Site-Wide Activity Forums Tea Conversations Jackie’s disgust – and Teavana doesn’t want to sell tea

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23 replies, 14 voices Last updated by  Anonymous 5 years, 4 months ago
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  • #6162

    peter
    Keymaster
    @peter

    Jackie and I stopped into Teavana the other day. It is a new store in the next city over and the mall is pretty upscale. Jackie had been there before, but it was my first visit.

    It really is a nice store. The people where nice and willing to help, but the best part of the trip was Jackie’s response to a tea sample I gave her….! The look on her face was priceless.

    Sweet things…

    The store has six big thermos jugs setup in pairs around the store. One of them was jasmine pearls blended with something else. I helped myself to sample and was surprised at the taste…
    As a joke, knowing Jackie’s likes and dislikes, I asked to sip it. She asked what it was and I said, “just try it.” It was sweet. Really, really sweet. Jackie hates sweet teas and the look of revulsion that came over her was hilarious, totally devoid of any self-awareness.

    Of course, the employees were watching closely, looking for clues of interest to make a sale–needless to say, one seemed more than a little worried about Jackie’s response. She did explain that they use rock sugar to sweeten their teas and the employee took a sample and agreed that it was too sweet.
    I left Jackie to talk some more with the employee while I wandered around to the other jugs to taste and see. Turns out every single one was Slightly Sweetened as it said on the labels. Of the four that I tried, three of them were so sweet that you could no longer taste the tea.

    Teavana doesn’t really want to sell tea….

    After we left, I gave some thought about the store itself as a retail establishment. I thought about the layout and the message they are trying to convey to the customer. The store we have really appears like they do not want you to buy tea from them. Over 95% of the store is devoted to tea hardware. In fact, aside from the jugs of tea (and a single glass teapot filled with a sample), there is actually no tea at all on the sales floor. All of the tea was stored in tubs behind the counter. I didn’t see a single tea leaf in the entire store.
    Teavana is nothing but a hardware store. Lots and lots of beautiful teapots, cups, mugs and paraphernalia – but no tea. No sniff boxes, no glass tea displays, no loose tea touch points. In fact, the store is designed in such a way that in order to get access to any tea, you have have to go through the gatekeepers (the employees).
    The jugs of help-yourself tea are uninviting really. They have a label wrapped around them, but they are really nothing more than you see in a typical office setting to keep coffee warm — but they aren’t electric, they are only a thermos. The kind of thing where, if an employee isn’t diligent will only serve tepid, uninteresting tea after a few hours.
    It is clear, from looking at the store, that Teavana management knows very well, which items in the store pay the rent, and it sure isn’t the tea.
    I admit I liked the store visually, but was disappointed that I couldn’t get at the tea and enjoy it in a retail setting using my own knowledge instead of having to pass it through a salesperson. I had a desire to look at tea, touch it and smell it, but I’m savvy enough to do all this on my own.
    Teavana’s tea selling design is clearly not targeted at tea drinkers; instead, it is designed for novices and non-tea drinkers who need guidance. The unfortunate part of that is that novices then get indoctrinated into tea through the lens of Teavana. Good for Teavana, not good for the consumer. Their system removes choice.
    What I saw makes me really appreciate the design effort that @charles.cain put into designing the Adagio stores. There is plenty of tea to see and play with. It does make me wonder, how much the Adagio stores will transform over the years as the retail side tries to pay salaries and rent. Will the margins on tea be there?

  • #6163

    Anonymous @

    Teavana’s tea selling design is clearly not targeted at tea drinkers; instead, it is designed for novices and non-tea drinkers who need guidance.

     – Yeah, and if you think about it, it’s rather brilliant. Who else are you going to sell a $20 teapot to for $80? I see rich teens on Facebook mentioning their new gadget from Teavana DAILY.
  • #6164

    liberteas
    Participant
    @liberteas

    No sniff boxes, no glass tea displays, no loose tea touch points.

