Cup of joe, java, mud – your morning savior. Whatever you call it, great coffee is a massively popular way to start the day.
If you love your coffee, you may have spent some time researching it – heck, you might even have given roasting your own beans a go! In fact, you may well have thought to yourself “I should start selling this”…
…and perhaps you should. The opportunity, at least, is massive – in 2019/2020 the US consumed an incredible 26.7 million 60kg bags of coffee.
Whether you’re an established coffee seller without an online store, or someone just starting out in the coffee game, we’ve put together this guide to supply you with everything you need to know about setting up a successful online coffee shop.
So, grab yourself a cup of it, and read on…
Before you embark on the journey of setting up a super-successful online coffee store, you’ll need to ensure you’re adhering to all the rules and regulations put in place by the government.
Which licenses you’ll need to get your hands on depends on how you plan to structure your store. For example, if you decide you work with a supplier to ship products directly when you make a sale (dropshipping) you may only need to follow the steps usually associated with setting up a business in the USA.
However, if you are planning to roast the coffee yourself – or store the coffee before it’s dispatched to your customers – then there are several other licenses you need to be aware of, too.
Depending on how big your operation is – and the level of processing you’re undertaking – if you roast coffee at home, your business could fall under the regulation of Cottage Food Laws. These laws were established in 2013 to make it easier for those producing homemade low-risk foods to set up their business.
However, these laws are only available in some states, and many states differ in many aspects – so it’s worth checking your own state rules to see if your burgeoning coffee store needs to comply.
When starting up your coffee business, it’s crucial to find a niche which both interests you as well as having a healthy market demand. As coffee is such a massive market, there’s already plenty of competition out there – each one trying to grab a piece of the pie.
By specializing in a niche area, you can focus on creating great USPs, and really refining your product to better appeal to your target market. Of course, as your coffee business grows, you can always add more strings to your bow in time.
Some niches you may explore include:
- Roast variations (dark or light?)
- Price (luxury or budget?)
- Origin (Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East, or Southeast Asia)
- Customer (location, age, income, or interests)
Coffee is coffee, right? Well, not exactly.
Scratch the surface, and you’ll find many ways that coffee can be sold. For example, you may decide to target coffee shops with wholesale coffee, or sell directly to consumers with smaller bags. You may also sell beans in a variety of forms – such as whole beans – or a range of different coarseness of ground coffee, to fit a wide range of different coffee brewing purposes.
You may also look to hop on trends by supplying your coffee in pods that can be used in super-convenient at-home coffee machines. In fact, the coffee pod and capsule market was estimated to be worth a massive $25.07 in 2020 – and we’d only expect this to keep ballooning!
Once you’ve decided what product you’re going to sell, you’ll need to locate a reputable supplier.
If you’re going all-in and roasting at home, you’ll need to find a supplier who can ship you green beans. In this case, you should look for a wholesaler such as Sweet Maria’s or Mill City Roasters who can offer you a competitive rate, a variety of bean types, and meet your demands in terms of quantity.
If you’re going to be selling pre-roasted beans, there are a couple of excellent options available to you. The first route is to simply find a wholesaler that can offer you pre-roasted beans. The second avenue is to find a local roastery that can prepare the beans to your exact specifications. When picking a supplier of roasted bean, ask yourself these questions:
- Will they be able to meet demand?
- Can they package coffee in my branding?
- Do they offer dropshipping services (if that’s the route you are taking)?
Your brand will play a crucial role in the success of your online coffee shop. Before you can set out to create brand assets – such as a logo, a website, and a color palette – you’ll need to consider some key aspects of your business, first. These include:
- Your audience
- Your products
- Your business values
- Your position in the market
Each of these elements will feed into your brand. The better you incorporate them, the more your brand will speak to your audience, and the easier it will be to make sales – not to mention earn recognition and trust.
When creating your brand, it’s also worthwhile to assess your competition. You can use their branding as inspiration for what to do (and what not to do!) with yours.
Once you have a well-defined brand at your disposal, you can use it to fashion your online store.
There are several options available to you when creating your store: from marketplaces to dedicated websites. Personally, we recommend building your own site, as it offers high-level flexibility, as well as powerful tools to help you grow your online business. Some of these benefits include:
- The simple creation of a professional-looking website
- A highly customizable online store, which you can expand the functionality of as your online coffee business grows
- Predictable pricing plans that help ensure you stay within your budget
- Built-in support and how-to guides, plus quality customer service and technical help
The website building industry is huge, and there are countless platforms out there that you can use to create an online store. However, some of the best options – with the most competitive pricing, and best functionality – include Wix, Shopify and Square Online.
Unlike with a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, when you’re selling coffee online you can’t rely on the great smell and fantastic taste of your product to help you make a sale. Instead, your photos and product descriptions need to be perfectly crafted, in order to inspire your audience to make a purchase.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Great packaging that truly reflects your brand is just one way in which you can grab your potential customer’s attention when selling coffee online. Once you’ve created great packaging, you’ll want to make sure that you take quality photos – that really reflect the coffee’s charm and flavor – to include on your website.
