India is the world’s second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea. the industry is about a hundred and fifty years old, established by the East India Company. And yet, it continues to follow the practices set up back then The entire value chain consists of middle men, including brokers, importers, wholesalers, distributors… This translates to an inordinately long journey that tea makes from garden to consumer, anywhere between 3-6 months. Our approach to change was in questioning the efficiency of such a system in modern times, and asking how we can offer customers the freshest teas.
Our differentiation is our approach. While large corporates continue to operate within the constraints of the legacy value chain, we chose to create a new one. We decided to look at overhauling the entire supply chain, not just parts of it or the last mile delivery. So we set up an office at the source, and worked to create a genuine set of benefits for our consumers, by choosing to use technology to reach more consumers as opposed to a traditional brick and mortar set up. This meant owning and operating the entire value chain grounds-up, starting from farm to cup. This approach, we believe gives us the advantage of greater control over consumer experience, and hence will be very beneficial in the long run.
Teabox has no offline presence as yet. There are many inherent advantages in operating online. For one, our reach is limitless. Right from day one, since we opened shop, we’ve been a global company.
An online business model also gives us advantage of scaling up much faster without having to worry about real estate costs. The technology backend allows us understand our consumers better, allowing us to recommend them products relevant to them. It also empowers us to create a more personalised experience. For example, we operate the Teabox website in multiple languages, including Russian & Chinese. We also offer customer support in the local language to customers from these countries.
When I started Teabox in 2012, it was with a view to change the way the industry worked. With Teabox, I set out to change this system of doing things, offering a more efficient platform for both producer and consumer.
Having set it up, our attention soon shifted to the consumer. How could we offer an enhanced tea experience. We realised soon enough that tea connoisseurs needed little help in selecting from our extensive catalog. Mostly, they were happy to have an access to teas that were otherwise hard to procure. What we managed to achieve for this segment was the freshest and most delicious teas, delivered within days.
But there was also a broad segment of buyers who were neither connoisseurs nor experts. They were the discerning tea drinkers seeking an experience beyond what the supermarket teas could offer. This segment found the options baffling. They couldn’t make the selection from amongst the choices by way of make, estate, harvest season… For them, we introduced the idea of a subscription box as a means to discover teas.
Subscription commerce by itself is not really a game changer but a new way of selling things which provides convenience to the customers.
We followed our subscription program through surveys and customer feedback to arrive at the need for improvement. Beyond addressing the problem of convenience, we sought to solve the bigger one, of discovering the right kinds of teas. This creates a compelling value proposition for the customers. In a category such as ours, it’s difficult for customers to figure out what kind of teas they would like to try. And so, we launched the world’s first (patent-pending) personalised tea club. This uses our machine-learning algorithm to help a tea novice figure out what kind of teas he would like based on answers to some very common questions. By doing this we are combining the problem of discovery, marrying it with the convenience of subscription to provide customers a compelling experience.
What do we expect to see from it? Certainly a lot of very happy customers who will return for more teas. But significantly, it’s about an enhanced customer experience, access to a variety of some standout teas from across India, and the beginning of a new way of enjoying it.
This article was first published here.