscriptions, online shopping options, and coffee marketplaces, digital sales models across the coffee sector provide consumers with more choice than ever. 

But while the choice is there, how do you add a personal touch to a consumer’s online coffee experience? How do you bring the “specialty coffee experience” to the consumer? How do you make sure they keep coming back?

To learn more about how roasters customise and personalise the process of selling coffee online, I spoke with Will Corby of Pact Coffee and Andrew East of UniQorn Coffee. Read on to find out what they said.

You may also like How to Successfully Launch an Online Specialty Coffee Shop

Breaking Down The Personalised Experience: Customer Choice

For many coffee businesses, customer choice is the simplest way to create a personalised experience.

In cafés, this could mean customers being able to choose from an ever-expanding range of drinks and fine-tuning how they are made.

For roasters, this means customers being able to pick between single-origins and blends, choosing based on varieties, origins, tasting notes, roast profiles, and so on.

With the emergence of third-wave coffee came a new focus on traceability and data across the sector. This means that roasters are providing more data about their coffees – which means that there are more parameters than ever for customers to choose from. 

To the experienced consumer, it means that buying coffee is no longer just a choice between filter and espresso or light and dark. Now, it’s the ability to pick a coffee that is “yours” by narrowing down an ever-increasing number of categories.

However, while some roasters and cafés are increasingly offering a wider range of coffees and beverages in-store, digitalisation and ecommerce make it much easier to offer customers more than ever before.

One of the most notable areas where customer choice has improved in coffee is through availability and flexibility. Will tells me that Pact was started in 2012 to address a gap in the UK specialty coffee market. “[Back then], in London, if you ran out of specialty coffee on a weekend, you had to go a bit of a distance to get your hands on [some].

“Even then, it could be a week or two from the roast date, or preground two weeks ago.”

He tells me that the idea behind Pact’s subscription service was “getting the right coffee to the right people at the right time”. The concept of offering a customer a variety of coffees at a preselected grind size and along an accurate timeframe that suits them is comparatively new. Despite that, Pact’s model and others like it have become very popular in a relatively short period of time.

However, Andrew notes that there is such a thing as too much choice. “I don’t necessarily think that more means better,” he says. “There’s an idea of the ‘burden of choice’. But I do think, however, that there’s a [good] way to allow a high degree of customisation across a smaller, select number of choices.” 

At the bottom line, however, he agrees with Will: choice is important. He says that “providing a range of complimentary options” (different milks, sugar and sweeteners, and so on) and giving people the ability to “mix and match their orders” is key. 

Beyond Customer Choice: Providing A Personal Experience

Beyond customer choice, how do we create a truly high-quality specialty coffee experience? For most, the answer is a “personal experience”, the idea that a coffee shop or retailer goes “the extra mile” to bring the best out of your experience with them. 

For some consumers, this could mean trying a new origin that a local roaster has recommended just for you. For others, it might be simple touches, like a barista remembering your regular order. It doesn’t matter how many options you can choose from; a one-to-one service is a completely different kind of personalisation. 

Andrew adds: “Coffee is an intimate experience for a lot of people. It’s this daily habit that’s often shared. 

“When it comes to specialty coffee, people are paying a higher price; [they expect] insight into not only what products are available for them, but also what the best product for them might be.”

So, How Do You Offer A Personal Touch Online?

Even though you might give the customer as much choice as they like on your shopping platform, for many, this is arguably not a truly “personal” experience.

So, how do you offer a personal touch online? This is an especially important question at a time when thousands of cafés and roasteries across the world have closed their doors or started operating at a reduced capacity.

Will tells me that recreating that experience is incredibly important. “It’s about taking that in-person experience online… the functionality of a user-based online platform is an essential part of creating a personalised experience.”

And while this might seem like an especially pertinent point throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it will continue to be an important question into 2021 and beyond. The global ecommerce market increased in value by a staggering 20% in 2019 alone. Having an online presence is no longer just an option – for brands who want to remain relevant, it is a must.

Roasters and subscription services provide customers with the tools, resources, and choices to consumers to make informed decisions about the coffee they’re drinking. But how do you personalise the process of buying a coffee or a product?

Recommend New Coffees And Products

One solution is to use data to drive recommendations and suggest new products. “We’ve created a platform where the customer can tell us via their orders that they are enjoying, for instance, a Kenyan coffee,” Will says. 

“By knowing this, we can go to them and say: ‘Hey, we know you’ve been enjoying this Kenyan coffee; we think you might enjoy this Ethiopian, as it has a similar flavour profile.’” 

Will tells me that by using the data their platform collects, Pact “can understand their coffee preferences” and fulfil the same role that a barista or roaster would in person by making these recommendations.

Of course, there are counterpoints to be made about just how personal recommendations can be when they’re driven by data and statistics – but it is certainly a start.

Engage Using Your Platform

More and more companies have also opted to use short quizzes or questionnaires to engage their customers and provide them with a personal coffee experience. Andrew says: “[At UniQorn], we’ve created an intentionally short quiz that helps us get to know our customers so that we can serve them best.” 

These will vary in length, but generally end up with the same result: a bag of coffee that has been chosen, based on your answers and a number of other different criteria. Just how personalised this is will depend on the site in question, but it is definitely more personal than just logging onto a roaster’s website to pick a bag of coffee without any preparation.

This kind of engagement gives customers another reason to keep coming back, and at the same time, provides coffee businesses with more information about what their customers want. As a result, rather than just offering products based on a season or a trend, roasters can reach out to individual customers with meaningful, educated recommendations. 

The Covid-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the coffee sector’s relationship with ecommerce platforms, and with the continuing success of coffee subscriptions, it seems like this trend will continue long into the future.

There’s no doubt that ecommerce provides coffee businesses with new opportunities to reach potential customers. Furthermore, by leveraging customer choice, they are more able than ever to put the control into the hands of the consumer. 

However, will this be enough to create a truly personalised experience? And will it ever be able to truly replicate a roaster or a barista recommending a new guest coffee or a freshly roasted bag of beans? Ultimately, that remains to be seen.

Enjoyed this? Then read Selling Coffee Online: A Guide For Roasters

Photo credits: Pact Coffee, Ana Valencia 

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