Twinings Homesite "About Twinings"
Tea seller Twinings is betting on a future where smaller brands can compete with the big brands by providing immersive experiences

You would think that after selling tea for more than 300 years (Twinings’ flagship store opened in London in 1706), just about everything having to do with tea would have been said and done. 

But somehow, the UK’s iconic tea brand keeps finding ways of reinventing itself and re-discovering teas — with great fanfare and business results.

Breathing New Life Into Twinings.com

The company was actually a latecomer to the digital world, launching its first website years after the dot-com boom. But all that changed rather dramatically about three and a half years ago when Twinings engaged the services of London-based digital experience agency Ridgeway.

“When we first met them,” began Stuart Gibson, Ridgeway’s head of production, “Twinings had two sites: one was focused on content, blogs and recipes, and the other was a fairly basic online shop.” He continued, “Not a lot of attention was paid to the sites after they were put up. Neither site had a particularly strong following.”

Taking a British Icon Digital

On the face of it, the challenge was to merge the two sites, apply more contemporary web design principles and breathe some new life into the redesigned Twinings website. But it wasn’t long before the project took on a life of its own. That’s when it became mission-critical to create a digital world for Twinings that would complement its real-world, iconic brand status.

“As we got to know them, said Vikki Robins, digital consultant at Ridgeway, “we recognized that Twinings was much, much more than a tea company. It was a company with a heritage and a rich history.”

Twinings Creates a Destination Website 

“Twinings knew the flavors, the aromas, the history of each blend like no other business. That depth of knowledge, that intimate insight into the tea experience, that passion had to be shared and experienced by customers every time they visited the website. That quickly became our mission,” she enthused.

Even though the commercial goal of the site redesign was to sell more tea, the online store quickly became interwoven into the Twinings story. People started going there not just to buy tea, but to learn where teas come from, how they are made, how they are graded and even the best food pairings to go with specific teas.

how tea is made
Following the redesign, the Twinings website became as much about educating tea drinkers as selling tea

Accompanying that factual presentation were all sorts of in-depth articles, covering topics from ‘How to Make a Cup of Tea Perfectly’ to ‘Redbush, Rooibos or African Red Tea Explained.’ 

Creating a Tea Lover’s ‘Digital Utopia’

But wait, there’s more. There are more than 10 tea flavors to peruse on the Twinings site, from Chai, Darjeeling and Earl Grey to Mint Tea, Signature Blends and White Tea. And naturally, tea needs to be served in teaware, from teapots and mugs to tea strainers and tea storage. 

That led to recipes for brunch, afternoon tea and iced tea breaks. Then there are notes posted from various tea tastings. And perhaps most popular of all, there’s a whole section on gifts and confections. The content is fresh, engaging and constantly changing. It’s a tea lover’s digital utopia. 

Seamlessly Linking the Real and Digital Worlds 

“What they’ve succeeded in doing,” commented Ridgeway production head Gibson, “is successfully linking the real world to the digital world and allowing customers to move seamlessly between them. It really is a fantastic example of a well-thought-out and comprehensively designed digital experience — and one that’s having a very positive impact on the business.”

Mastering the Emotional Experience

Since launching the new, customer-experience-focused website in July of 2014, Twinings has seen a 20 percent uptick in revenue and a 30 percent improvement in conversion rates from its website visitors. And that lift has really allowed the company to spread its wings as a global brand.

“Twinings has been very savvy,” observed digital consultant Robins. “They have moved beyond just selling product. They have begun to master the emotive experience. So when a customer someday walks into their London brick and mortar store, he or she can go and sign up for a Twinings tea tasting course and become a certified Twinings expert. Customers can really be part of that whole concept and the ideology and the excitement and all that exclusivity around the brand. And it all starts with this digital reality that Twinings has now created.”

She continued, “The more that companies and brands start to think differently about what it is that they are offering their clients, the more they will succeed, because they are thinking and being creative, rather than just fixating on the end product, which in this case, is a box of tea. Those companies and brands that truly innovate are going to be the survivors. They're the ones who will still be around in five years' time.” 

tea caddy evolution

Going Beyond Technology to Embrace Customer Needs

“The technology that's coming out now is all about personalization, and it's opening up opportunities for companies like Twinings to extend their reach outside of the UK and more globally,” noted Stuart Gibson.

“But this movement is about far more than technology. It's about understanding the business, what you’re trying to achieve and what your particular KPIs might be. Then determining what technology best supports the delivery of those key objectives. The technology shouldn't be the driving force behind the decision. It's about building something that meets the customers’ needs.”

Smaller Stores, Growing Digital Experiences

Vikki Robins’ closing thoughts were about the future, and where all of this digital experience technology is going to take us. “I think we are going to see a movement towards small is beautiful. We're starting to see evidence of that already. Some of our big stores, grocery stores here in the UK, are scaling down. They are becoming the local stores,” she observed.

“You see brands like IKEA opening micro stores. Brands are recognizing that they have an opportunity to build an immersive experience where you don’t go in and choose from 100 different lamps, for example. Rather, you walk into a room and you see a lamp in context with other items in the room. So the buyer experience is no longer just about the lamp. It becomes about the room and a brand that’s presenting its ideas and items to complement what you’re already looking at,” Robins continued.

“I think these big item stores have had their moment, but I think the real future is going to be smaller stores supported by an ever-growing digital experience.”