Cutting Through the Ecommerce Clutter

bout a month ago, I needed a new coffee grinder. And I knew exactly which one I needed. Not just any coffee grinder – a really cool one with a built-in scale so that every morning when I was ready to make my cappuccino, I could measure out precisely 18 grams of coffee and make the perfect shot of espresso.

I had known about Baratza, the manufacturer, for years, and knew that they made high-end grinders. But it wasn’t until a local barista told me about this new grinder that I decided it was something that I “needed”.

Even if you’re not a coffee geek like I am, you most likely will understand the occasional need for a top-notch customer experience when you’re buying something you really care about. So allow me to walk you through my online shopping journey.

Note: this grinder I was coveting was a brand new product that had just been released, so many retailers did not yet have it in stock.

My Shopping Experience

Step 1: My first stop was the manufacturer’s web site and their easy-to-find “Where To Buy” page. On that page was a list of retail stores (search by location) as well as online retailers (separated out by US and Canada).

Forty-six online retailers in the US! I was actually happy to see so many options and I set out to choose where I was going to spend my money.

Step 2: My first choices were the 11 retailers that I had heard of or where I had bought items previously. Clicking through to those sites revealed that none of them actually had the grinder I was looking for on their site (not just “not in stock” but not even listed).

Eleven down, 35 to go.

Step 3: I perused the names of the retailers and started clicking on names that sounded like they would be hipster coffee suppliers. Those included names such as Barista Lab, Caffe Forte, Chromatic Coffee, Prima Coffee, Roastmasters, and Venia Coffee Roasters & Equipment. In my mind, those sound like places that might cater to coffee geeks like me.

None of these retailers had (at the time) the grinder I was looking for.

Seventeen down, 29 to go.

Step 4: Start clicking through the rest, searching for worthy-looking possibilities (and for someone who actually had the product on their site). What I found was that at least half did not have the grinder I was looking for, and many had web sites that I felt did not portray a seriousness about coffee.

Step 5: I had narrowed down my choices pretty well by this point, so I really didn’t have much of a choice. It then came down to which one of the remaining contenders had the best purchasing options and offered the most information (when would I receive my grinder, did they offer free shipping, etc.). In the end, I settled on “Coffee Engines” which fit all of my requirements, and I placed my order.

What did I learn?

This shopping experience was an interesting exercise, as I clicked through to all 46 websites and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly.

How important is your website design? In my opinion, very important. If you don’t look like an expert in whatever specialty area you are in, you just look like a plug-and-play online retailer. We all value expertise and a passion for what we’re doing (or selling) and shoppers only need a couple seconds to decide if a website says “passion”.

What about your website UX? I was shopping for a Baratza grinder and I really appreciated the links that took me directly to a page of Baratza’s products with one click. It surprised me how many of the websites did not have the capability to sort by manufacturer. Make it easy to shop!

How do you stand out in a crowd? When presented with nothing more than a list of links (as I was in this situation), having a recognizable brand is your best option (although, interestingly, even though Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma were listed in my search, I didn’t view them as coffee specialists so I had no thoughts of ordering from them). Beyond that, your name does make a difference, even if it’s not a known name, and depending on your specialty, a bad name could actually drive customers away (I’d give up coffee for life before I’d order from a store called “Kitchen Kapers”).


Even in a sea of online retailers, there are steps you can take to make your brand more powerful. In conversations with retailers, I find that many of the things I’ve listed here are not always taken seriously. It’s hard for a lot of companies to see themselves through a shopper’s eyes, but having an outside audit of your website (and catalog) can make a huge difference.

If you want to talk about branding, marketing (both digital and direct), websites, catalogs, bad company names, or coffee, drop us a note. Now it’s time for a coffee break…