4 things that selling tea in Chinatown can teach you about a successful website

Guest post by Seth Leonard who trains and mentors people who want to build dynamic, successful websites. 

I recently started exploring the diverse and tasty world of tea.

Luckily, I live in Berkeley, right across the water from San Francisco’s Chinatown, filled with tea shops.

So when I visited this amazing neighborhood in search of tea, I visited most of the shops. But I only chose to buy from one of them. Why? Because this shop did things differently. And you can employ the exact same tactics they used in their store with your website, turning your visitors into loyal fans and customers.

Starting with…

Provide An Entry Point

The shop I bought from, Vital Tea Leaf, offered free tea tastings. Now, this was important not because it got me to enter the store, which I was going to do anyway, but because it gave me an entry point for my experience within the store.

With each of the other shops I visited, all I could really do was smell the various jars of tea. Being a complete newbie, I didn’t know what I was smelling, or even what questions I should be asking the staff. I was intimidated and unsure where to start. So I left.

The free tastings at Vital, however, gave me somewhere to start. I didn’t need to come up with the right question, or demonstrate any knowledge. All I had to do was sit down and drink some tea. At the very least, I could talk about what I tasted.

You should be doing the same thing with your website: providing an entry point. Visitors are going to come to your site, unsure of what you offer, and unsure of where to start. Figure out how to demonstrate the value you provide in an easy, accessible way.

Then give them a reason to interact with you. Give them something to consume, to comment on, or ask you about. (Tweet this!) Figure out a way that makes it easy for them to enter into a conversation with you. 


Once I was seated at the tea tasting table, Royal (his real name), my host, worked to engage with me. He didn’t ask me what my favorite tea was, or even tell me what his favorite tea was. He asked about where I was from and we talked about Chinatown.

Royal was friendly and excited to talk to me, as well as the other people doing tastings. He would serve various teas and look on with curiosity as to how we would react. He wanted to hear our opinions. He gave us tips on brewing tea that later made me feel more knowledgeable and comfortable in making a purchasing decision.

Your website is about more than selling (when I say selling, it could be a product, service, or content you want people to see). Your website is about engaging with your audience, and giving them a reason to be there other than to buy. (Tweet this!) It’s about empowering them with the knowledge to make a decision about their next step.

People want an experience. They want to feel a part of something. Open your website up to your visitor. Be curious about them and hear what they have to say.

Give them a seat at the table, something to discuss, and then listen. Give them an experience. Engage.

Offer Social Proof

The free tastings at Vital meant that there were always people in the shop. Watching us laugh and nod our heads at the tasting counter only encouraged more people to join us. Just as it
was reassuring for me to see others interact with Royal before I sat down, my presence helped other people to join the group.

Sometimes it helps to think of your website as a party. You want to arrive when there are already guests there. And you want to see that those people are having a good time. It lets you know that you’re not making a mistake by being there.

One of the values of engaging with your website audience is that it shows others that there is a buzz going on. Visitors become more likely to add a comment after they see that a discussion has already started. They’re more likely to explore your site, knowing others have already found value in it.

So whether it’s displaying your comment count, Twitter follower numbers, or testimonials from past clients, find a way to offer some social proof that you’ve got something valuable to offer. (Tweet this!)

Don’t Be Pushy With Sales

Royal never once asked me if I’d like to buy any tea, even the ones I obviously liked. He probably could have at the end, and I wouldn’t have minded. And perhaps he lost some sales to others who started by looking for free tea, but who would have bought if he had asked.

What Royal did, however, was give me confidence in what I was buying. The more I knew, the more I tasted, and the more I trusted the source, the more likely I was to buy.

I walked in to Chinatown looking to buy. I just needed to find the right experience that would make me comfortable in doing so.

Your website audience is the same. They are looking for a solution. They wouldn’t be at your website if they weren’t. They want to invest in something. You just need to give them the confidence to do so. (Tweet this!)

Empower them. Give them an entry point. Engage with them. Offer some value, offer some social proof. And don’t be overly pushy.

After that, they’ll be more than happy to give you their attention, and maybe even their money.

Thanks Seth! Do you have any real world purchasing experiences that have led you to think differently about your website?  Tweet me @redslice or share with us on Facebook.

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