    I think that sniff boxes would be a good idea; however, when the salespeople are behind the counter, and you’re inquiring about tea, they open the tea tins and wave the lid around so that you can catch the aroma.  Of course, this does require their assistance … and I do understand not wanting to have to go through a salesperson just to catch a whiff of tea. 

    Personally, I do not like it when tea stores display their tea in glass jars, and I have walked out of establishments that do so without buying anything.  Storing tea in glass is a bad idea, in my opinion.  I think the fact that Teavana does store their tea in the tins is their one redeeming quality…

    I don’t really respect Teavana’s approach, the fact that the people who sell the tea know very little about the tea and don’t have that passion that I think someone in the trade should have.  The company itself seems devoid of the passion for tea, they’re focused on the bottom line only.  I realize that business is business and blah blah blah… but, as someone who is passionate about tea I want the people who sell tea to me to be passionate about it too. 

    I used to love the store when I first discovered one in a mall not far from here … not far, but not close by either.  It required a special occasion for my husband to be willing to go there.  But it wasn’t the teas that got me excited about the store because at that time I was doing my own tea thing, but, because it was actually a tea store… people were catching the tea wave (I’m still a Cali girl at heart) and that made me excited. 

    Then when I shopped there, I realized that I was more knowledgeable about tea than the person behind the counter, and I was teaching her things … and that was a little disconcerting.  I realize they’re probably only making minimum wage and to them it’s just a job.  But, again, the tea lover in me wants the person who sells me tea to love it just as much as I do.

  • #6165

    ThePurrfectCup
    Participant
    @thepurrfectcup

    I agree with all of these points. The biggest is that I now know more than the employee behind the counter. Now when I go in they don’t even tell me about the tea…they end up rattling off all of the other non tea items in the tin!

    I really prefer Adagios style (only what I’ve seen in the videos) – where they have the tea there to smell, taste, and touch! They REALLY allow the customer to interact with the tea. 
    Sadly Teavana is really just in it for the $. They will be losing more from me as I may have found a sub for their Early Grey White at Harney and Sons – Winter White Earl Grey, I haven’t tried it yet, BUT it certainly smells like what I used to buy from Teavana. 
    I had a Teavana sales associate in the tea shop last week and she confessed they have a script they must learn word for word AND, and this was gross! They often tend to pick the candied fruits and other non tea pieces out of the big tea tins!! Really? Why on earth would you tell me that and think I’d be ok knowing that?  Then again she also told me they had tea tastings referring to the thermos things they have out in the store. I almost died.
  • #6166

    liberteas
    Participant
    @liberteas

    I had a Teavana sales associate in the tea shop last week and she
    confessed they have a script they must learn word for word AND, and this
    was gross! They often tend to pick the candied fruits and other non tea
    pieces out of the big tea tins
    !! Really? Why on earth would you tell me
    that and think I’d be ok knowing that?  Then again she also told me
    they had tea tastings referring to the thermos things they have out in
    the store. I almost died.

    OK, I’m officially grossed out now.  I don’t think I’ll ever buy tea from Teavana again. 

  • #6167

    peter
    Keymaster
    @peter

    lol! I do think its funny that they pick tasty things out of the tea. It seems like such a minumum wager thing to do.

    @liberteas – you really are on to something when you talk about passion for product. I bought a suit recently from a guy who really knew what he was talking about. At the store I bought it from, he only makes a little bit more than minimum wage (though he may get a commission of sales bonus). Either way, I know the sales staff there is not highly paid.
    Anyhow, tea and suits are both niche products, though the comparison stops at price. Either way, that suit salesman knew his stuff. He just knew suits. He was well dressed, and sold me things I didn’t want to buy because of his interest and skill.
    Tea sales need to be the same way. It helps if the sales staff is comfortable and knowledgable enough to sell tea to an experience tea drinker. I would like that, because it would make me feel valued by the store. I don’t like that I can’t go into the store, browse their products myself (though I could in the suit shop…) and decide what I want without interference.
    I know that Teavana wants to make the sale, hence the gatekeeper design, but they would appeal to actual regular tea drinkers more if they discovered  a way to strike a balance.
  • #6168

