During the pandemic, global retail e-commerce traffic skyrocketed a mind-blowing 22 billion monthly visits, as consumers shopped online for everyday household items like coffee. While ecommerce coffee businesses were hot before—thanks to popular subscription boxes like Trade and Mistobox—COVID-19 solidified this revenue stream as a necessity for all of us involved in the coffee industry.
According to the Square x SCA Coffee Report that debuted in May 2020, coffee shops that pivoted to some form of ecommerce marketplace saw an 11% increase in coffee equipment sales and a 109% increase in subscription sales.
With the lasting effects of the global pandemic, roasters, cafes, green coffee suppliers, and others in the specialty coffee industry are all turning to ecommerce solutions as a long-term revenue stream.
Before you dive headfirst, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to successfully sell coffee online (plus ecommerce advice from roasters and coffee shops across the world!)
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever for coffee businesses to join the ecommerce game. You just need to make a few critical decisions first.
Throughout our guide to coffee ecommerce, we’ll show you:
- The top 5 ecommerce platforms to choose from
- How to develop and define your roasting and fulfillment operation processes
- Practical ways to create a memorable online customer experience
Up first, let’s dig into why coffee companies should launch an ecommerce shop.
3 Major Upsides of Launching a Coffee Ecommerce Store
In comparison to investing in a physical location, equipment, and labor, taking the ecommerce route provides coffee businesses with three prominent benefits:
- Additional Revenue Stream – For established cafes and roasters, an ecommerce shop serves as another powerful revenue stream that can be used to support other areas of your business. It’s no secret that in-person retail stores are struggling and a steady stream of additional income is always helpful.
- No Geographic Barrier – When you sell coffee online, customers from all over the world can buy your beans, but you also give existing customers who are quarantined or who live in other cities access to your brand. You’re not limited to only those within your immediate geographic region who regularly visit your shop, meaning the sky’s the limit when it comes to selling your coffee online!
- Total Experience Control – Unlike a wholesale or grocery store relationship, roasters and cafes have full control over the entire ecommerce experience—from defining margins and optimizing the checkout process to consistent branding.
|Ecommerce saved us from going out of business because of covid. In 2020, our online sales surged 250%, and we grew our subscription service to over 100 customers. It has become our main focus over wholesale because of the last year and how important it was to our growth. |
— Scott Weigand, Owner @ Brave Coffee Co
Selecting An Ecommerce Platform: Shopify, Squarespace, and Beyond
The most important part of setting up an ecommerce coffee store is selecting the right technology—this decision will impact how you create customer experiences moving forward, so it’s important to make it mindfully.
There are dozens of ecommerce platforms to choose from, but these five options lead the market due to their features, pricing, and other integrations.
- What It Is: A full-service, hosted ecommerce platform offering solutions from concept to launch
- Who It’s Best For: New & existing coffee professionals looking for a full-fledged ecommerce platform with powerful features to facilitate long-term growth
- Top Features: Modern website templates, multiple sales channels, and an app marketplace for full customization
- Pricing: Free trial for 14 days, lowest plan starts at $29/month
Shopify is used universally by all sorts of businesses looking to sell online. You can build out entire online shopping sites using the platform or connect Shopify’s back-end to an existing website using the “Buy Button” feature.
Additionally, Shopify offers a suite of POS, printing, and other fulfillment tools, allowing cafes and roasters to sell coffee in-store and online seamlessly.
Shopify is a hosted ecommerce solution, meaning you don’t have to pay for website hosting, install software, or rely on a website design firm to launch an online store.
One major drawback to Shopify is the lack of a drag-and-drop builder. This means you may need to tinker around with the website or seek professional assistance to ensure your website looks and functions as you wish. You will also need to pay extra to add more functionality via third-party apps, like monthly subscriptions.
- What It Is: Website builder platform with ecommerce functionality
- Who It’s Best For: Coffee companies looking for a heavily visual storefront with minimal bells and whistles
- Top Features: Best website templates, Square integration, sales & analytics tools
- Pricing: Lowest plan starts at $26/month
Squarespace is primarily known as a versatile drag-and-drop website builder. Also a hosted solution, Squarespace enables coffee businesses to acquire a domain name, build a stunning website with ecommerce functionality, and manage inventory all in one platform.
Out of all the website builders and ecommerce solutions available to coffee pros, Squarespace is known for having the top designs and layouts. Plus, the site’s drag-and-drop functionality is fairly easy to figure out.
One major complaint about Squarespace is the lack of an app marketplace or additional customizations. This means that you’re stuck withSquarespace’s base functionality and cannot connect third-party apps for a better solution or different use.
