Why DavidsTea launched a seasonal subscription box

The "Tea Tasting Club" will help the company with sampling, education and community-building as it transitions to a digital model.

DAVIDsTEA

DavidsTea offers such a wide array of teas and tea blends that chief brand officer Sarah Segal says customers have often felt overwhelmed by the number of choices. The result is “you tend to go with what you already know,” she says. “That’s been the experience of a lot of people I speak with – they tend to think they know what they like.”

There are roughly 150 different teas and blends available through the Montreal-based company’s retail stores. And every year, some 30 new blends enter the rotation. Driving trial across such an extensive assortment has typically required educating new and existing customers through in-store “tea guides.”

But DavidsTea will have fewer opportunities to interact with customers face-to-face as it continues to transition to a digital-first model. After filing for bankruptcy protection in July, the company said it planned to close all but 18 of its more than 200 North American stores as part of a restructuring process. When the pandemic ends, it plans to emerge as a more ecommerce and wholesale-focused tea brand. That has left it with few options, one of which is to bring some of its educational and sampling activities from the bricks-and-mortar world online.

It took a clear step in that direction last week with the launch of its first seasonal subscription box called the “Tea Tasting Club.” For a single purchase of $140, subscribers receive four boxes, each featuring up to eight blends of seasonal and exclusive teas (enough for 50 cups of tea), gain access to curated content and participate in an online member-only community.

DavidsTea box

Segal says DavidsTea has contemplated making a move into subscription boxes for some time, because it already had a “subscription-friendly” business model structured around seasonal collections. “The way we were creating blends already fits the model.” By launching ahead of the holidays, DavidsTea hopes to catch holiday shoppers who don’t want to deal with last-minute shipping delays and is promoting it as the “perfect holiday gift.”

While the first boxes will only ship in January, it’s sending recipients an emailed e-card so they know their box is on its way. The new offer will also help DavidsTea address some fundamental challenges to doing business primarily online. Chief among them is sampling. “When you went into a store, you were able to sniff and smell and see what you like,” Segal says. “This is trying to recreate that sampling experience with a digital business.”

The “Tea Tasting Club” will also give the brand a new platform through which it can tell the stories of its blends, something Segal says it has wanted to do more of for a while. For example, each tea included in the box will come with an accompanying video featuring a virtual tea tasting with company staff from various departments, including R&D and content.

“We put so much time and effort into creating each [blend] but we just didn’t have the right venue – there’s only so much you can put on a product page; there’s only so much you can tell someone when they’re standing in front of you trying to choose a tea.”

It’s also an opportunity for DavidsTea to help customers connect with one another, while generating insights based on their conversations and feedback. Upon receiving their boxes, subscribers will be prompted to join a members-only Facebook group monitored by company “experts” who will share product information, behind-the-scenes content and answer customer questions.

Segal says the idea for the platform came in part from a program DavidsTea previously ran internally. Staff would receive boxes with tea samples and join daily calls to discuss their thoughts on the latest products. Having received valuable feedback through that process, it decided to recreate it externally. “We had people from our finance team or [outside] our tea team who maybe weren’t as familiar with the teas, and they had such amazing feedback and insights, so many good discussions… We said, ‘you know, it would be amazing to have that conversation with customers.’”

Some brands, such as Lululemon and Foot Locker, have been prioritizing community engagement as a way of building stronger connections with consumers and have moved those strategies online as the world went into lockdown.

For Segal, it ultimately comes back to supporting customers in a time of need and building on DavidsTea’s mission to make tea more accessible and approachable. “People need community and I think it offers that sense of coming together that used to occur in a mall or used to be more organic,” she says. “But the deeper feeling is that people really connect and get reassurance when they know that their brand is going to be there for them.”