    Jackie
    Keymaster
    @jackie

    When I tried the tea Pete offered, I really was horrified. I was expecting tea, not some syrupy drink. What I tasted had absolutely nothing in common with Jasmine Pearl tea anymore. Why on earth would they try and sell tea like juice? I had no idea a tea shop would add sugar to teas by default and put them up for “tea tasting.” It’s really sad.

    As to the level of tea knowledge; the staff I spoke to, didn’t know what a Darjeeling was, let alone a “flush.” You really don’t need much tea knowledge to be able to understand those terms. No matter what Teavana decides to offer up on their shelves, their staff should know the ABCs of tea. Their business clearly focuses on “product image” and ambience, not the product itself. Their tea paraphernalia was nice, the store looked pretty, but I certainly wouldn’t buy my tea from them.
    @thepurrfectcup : the candied fruit picking story is gross. The only good thing, less candy in their teas 🙁
  • #6169

    yaya
    Participant
    @yaya

    Sniffing boxes & loose leaves to see and touch are not without problems. You have to change them VERY often to actually maintain a smell to them.
    In almost all of the places that I’ve been to that had this option (the only notable exception were tea stalls in China, where the turnover is so much higher), I would have never bought tea according to what I smelled – simply because it never did smell. You can have a look at leaf uniformity and grade, but smell is usually gone.
    And you’d be amazed by how few people actually WANT to smell the tea. I’m always happy to to have people smell the leaves when they ask; but they rarely do. And even when I do have some fresh leaves on display (at an expo, for example), very few people actually get into them.

  • #6170

    ThePurrfectCup
    Participant
    @thepurrfectcup

    @liberteas – I was grossed out as well and will probably not buy from them anymore. Their new teas coming out don’t really interest me either. I’m also tempted to say something IF I happen to stop in about the whole picking stuff out of the tins! I’m sorry but that’s pretty gross and really shouldn’t be allowed.

    @peter I agree. I know I’ve learned more about tea in the last 6 months than I ever knew before and my knowledge keeps on growing. So now when people ask about the teas in the shop I work in I know what everything is and I can give an informed response to the potential customer. Most emails from friends who have been drinking tea much longer than I are now addressed: Dear Tea Maven or Dear Tea Expert. I’m not either, I’m simply informed…but they make me chuckle!
    @jackie again I agree they should at least know what the basics are! I had the same issue with a staffer who swore to me Oolong and Wulong (spelling?) were different teas! I’m pretty sure it’s the same tea different spelling! (also had this chat with a customer in the shop too….sigh. These are not hard things to learn – a simple internet search will give a quick education.
    Bottom line Teavana makes my head hurt and my tummy crave more high quality tea!
  • #6171

    Anonymous @

    😆 I’m glad that “Tea Trader’s” are smart enough to see through Teavana, but I do admire Teavana for their business model. Somewhere behind all of the smoke and mirrors there’s probably a legitimate tea lover CEO behind Teavana who’s smart enough to turn a profit out of loose leaf tea in America. I don’t know any grocery stores that carry loose leaf over here, and this is the key to their success – that and their blends that are easy to market to Americans. 

    That said, I think it’s lame that the employees eat all of the good stuff out of the tea bins, but I’m not in any danger as an {Upton Imports “lady of the evening”}.
  • #6172

    Gingko
    Participant
    @gingkoseto

    I think what a company does largely depends on who are their target customers. Teavana’s target customers are not “serious tea drinkers” (I believe you know what I mean), and that’s probably why I’ve seen a lot of critiquing on Teavana among tea lovers.

