Fostering connections in a virtual world

An online barista course taking place. Photo courtesy of Espresso Academy

The virtual world has never been more important. But with the upswing of online commerce and conversation, how does a business stand out from others in this space?

According to Daniel Lewis, founder of T by Daniel, Brampton, Ontario, we need to infuse our personality into the brand. “Individuals buy stories, they buy magic, and they buy the unique experience from the brand,” said Lewis. Specialty tea and coffee consumers want more than a shopping cart-they are looking to build relationships with the brand.

This engaging conversation, presented by the World Tea Conference & Expo’s Virtual Tea Summit last month, piqued my curiosity and resulted in me taking a deep look into what companies were doing online to set themselves apart.

Taking the Online Chat to the Next Level

Over the past few months, I have noticed several fashion and beauty brands that have elevated their shopping experience by providing customers with the opportunity for a personalised virtual experience. Lululemon, Vancouver, British Columbia, is one company that has adopted this practice, offering their customers a variety of options including virtual shopping events (bringing a community together) through Zoom for product demonstrations and explanations, to the ability to book personalised shopping experiences in either 15-minute or 30-minute increments. These experiences really made the difference for someone like me, who felt completely lost trying to decipher the different yoga pants online.

Hero is an online shopping app that is designed to bridge the gap between the physical store and the virtual shopping experience. This app provides retailers with the opportunity to assist the customer virtually through texts, chats and live videos, including the ability to share images to help aid consumers in their shopping experience. They advertise their product as “making online shopping feel as personal and as convenient as facetime with a friend.”

There is just something about the face-to-face interaction (even if it is through a screen) that really builds that connections, and in turn, will help decrease the abandoned shopping cart rate.

Tea and coffee shops could transform their website into a virtual café experience, including an online barista that would allow customers to ask their pressing questions, get personalised recommendations and even provide demonstrations on how to make their favourite beverages.

Building Relationships Through Experiential Purchases

The beauty of the virtual platform is that we are no longer constricted by borders. Over the last few months, I’ve seen roasters introduce their farmers to customers through live chats, a huge upswing in virtual tastings, and social events either, typically offered through Facebook or Instagram. These experiences provide companies with the ability to educate, showcase their personality, discover new customers, and help solidify those relationships with the customers that they already have.

Over the last few weeks, I have noticed an increase of virtual experiences being advertised in the both the food and beverage industries. Driftaway Coffee, based in Brooklyn, New York, recently launched a virtual coffee tasting as an experiential holiday gift. The company also offers weekly tasting parties on Instagram Live. “Coffee has always been about connecting with people, and virtual coffee tastings seemed like a perfect way to hang out with loved ones virtually, over a common love for coffee,” said Anu Menon, co-CEO and co-founder of Driftaway Coffee.

Although I dearly miss the in-café experience, these virtual experiences have kept me engaged with a variety of tea and coffee companies (and my cupboard has never been so full).

  • Long-time T&CTJ contributor, Anne-Marie Hardie, is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: a[email protected].

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