The Unintuitive Rule of Customization: Keep it Simple

Coffee orders are already full of customizations — milk alternatives, sugar or sweetners, an extra shot of espresso. So maybe it’s no surprise that Propeller Coffee Co, a Toronto-based roastery, found success by customizing the online shopping experience in a similar way for its coffee drinkers.

Aaron Zack, the former vice president of sales, marketing, and strategic projects at Propeller Coffee, shared some strategies that helped the company cater to different customer segments and drove impressive results.

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Separating wholesale and direct-to-consumer storefronts

Originally, Propeller Coffee Co. had multiple revenue streams, but its biggest business by far was wholesale. When the pandemic hit, the wholesale revenue pretty much dried up while the direct-to-consumer sales skyrocketed. The team started fulfilling 2,000 orders per week for individual customers.

Four bags of Propeller Coffee Co. coffee stacked on a forklift
About 85% of Propeller Coffee Co.’s revenue was from wholesale before the COVID-19 pandemic started and forced them to quickly shift to direct-to-consumer sales. Propeller Coffee Co.

“Let me tell you, it’s a very big difference from an operational standpoint to pack 200 big wholesale orders or 2000 much smaller e-commerce orders,” Aaron says.

Not only did Propeller Coffee Co. have to figure out the logistics, they also noticed that their singular online storefront for both wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales wasn’t cutting it. They decided to split those into two different storefronts to better serve the different types of buyers and the company’s online advertising strategy.

Simplifying the user journey

Customization may sound like offering a lot of different options to buyers, but keeping it simple is key. Propeller Coffee Co. started selling coffee gear online. Think at-home coffee makers, drippers, grinders, filters and kettles.

 “We kind of kept it to only a couple products per category to keep it simple,” Aaron says. “But to allow enough of a mix that no matter your brewing style or what kind of setup you have at home, you would get something great.”

Aaron and his team also used the Hot Jar app on Shopify to understand the customer journey. That helped the company decide to cut down the nine navigation categories to just three, which immediately helped improve their metrics on abandoned shopping carts and time it takes for customers to make a purchase. Improving the user experience flow also made a huge difference in getting customers to buy a customizable subscription.

Introducing customizable subscriptions

A Propeller Coffee Co. subscription box
Propeller Coffee Co. wasn’t impressed with competitors’ subscription offerings, so they used Recharge to build one that customers could customize. Propeller Coffee Co.

As far as coffee habits go, a subscription was one way that Propeller Coffee Co. was able to ensure that its customers would always have coffee when they needed it. Aaron and his team used the Recharge Subscriptions app on Shopify for a subscription solution.

“We were able to build a really customizable but simple-to-use interface that basically let people create subscriptions that were tailored to what they were looking for in terms of their frequency and in terms of the product mix that they had there,” Aaron explains. 

Customer segmentation for email marketing

Propeller Coffee Co.’s email marketing also leveled up the customization using customer segmentation to present different product mixes, purchase rates, and shipping rates to consumers in different areas.

“After several months, we were seeing a consistent 175% increase in email marketing conversions,” Aaron says. .

It also meant that customers got an accurate estimate of shipping times and costs.

“Everybody wants what they’ve ordered right away. But if your t-shirt’s coming late, it’s not a big deal,” Aaron says. “If your coffee’s late, it’s kind of a giant deal for you.”

Take a listen to Aaron’s full interview on Shopify Masters to learn why customization at scale is the goal for Propeller Coffee Co.