2011

B2B eCommerce Can Help Achieve Financial Sustainability

Specialty green coffee buyers and sellers have a problem: There is not enough time in the day.

The problem is becoming more pronounced as specialty green coffee offerings become increasingly complex and along with it, business development. For a buyer, this means it takes longer to find what they need. For a seller, it can take longer than it should to move a product. This leads to a longer time to market and time is money.

The information green buyers now require to make a purchase is a handful to manage. Detail on coffee quality tops the list, including coffee grade and cupping notes. A close second, according to most roasters, is where a coffee is currently located and the amount available. Next is a lengthy list of attributes that for many can make or break a sale, such as varietal, processing, and elevation. A nice addition is the farmer or origin story.

Jeff Taylor at PT’s Coffee explains, “the search for an offering is different every time, there is no normal process, which means finding what you need is time consuming.” Dan Ericson at Camano Island Roasters adds, “ I sometimes have to call 10 different importers to find what I need.” In the 21st century, there has to be a faster way to find information.

Green coffee sellers have made some attempts to collect, store and share information, such as coffee profile pdf’s that are shared with roasters. Other sellers make their profiles accessible on their websites. But this information is cumbersome to update for the seller and difficult to find and sort through for the buyer. Nor is any of this information integrated with inventory or accounting software. All together, current information sharing in the business-to-business (B2B) specialty coffee market is inefficient and adds unnecessary cost along the supply chain.

Not only is information not stored and transferred well, the right information is not being placed in the right hands as fast as it should. This means unnecessary days inventory outstanding for producers and brokers, which is painful for a business. Sammy Demisse at Keffa Coffee points out that “a coffee can sit unsold for weeks or months, it can be hard to say how long it will take to sell.” There is nothing unique about this problem; it is something that all green coffee sellers must manage.

Fortunately, there is an answer that saves time and makes for more effective green coffee sales and marketing. We see the solution everyday in the consumer market and now it is entering the B2B world – eCommerce, i.e. an online trading platform for specialty coffee.

By implementing eCommerce, producers and brokers can store and transfer information efficiently and share it more effectively with the right buyer. This helps the seller cut costs and facilitate sales and simultaneously makes the buyer’s search for the right coffee much more convenient. Many B2B industries have already begun adopting eCommerce and it has proven to help save money while facilitating growth in today’s challenging marketplace.

Specialty coffee is late to the B2B eCommerce game, which is unfortunate because not only would it help specialty coffee businesses save money, but sellers and buyers alike would have more time to focus on the most important aspect of specialty coffee – coffee quality. B2B eCommerce will free up resources that can be diverted to tasks such as exploring new origins, cupping, and investing in the next crop.

Let’s picture what eCommerce would look like along the specialty coffee chain. The actual implementation and integration can be complex, but the user experience for sellers and buyers is super simple.

Starting at the top of the B2B chain, seller-offering sheets should turn into searchable online product catalogs so green buyers are able to quickly find what they need and even request samples or make purchases seamlessly online. Buyers should also be able to save, share and compare offerings, and then buy online with their preferred payment method.

Looking down the chain, all users should have online accounts that record and analyze sales history, report coffee availability in real time, make it easy for new offerings to be discovered and incredibly easy for staple offerings to be reordered. And this is just the start.

The opportunity is huge and within reach. Look for B2B eCommerce in specialty coffee in 2012.

Hayden launched Koffeelink in March 2011 to provide green coffee traders with a platform to market and find specialty offerings. Prior, he has worked as a consultant on b2b communications and international supply chain management, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, and has a Master’s in International Business from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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