Tea stores have hit the Internet, with online tea shopping being a big growth area. More and more people are turning to the virtually infinite array of teas available on Websites. They’re seeking to “plump out” their tea pantries way beyond the basic Orange Pekoe Black available at the local grocery store. Yippee, right? Well, yes and no (but mostly yes).
Online shopping has been around almost as long as the Internet. What started out as a tool for scientists around the world to share research results quickly grew into a way to share information and then to opening up Website “stores.” Suddenly, people with something to sell could reach customers in their living rooms or at the office around the globe. Plus, unlike catalogs, information could be on-the-spot current.
The benefits for sellers and buyers alike are many. Sellers can add a new product or mark one “Sold Out” immediately, post special deals for an upcoming holiday in a very timely manner, or put a slow-moving item on sale to get it out the door. Buyers can search for a hard-to-find product, compare prices, and find information on new items, including reviews of the products.
Some tea sites have gone to elaborate setups in Adobe Flash. They’re animations that react when you move your computer’s mouse over parts of them. Where the mouse is determines what happens. If you’re a teen who likes video games and lots of quick actions, these are great. If you are serious about buying tea and about learning more about the company’s products, these animations frustrate at best and, at worst, cause you to go elsewhere. Sort of defeats the purpose of having a Website. (I applaud the sites that keep it simple instead of going for the Rube Goldberg approach to site design, employing every gadget and gizmo available even if they’re not needed.)
A good site is well-organized, has clear photos and in-depth product information, is easy to order from, and has basic data on the company. They should have a good return policy; it shows that they stand behind their products.
Sorry to say there is a fly in the ointment (or cup of tea): safety (or lack thereof). Along with those online stores came ways to pay for the products they were selling and you wanted to buy. Credit cards were a natural. Some sites also accepted checks. Corporate accounts were another option, especially if you were buying stuff for your company. Identity theft also rose and spurred the development of better ways to secure your information and better ways to pay such as PayPal.
All of these lead to the following steps for shopping online for tea:
- Go to a search site (Yahoo!, Google, etc.) and search on the company name of the shopping site plus the word “complaints.” This will pop up Better Business Bureau complaints and various sites set up for people to post problems they have had. (Beware, often company employees write positive things on these sites, but they’re usually pretty easy to spot.)
- Know who the company is. Look for and read the “About Us” page. If they don’t have one, you might want to shop somewhere else.
- Check for notices on the site that they use the latest security technology to keep your ID safe.
- Be sure they have an alternative way to pay and don’t just use credit cards. PayPal and accepting checks are two such methods.
- Check out information on the company’s site about their tea products. Sites that have more than just a tea name and a simple description not only help you learn more about teas, but tend to be one that takes their business seriously.
- Take baby steps by ordering an item or two, sort of a test order. If the correct items arrive in good condition and no weird charges show up on your credit card, it’s probably safe to order from them again.
- If you’re interested in trying a new tea, buy a sample size. Most tea vendors offer them.
- If all of the above goes well, cut loose with a big order and have a fabulous teatime when it all arrives safe and sound.
So far my own adventures in buying teas online have gone well. The orders were filled accurately and no security issues. A very good sign. I have enough to worry about, which is why I need the tea. That reminds me, my teacup is empty. Time to steep another potful.
Once you’ve ordered your tea and you’re all settled in, stop by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill. It’s a real hoot!!