    But on the other hand, we have to admit that “serious tea drinkers” form a tiny small market and this small group of people spread sparsely in most parts of the country. There are plenty of small businesses catering to these people. But if a business focuses on this group of people, there is no way it can become a national chain store or afford more than a couple of large and nice looking flagship stores out of metropolitan areas.

    I’ve observed that what makes a lot of serious tea drinkers feel offended by Teavana is not even their overpricing or pushy sales, but that they confidently convince many people their tea is of the celestial quality (and magical health benefits) while it’s far from it. But we have to admit that those who buys in such claims probably already out number the serious tea drinkers. This kind of things sell, and that’s why Teavana is doing them. Marketing sells better than quality. This is not Teavana’s own problem, but that of our society – I see it as a problem but I am aware that some people are perfect happy with it.

  • #6173

    jopj
    Participant
    @jopj

    whenever i am involved in a teavana discussion i think of what marketing guru seth godin stated about the differences between artists and vendors.

  • #6174

    LatteTeaDah
    Participant
    @latteteadah

    Oh, the things we could all say about poor Teavana…

    But you have to think about who they’re marketing to.  If I’m not mistaken, they originated in Atlanta.  Southern Americans rarely think of tea as anything but sugar-laden and black, it’s why McDonald’s and other large-scale places push the sweet tea so heavily, even in the north.

    They do have “good”/”regular” teas, but that’s not what people are buying when they wander in from an afternoon of shopping at The Limited and Williams Sonoma.  If you handed the average someone a sample of a brewed black tea – an amazing assam or a first-flush Margaret’s hope – they might like it, but they’ll think they’ve had it before and will prefer the “exotic” one with strawberry bits.  And yes, those “exotic” teas more often than not brew up to be nothing more than warm kool-aid, but they’re in business to sell beverages, so they give people what they want, and they train their staff to push what’s most likely to go home with someone.

    I honestly don’t see their focus on teaware as being a bad thing.  If people will pay 3x more for a cast iron dragon teapot, that’s the purchaser’s decision, their right to choose.  But they put teaware in the minds of people who wouldn’t otherwise think about it before.  What does it matter if the 20 year olds are blogging about their latest “pretty” glass tea thermos – they’re talking about drinking tea and making it a part of their day – that can only be good!  And when they’re in their 30’s and beyond, and have had the means to look into things with a more critical eye, that only means good things for the other purveyors.

  • #6175

    peter
    Keymaster
    @peter

    @latteteadah said: “I honestly don’t see their focus on teaware as being a bad thing.  If people will pay 3x more for a cast iron dragon teapot, that’s the purchaser’s decision, their right to choose.  But they put teaware in the minds of people who wouldn’t otherwise think about it before.

    I absolutely agree with that statement. I’m not big on teaware, but browsing the store really put my mind to it and I admit to feeling the urge to buy. I can’t afford their prices and so my rational mind reminded that I can find the same types online for less. 
    That said, Teavana is a fantastic to go to and handle, manipulate and look at various types of interesting tea ware. Their line in this was pretty wide, there was modern stuff, a touch of traditional Victorian style and Asian influenced sets as well. For this, I cannot fault them, and they do offer a place to get an understanding of size, weight and look, far better than can be had online.
  • #6178

    Nicole Schwartz
    Participant
    @amazonv

    I do buy Teavana, I do make the staff break out many tins, open them up so i can check them out, I tend more to their non mixed teas (genmaicha, six summets oolong) but will get flavored items like chai (that are suppsoed to be spiced).

    IMO we are not their target audience, new tea drinkers (current paper baggers) are. I am OK with them, as I think they open many people up to trying new teas.

  • #6180

    Jackie
    Keymaster
    @jackie

    Here’s a link to a post by Austin Hodge from Seven Cups: ‘Leadership in the tea industry?’
    The whole article is thought provoking, and so interesting that – and you’ll have to excuse me for posting this twice – I’m also going to drop it into our “Interesting Articles” board. I want to keep it where where it can be seen, not at the bottom of a long thread.
    While this article by Austin is certainly not just about Teavana, he spends several paragraphs talking about the company, so in that context it fits perfectly here. Enjoy! The whole blog has a lot of posts you should read.

