How T2 is brewing eCommerce success

For 18 years, T2 existed as a quirky brand selling its tea and teawares in Australia, teaching consumers how to brew a "better cup of tea". With catchy names, including Buddah Tears and Crème Brulee, as well as experts in Matcha and its own range of regional breakfast brews (London, Melbourne, Auckland, New York and Brisbane to name a few), the brand expanded and made the leap into the Northern Hemisphere in 2014, a year after it was acquired by FMCG giant, Unilever.

This sudden growth in the last couple of years meant the retailer quickly outgrew its clunky, global website, which had been built by an agency many years before on the Magento platform.

Darren Williams, international retail director at T2, tells Essential Retail: "We had obviously grown the brand last year in the physical space, and by the time we got to Christmas 2015, we had ten stores [in the Northern Hemisphere]. We accelerated fast and when you open a flagship location in London, with a sign pointing customers to the website in the window, you see your web traffic rise exponentially."

Over a calming cup of Hobart breakfast tea (a Ceylon black tea blended with golden, juicy apple pieces), Williams shares his eCommerce woes.

He explains T2 had skimmed the already outdated Australian website for the UK and US launches in 2014, but the first problem was they were only transactional within the country the customer was residing. So if a French tourist visited T2's Regent Street flagship and wanted to purchase tea on their return, or an Australian fan of T2 wanted to send a box to their family in the UK, the website would not oblige.

"It was exceptionally clunky," he says. "The Australian customer would have to get in touch with our shops in England and make a phone order – we found a way for every customer, but it meant the customer had to communicate with us in different ways and we had to find a way of making the order happen."

Come Christmas 2015, T2's continued brand awareness resulted in it becoming very popular for gifting. "The website – already creaking – started to break down under the pressure," describes Williams, saying how the main issues were around checkout.

"We managed the website in the UK HQ in Kings Road and it became overwhelming," he says. "I had to personally step in and work alongside to manage the inbox, taking my focus away from retail – to the point I was answering emails to customers at weekends and evenings just to cope with the demand of finding out where parcels were."

While Christmas 2015 was an incredibly stressful time for Williams and his team, he says he is very proud that with one exception every single customer got their Christmas gifts in time. "We had to spend some serious money – couriers, messengers, carrier pigeon, you name it, but we got people's gifts there."

Williams says the retailer paid over and above to ensure shipping met that important Christmas deadline. "We had to keep our customers at all costs," he says enthusiastically. "And even if we were sending our tea from stores and customers ended up with two lots of tea, I didn't care, and that did happen in some cases when orders processed twice. And so many lovely people would get in touch and say the order had come twice, and I'd say 'have it on us'."

T2 was well aware of its eCommerce limitations and its digital team in Australia was already working on a new global platform. Working with Javelin, the retailer launched a new website on the Demandware platform in spring 2016, to a great sigh of relief from Williams.

"It's truly a global website and I think the other website didn't reflect the feeling, service and experience of T2. The old website didn't feel like one of our stores – and it was so weird that we just accepted that we let them have this amazing experience in store, but allowed our website to be so unfunctional. But now there's much more parity between the two experiences."

The new responsive site reflects the quirky, modern brand, staying true to the black colour scheme with a splash of orange which features heavily in its tea shops – store staff wear their own clothes, but they must be black, and the company encourages personality to shine through, whether that's a coloured headscarf, visible tattoos or a nose piercing.

Williams is particularly happy customers can finally select their country, while it also provides a place to tell the T2 story, using moving parts, imagery and video. He describes how Matcha – an incredibly popular Japanese green tea with certified health benefits – truly comes to life online, with a gif demonstrating the use of the ceremonial  bamboo whisk, as well as tips and tricks to brew the perfect cup.

The website  is fully integrated with ERP systems and presents real-time information ranging from stock availability to order statuses. The new cloud-based architecture will also allow T2 to scale up and launch in new markets, using multiple languages, currency and location-based features, despite the retailer not having a dedicated in-house IT team.

T2 is finally confident in its system when it comes to peak trading dates of Christmas, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Australia's Click Frenzy. Now it has successfully modernised its eCommerce operations, this leaves the brand to work on its social media and blog, as well as other digital innovations, such as the imminent launch of an interactive 'TeaFinder', which helps customers to find their perfect brew.

Draining our cups of Hobart, Williams sums up the tea revolution. "Tea is going through what coffee went through 20 years ago and in terms of its explosion, I don't think we've seen the half of it yet," he says. "People are looking for more of a natural high these days, rather than the hit coffee gives you."

He says T2 is becoming a place of education on and offline, and with its revamped website and takeaway trials at its Regent Street store, Williams says the company is now being seen as the real authority on tea.