However, for roasters and cafes looking for an all-in-one and simply managed ecommerce option, Squarespace is an excellent choice.
- What It Is: Coffee shop POS system with minimal ecommerce functionality
- Who It’s Best For: Coffee roasters & cafes already using Square in-store who want to dip their toes in the ecommerce water
- Top Features: Integrates with external sales channels like Facebook and Instagram, Online ordering tools
- Pricing: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction. No monthly fee.
Square is often the POS system of choice for coffee shops and roasters. The company recently added ecommerce online stores to its suite of offerings. If your coffee business already uses Square in-store, it’s worth looking into their ecommerce platform for fully connected sales benefits.
With Square, your online store and POS can be connected for full inventory management, total reporting, and online coffee/food ordering. Square also offers marketing features ranging from email marketing to paid ads for both in-store and online operations.
Unlike other website builders and ecommerce platforms, Square does not charge a monthly fee to use their services. Instead, you’ll be charged a rate of 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction.
Square’s major flaw, however, is the lack of customization. Square customers using the ecommerce tools often have a similar website layout and online ordering experience—if you want to create a unique web experience, you’re out of luck here.
- What It Is: Website builder with ecommerce tools powered by Square
- Who It’s Best For: Roasters & cafes with a small product catalog
- Top Features: Barebones ecommerce platform with visually appealing layouts
- Pricing: $0-$26 per month, paid annually, with increasing levels of functionality
Weebly was recently purchased by Square, which now powers their ecommerce tools and offers in-store payment integration. The website builder offers coffee shop owners and roasters a super simple online store.
The platform is built to offer an easy-to-use back-end experience, but as a result, doesn’t offer as many tools or app integrations as one may desire. However, the shipping and tax calculator is a helpful tool for first-time online stores!
- What It Is: ecommerce plugin for WordPress websites
- Who It’s Best For: Coffee shops and roasters using an existing WordPress website
- Top Features: 100% customizable with extensions, multiple payment options, and a mobile app
- Pricing: Free plugin
WooCommerce is a free, open-source ecommerce plugin for WordPress websites. This versatile and fully customizable plugin offers a wealth of ecommerce options and benefits for coffee pros looking to launch an online store.
Whether you want to offer coffee subscriptions or allow customers to book roasting classes with you, it’s possible on WooCommerce (though you might need to pay extra for additional plugins with specific functions, like subscriptions).
However, WooCommerce only works on WordPress websites. This means that while the plugin is free, you must already have an existing WordPress website or be in the process of building one.
As a result, you’ll be required to pay extra for:
- Domain name (URL)
- Website hosting
- SEO plugins/services
- Marketing and advertising tools
- Website security
Many of these costs are included in self-hosted website builders like Squarespace and Shopify. But, a plus side is that you can control your monthly costs. Some business owners prefer to have complete control while others want an all-in-one solution.
3 Quick Considerations When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
Before you make your decision, keep these thoughts in mind…
- Look for Software that Integrates with Your Existing Set-Up – If you’re already in business, have existing SOPs and workflows for how you roast and manage orders. You’ll want to find platforms that integrate with your current website and in-store processes. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself trying to reinvent the wheel and transferring data over to a new website platform—aka, a headache you’d rather avoid.
- Be Future Oriented – Be sure to read through exactly what you get with each website builder subscription level. The zero up-front cost of a Square Online store might look great now, but it could hold you back in the future when you want more functionality. Be mindful of your short and long-term goals so you can budget and scale accordingly.
- Operational Hardware Needs – Many ecommerce sites like Shopify and Square offer operational hardware for a one-time or additional monthly cost, such as label printers. If you plan to have a retail operation that’s perfectly in-sync with your online store under one platform, these tools can come in handy!
|Plan for scaling! You need your processes and platform to work for where you want to be instead of reinventing the wheel every time your business grows. Too many roasters get caught in the hamster wheel because they didn’t plan for success.|
— Dan Streetman, Owner @ Bird and Bear Coffee Company
3 Steps for Developing a Roasting & Fulfillment Process
After you’ve chosen an ecommerce platform, set up products and inventory, and launched, now comes the hard work—roasting and fulfillment. Let’s explore some ways you can create a roasting/fulfillment process that everyone in your organization can follow.
1. Evaluate Your Existing Roasting Schedule
Examine your existing schedule and determine how this will change (if at all) with the addition of an online store. Your roasting schedule will set the foundation for the remainder of your fulfillment processes.
If you’re launching a brand new business, it’s best to set your roast schedule around green coffee inventory and order volume. As your business grows, this may be adjusted to meet demand.