  • #7993

    happygaiwan
    Participant
    @happygaiwan

    *I don’t think we have Teavana here in Canada, but we do have a non-union Mexican equivalent (I hope y’all like The Simpsons or you won’t get that joke) in DAVID’S TEA, capitalization obnoxiously theirs. DAVID’S TEA takes up a prominent corner storefront in my local commercial complex (Commerciplex) and sells tea in the same fashion Teavana does; lots of samples, tea behind the counter, overpriced teaware clogging up the joint. The store is laid out weird, almost like a dancefloor, everything is on the walls and there’s a big open area in the middle. I guess this is sort of a hip design feature but I think it makes the store seem cold and empty.

    The staff are mostly high school girls (and one gay guy who is the brother of a friend), and they seem to sell tea mostly to housewives and other high school girls who drag their boyfriends in. It’s all very female-oriented, which is not a bad thing, but I think they are losing money by not appealing more to the other 50% of the population that might want to buy stuff.

    The teaware is, as I said, very overpriced, which is especially egregious since there is a Stokes (kind of a kitchenware/garden store) about 50 feet away where you can get okay tea shit for much less money.

    I’ve had a few teas from DAVID’S TEA and only one of them was good, a kind of weird tisane with nuts and beetroot in it. Everything else was pretty middling.

    I think my problem with the store is the same as everybody else’s is with Teavana: it’s all pretty packaging designed for a certain target audience who doesn’t particularly care about the product, or has a false notion of it to begin with, and wants to milk that market for all it’s worth. In the end the customer misses out, because they are buying the marketing and not the tea itself, which I don’t think I need to say is overpriced for its quality.

    I guess I wouldn’t care so much if I didn’t have to look at the damn store every time I go to the Commerciplex, and feel bad for everybody in there, employees included because they have this weird bearded unemployed weirdo walking by who hates them for daring to earn some money (that weirdo being me, obviously).

    There is a local “mom and pop” tea shop in my town (that was here before DAVID’S TEA) but I don’t like them either for reasons I’d rather not get into here for risk of imploding the thread with negativity.

    I shall stick with the internet for my teas. I mean, I get a good product from people I like and I don’t have to leave my house!

    -Happy G

  • #7995

    Jackie
    Keymaster
    @jackie

    Thanks @happygaiwan for your well thought out reply. And for picking up on the request I made on my blog post

    Anyway, I discovered that Teavana is indeed in Canada. I also discovered that it’s not exactly common knowledge here. I checked out their site and they are in all sorts of locations: http://www.teavana.com/retail/canada

    As to David’s Tea (I won’t capitalize ha ha) I don’t know them, only of them. I’ve seen pics of their stores which seem to confirm your “dance space” description. 

    I hadn’t really thought about whether they market mainly to women, probably just because I’ve never seen one of their stores. I did like their color scheme (the turquoise) but maybe it wouldn’t appeal to a manly beast like @thedevotea or @lazyliteratus

    Of course I’d love to know why you don’t like the mom and pop little store you mentioned. Please share and don’t keep us in suspense.

  • #7998

    Xavier
    Participant
    @xavier

    So what we are looking for are knowledgeable people selling good teas and trying to promote them?

  • #8000

    happygaiwan
    Participant
    @happygaiwan

    *@jackie I’m more than happy to help keep the forums going, the more we converse, the more we tighten this community!

    Okay, here’s why I don’t like the mom and pop place:

    1) Too much emphasis on pseudoscience rather than on the tea itself, such as “pu’erh helps you lose weight!” This appeals to the main clientele of older ladies, I guess.