Take multiple photos to give site visitors a true sense of the style of your products. These could include:
- Packaged coffee against a white background from multiple angles
- Packaged coffee in a lifestyle setting, such as on a kitchen counter
- Images of the beans, to give a sense of the roast and the flavor your customers can expect
As potential customers do not get the opportunity to taste or smell your coffee, your product descriptions are where you get to paint a picture of the sensations your customers will experience when they buy your products.
When writing your product descriptions, ensure that you don’t neglect key information – such as tasting notes and origins – whilst also including inspirational descriptions to help sell the product to your customers.
Pricing is a crucial part of the marketing mix. Get it right, and you’ll give yourself the best chance of making your online coffee store a roaring success. But get it wrong, and you’ll struggle to make the sales you need.
When pricing your coffee there are a lot of factors that you’ll need to consider:
- How much it costs you to buy
- The additional associated costs with the product (such as shipping, roasting, and packaging)
- What business costs you need to cover (the costs of maintaining a website, for instance)
- How much you plan on paying yourself
When you work this all out and split it evenly across the units you predict you’ll sell, you’ll get a good idea of how much you may need to price your coffee at.
However, this will only give you the ideal price you should be selling your products for. You’ll also need to do some market research in order to ascertain whether your potential customers would actually be willing to buy your coffee at that price. This could include conducting research into competitors that offer similar coffee – and assessing how much they sell it for – or may involve reaching out to potential customers for their thoughts on your products and proposed prices.
Remember, you don’t always have to be the cheapest on the market to be a success. Lots of factors come into play that can make your product more valuable – even if, at its core, your offering is similar to many other products on the market. These factors include:
- Brand value
- Customer service
Packaging and shipping your products is often an afterthought when setting up an online store. However, it’s important to ensure that you’ve bought the right equipment, chosen the best shipping company to meet your needs, and worked shipping costs into your pricing model, too. Failure to do this can lead to big challenges and unforeseen costs further down the line – so it’s worth taking the time to get right!
The type of packing you’ll need depends on the size of orders you are sending to your customers. It can be a smart move to consider all eventualities, and purchase multiple box sizes to cover them all.
When picking a shipping company, look into any rules and regulations they have regarding shipping food and drink. Also, ensure that they can deliver to all the destinations you’re selling to – ideally at a competitive price!
Once your online coffee store is up and running, you’ll need to get people to visit it. This is where great marketing comes in. There are countless ways that you can market your product – below, we’ll outline some of the best, most tried-and-tested methods to get you started.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engines are a great source of high-quality traffic for your online coffee store. This is especially true if you can target high-value keywords, that’ll bring willing customers to your site.
For example, a coffee store in Florida might target keywords such as:
- “Buy coffee Florida”
- “Order coffee”
- “Luxury coffee in Florida”
Climbing your way up search engine results is a long process, and takes commitment. Many elements will come into play. However, by following some simple best practices, you’ll increase your chances of improving your rankings:
- Publish quality, targeted content regularly
- Ensure your website is easy to use
- Put in work so that your website functions (and looks good) on all devices
- Evaluate your site speed to make sure that your website doesn’t take too long to load
Social media can be a powerful way to get your coffee in front of those who matter most – your customers.
Regularly creating content – and publishing it across your social channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok – is a great way to engage and educate your audience about why your products are so great.
However, it’s also important to remember that social media isn’t just about talking about your products. You need to entertain those who follow you, and provide them with value. This could involve answering their questions about coffee, which will serve the dual purpose of helping you establish yourself as a leader in the space.
If you have some budget, paid ads can be a good way to quickly reach those who are valuable to your business. Most of the marketing methods we mention in this guide – such as building a social media audience and ranking highly on search engine results – will take a long time. Paid ads don’t.
There are two main types of paid ads worth considering:
- Social ads (paying for your ad to appear on people’s social media feeds)
- Search engine ads (paying for your ads to appear at the top of search engine rankings)
When you use ads, the platforms you’re advertising on usually offer a granular level of targeting, such as your customer’s location, interests, and search terms. This type of audience segmentation can help ensure that you’re only paying to be seen by those that truly matter to your business.
Email marketing is a tried and tested way to continuously engage your customers. It can take some time to build a healthy email list, sure – but once you have, you can reach out to customers with key information, offers, and advice whenever you like.
The other major benefit of email marketing is the fact that you own access to the audience. This is unlike social media, where platforms can change the level of access you get at any time.
In this guide, we’ve given you everything you need to know to launch an awesome, successful online coffee store. Use the information we’ve noted down above as a step-by-step guide to go from idea to profitable business.
Here’s a quick recap of what we have covered:
Selling Coffee Online: Checklist
- Getting the right licenses
- Finding your niche
- Deciding what to sell
- Finding a supplier
- Creating a brand
- Starting your online store
- Showcasing your coffee
- Pricing your coffee
- Packaging and shipping your coffee
- How to market your store