2. Define Fulfillment Processes Around Roasting Schedule
It’s time to ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I only fulfill orders on specific days of the week?
- Do I want to compete on fast turnaround times?
- What will set my fulfillment process apart from the competition
Typically, a coffee fulfillment process looks something like this:
- Customer places order
- Order is accepted by the ecommerce system
- Coffee is roasted and bagged
- Coffee is packaged and shipped
If you don’t plan to roast on-demand in small batches, you can dedicate certain days of the week to order fulfillment and the remainder to roasting. The key is to be consistent and to communicate this on your website so customers know when to expect their coffee.
3. Document the Process
After you’ve confirmed your roasting and fulfillment processes and feel comfortable executing them consistently, document it. Having a defined and accessible process ensures that everyone on your team understands how ecommerce fulfillment works and can jump in when necessary.
If you’re roasting on a Bellwether, even baristas can fulfill orders throughout the day.
|When it comes to fulfilling orders, triple check everything! Due to an incorrect number in our shipping calculator, we nearly lost a week’s worth of orders. Everything will fall into place with time, but be persistent.|
— Austen Broun, Owner @ FairyTale Coffee Company
Shipping Your Coffee: Solving the Operational Nightmare
We asked dozens of coffee roasters what their biggest operational challenge is, and nine times out of 10, shipping was the answer.
Shipping costs, materials, and processes need to be a major focus when developing your fulfillment systems.
Shipping costs will vary based on your pricing structure and location. In coffee, we often use these common cost structures:
- Free shipping
- Flat fee shipping
- Dynamic/variable shipping
In our experience, most roasters charge a $5 flat fee and take a small loss on the cost of shipping ($8 to ship a padded flat rate envelope, for example), but preferences vary. It may take some trial and error to discover which method works best for your business.
Most ecommerce platforms offer discounted rates on shipping labels, too! But, feel free to shop around third-party shipping apps—if they integrate with your ecommerce tool—to see if you can get a better rate. Roasters in our network speak highly of netParcel, Shipstation, and Pirate Ship.
High shipping costs are among the top reasons for cart abandonment, so we strongly suggest leveraging a lower flat rate.
|It pays to shop around for the best shipping rates. We signed up for discounted shipping services like Shippo to save on shipping costs, which was one of our biggest challenges at the start. |
— Ron Grieco, Owner @ Stacks Espresso
Creating a Loyalty-Generating Customer Experience
Deciding to launch an ecommerce coffee business can be nerve-wracking. With so many other roasters and cafes competing in the ecommerce space, what will set your brand apart?
The customer experience.
In the marketing psychology world, it’s well-established that your customer experience—not your products—is the #1 way brands stand out in 2021 and beyond. Building emotional connections with customers is not optional.
With this in mind, look for ways to inject your brand personality throughout the website. This can be in the form of website and product copy or personalized order tracking emails. Help visitors connect with your brand as if they’re in your coffee shop.
Here are a few great ways to do that:
- Focusing on simplicity – The more hoops your customers have to jump through to order, the more customers will drop off before making a sale. Make ordering coffee from your ecommerce store as seamless and simple as possible through things like straightforward product options (grind size, quantity, etc), clear product descriptions, and a big clean “Buy Now” button.
- Sell the experience more than the product – Customers know what you sell. Great coffee, right? But why should they buy from you? Sell the experience instead of the product. This can include handwritten notes in each order box, individualized follow-up emails, and surprise gifts in orders—it’s up to you to curate and create a unique shopping experience.
|We took really intentional steps to make sure we’re making it as easy as possible to understand our products from the description/pictures. Since we don’t have an opportunity to talk and explain things, the website needs to have those details accessible, without being overwhelming.|
— Patrick Morrow, Owner @ This Little Bean of Mine
Customers who engage emotionally are 52% more valuable than the average customer because they spend more and buy more frequently. Give your customers the essential information they need to make an informed decision and the emotion-driven background that helps them feel a bond with your brand and mission.
Launching an Ecommerce Coffee Business Has Never Been Easier
It may seem overwhelming, but launching an online coffee store is quite simple. Start by:
- Picking and building out your ecommerce platform
- Defining a roasting and fulfillment process
- Creating a unique brand experience for customers
Of course, the most important part is the coffee!
Previously, learning to roast coffee and investing in a roaster was the biggest hurdle for new and existing coffee pros alike. Bellwether Coffee has eliminated that barrier with our first-of-its-kind commercial coffee roaster.
We’ve combined the best elements of traditional roasting with the technology of today to make it possible for everyone to roast coffee, from long-time coffee shop owners to ecommerce startups.