A Coffee Cup Just for You (Business Brilliance #11)

9 May 2019 | 14 Comments

I’m not a coffee drinker (unless coffee ice cream counts), but I’m fascinated by a coffee shop in Japan.

I was recently listening to an episode of a podcast called Acquired about Blue Bottle Coffee, a US coffee chain that has a very focused approach to serving coffee. The founder of the company, James Freeman, apparently conceived the idea after visiting an unnamed cafe in Japan where every coffee cup is unique. The barista asks you a few questions, takes your order, and then hand-picks your mug.

I’m absolutely delighted by this idea. There’s something special about an expert catering specifically to me.

I’ve experienced this same feeling at game stores and game cafes when employees take a moment to learn a little about me and connect me to products that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Also, similar to the coffee mugs, I’m able to pick up the game on the spot and even look through the components if a demo copy is available.

While it’s more difficult for online stores to provide custom “barista” service, I think there are ways to make it work:

  • Many big online retailers have algorithms that look at your purchase history and suggest related products.
  • I’ve seen some webstores that feature a little tag on the side of the page that opens a customer service window.
  • Stonemaier Games offers a detailed gift guide that can help you navigate through various options based on your personality type.
  • I once tried an online clothing service where I shared a few photos and measurements with a consultant, and they selected some clothing and sent it to me. I kept what I liked and sent the rest back.

I can’t help but wonder that I could do a better job of this when serving customers who visit the Stonemaier Games webstore (whether they end up buying from us or from a retailer). Sometimes people will post questions online or e-mail me for clarification, and that’s good, but I wonder if there’s a more proactive way to do it without coming across as pushy. Have you seen publishers provide this type of “barista” service in a way you appreciate?

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14 Comments on “A Coffee Cup Just for You (Business Brilliance #11)

  1. Here’s an effort that might be closer to what I’m thinking of (with the caveat that I don’t know much about it): https://www.huntakiller.com/. Everything is built around online direct sales, including the design of the product itself. They completely own the customer relationship and it’s ongoing. They’ve apparently shipped 500,000 units at $25 per unit. If they know what they’re doing, they know their cost of customer acquisition and lifetime customer value with great precision across channels (and lifetime value is probably high, because it’s subscription-based), and that means they can make low risk, high ROI marketing choices in pursuit of establishing a sustainable flywheel.

    This also seems like an example of a principle that has become important to me lately: the design of the business model, marketing, and product should all be one thing, not separate things.

    1. That’s really fascinating, Nick. It’s interesting that they accept a limited number of customers each day–I think there are pros and cons to that, but it’s fascinating either way.

      A lot of the things you mentioned here remind me of the reasons I started using Kickstarter in the first place. :)

  2. From the outside, the KS-only companies don’t look much like what I have in mind. They don’t generally seem to be exploiting the advantages of going direct in the way that the big direct sales winners in other industries are. But of course, hard to judge from the outside.

  3. I agree right now, you can sell more through distribution. I assume this is why no one has committed themselves hardcore to doing it. But I also think it’s going to change in the future. If so, some company is going to make a lot of money being the “first best” into the breach.

  4. I think the idea that this can be done on your own webstore is right on. My general view of the future of board game retail is that online direct sales will become way more important. I think there’s an opportunity there because I don’t see any publisher who has committed to the idea. No one dedicated to becoming the first Warby Parker or Casper Mattresses of board games. And there are soooo many advantages to online direct sales:

    1. They’re more profitable

    2. They’re more quantifiable in terms of customer acquisition and lifetime customer value, which accelerates learning and leads to smarter decisions.

    3. They create more direct contact with the customer, which means more lifetime value for each customer, through email marketing, direct customer research, etc.

    4. Like you say, you can create custom, bespoke experiences that cater exactly to customer needs.

    …Stonemaier seems positioned particularly well to pursue such an approach.

    1. Nick: That’s interesting! While I think we can sell games to many more people through distribution, it has been interesting to see the number of people (a few thousand) who prefer to buy directly from us, both via preorders and the Champion program.

  5. I’ve worked with a large retailer that categorizes gift ideas by personality type, and it seems to be a pretty effective way to communicate the value proposition of an item without knowing much about the end recipient. The funny part was that they had 2-3 different gift categories for women, whereas guys would all be lumped together in one category ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Despite that, I’d think that approach would work fairly well for gamers as well, because most people will generally know what they like, or what types of games they could stretch and grow into.

  6. I like this. It’s like wine pairing with cheese. I wish St. Louis has a store like that. It would be my home away from home.

    I think as your company grows, it’s good to have your games categorized like your blog posts so people can find what they desire faster and more accurate. Heck, your site can ask your visitors questions like OKcupid and match them with a game.

    Do you like friendship? If yes, link them to My Little Sycthe.

    1. The interesting thing to me is that for a coffee shop, it doesn’t even seem that difficult to implement (though I say that as someone who has only worked in coffee shops, not restaurants specifically).

      I like the OkCupid-style match idea!

  7. That service piece before the sale is tough. I wonder if connecting to reviews or how to plays or the facebook groups would add value to a customer in possibly making the purchasing decision. Essentially, “Is this game right for you”? I wonder if its possible to provide some connection points for the user after they make a purchase. This feels a little easier to do. For instance, if a person buys Scythe, could they then get a link to how to plays, facebook groups, the bgg game page to check out the forums. I think that you can call out “once you’ve played the the game, we’ve got these other products” without coming off as too pushy. Apologies if you are already doing that. It’s already been a couple months since my last purchase.

    1. I didn’t consider reviews, but I do post a ton of reviews on our website (I don’t read/watch reviews of our games, so the reviews I post end up offering a diverse array of perspectives–if they don’t like the game, their voice is heard on the same level on reviewers who enjoy it).

      I do all of those things on our website, but our website is a separate entity than our Shopify webstore. You make some great points about perhaps linking to more of that content in Shopify.

  8. So my local science fiction bookstore, Uncle Hugo’s, oldest independent sci-fi and fantasy bookstore in the US and 2nd oldest in the world, used to have a staff member Scott Imes who created a reference book what to read next. So if you liked this new book, it would have suggestions on what other books to recommend. Libraries would actually purchase his reference book.

    Of course, I didn’t need such a book because I could just ask him. You literally could tell Scott, I liked these 10 books and he could wander through the store and suggest 200 books that you would like. It helped that he had an amazing memory, remembered non-book details about me. Sadly he passed in December 2001.

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