    2) Too much emphasis on flavoured teas. In addition to this, most of the flavoured teas contain the dreaded “natural flavours”. This is a problem with DAVID’S TEA as well, obviously.

    3) Bad product badly stored. They have TONS of tea at this place, but it just sits there in tins until it is sold. Tea, as a product, is like most things not improved by bulk selling. No matter what the tea is, the tins are only refilled when empty, and the price for old stale green tea is the same for new green tea. The tea is pretty much just generic “sencha” or “Darjeeling” with no qualifying marks as to when it was picked, where it was picked, or really anything beyond the name. The lack of information really emphasizes the fact that this is simply a product of commerce and consumption rather than a product of care and skill. Having less but better product with more information provided would go a long way to differentiating this mom and pop locally owned store from the DAVID’S TEA Goliath megastore. As I see it, they are selling the same product in the same way.

    4) They refused to hire me for no reason. Last spring, when I was this store’s best non-spa customer (they sell a lot of “wellness teas” to local spas), I asked for a job. I knew less about tea then, but still a lot more then the average Brandonite and possibly more than the other employees. The owner let me work a shift, where I did okay, but the next time I went in he gave me a spiel about how he didn’t want to waste time training me if I was just going to get a better paying job later, missing the fact that I didn’t WANT another job. I wanted to work with tea. I have a feeling he didn’t hire me because I was male, as all the other employees were young females (just like at DAVID’S TEA). Now the employees were very nice, I grant you, but I was pretty nice, too, and knowledgeable and enthusiastic, so I really don’t see why he bothered to waste my time making me work that one shift. As a kicker, he didn’t even pay me in money, he paid me in his crummy tea. I’ve never gone back there since, and I’ve given away all the tea I bought there. Does that seem kind of petty of me?

    Anyways, as far as I can tell, there is really no difference between the Mom and Pop and DAVID’S TEA in terms of product or price or quality. I’d say support the local business, but I think you can get genuinely better product for a comparable price off the internet with careful shopping, so that’s the route I’ve taken.

    So as much as I would love to have a local place to hang out and shoot the shit about tea at, I’m kind of out to sea. Also, isn’t it kind of weird that a town as small as mine (50,000) that has no real market for gourmet ANYTHING (this is farmer country, after all) has two loose-leaf tea places that opened up within a year of each other? I think it would be a good thing if either place was any good, but I suppose I have to thank the mom and pop for at least getting me started in tea. I guess that’s something.

  • #8001

    tarastyme
    Participant
    @tarastyme

    * I wish I could post this discussion on twitter or facebook….very educational….and humerous at the same time.

  • #8002

    Jackie
    Keymaster
    @jackie

    Just a quickie comment before I write more when I have a moment. @tarastyme – feel more than free to post a link to this discussion every single social media site you’re on ; )

    @happygaiwan, your input is interesting & entertaining, great stuff.

  • #8008

    Xavier
    Participant
    @xavier

    @happygaiwan I don’t think the size of the town matters.

  • #8024

    Anonymous @

    “I’m glad that “Tea Trader’s” are smart enough to see through Teavana”


    This is the first forum post I’ve read here on Tea Trader’s and I must say I am so glad I discovered this site. I have so many friends who adore Teavana and are always trying to get me to taste their candy teas. 

    I am starting an online store and brand (Epi Tea) that focuses on the quality of  REAL tea. Like many have said in this post, Teavana is selling to the non-tea drinker, who is obviously going to go for the sweet tooth. 

    Epi Tea is going to be selling to those who have a passion for tea, the experienced tea drinker. It is without a doubt a small-population market. However we businesses who sell to this market can be thankful to Teavana. They are taking people who would, if approached by a business such as my own first, would not even think about drinking REAL tea. Teavana introduces the non-tea drinking masses to the tea world. They know the only way to do it is through candy teas. They become a stepping stone to the more experienced tea drinker, those drinkers who can then be approached by businesses such as Epi Tea. 

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