I’ve recently begun to enjoy loose leaf teas, and conveniently, a Teavana store opened up at one of our local shopping malls a couple weeks ago. I’d seen these stores on vacations, with their tea sampling stations right outside their entrances, set up to entice passing shoppers. What I didn’t know is that their employees can be pushy, pressuring, and deceptive.
Our first experience at a Teavana was at the Columbus, Ohio location. Their store is quite attractive and alluring, with artful teapots and sets arranged on suspended glass shelves, and a colorful “wall of tea” (giant tins of their loose leaf tea varieties) on the back wall at the check-out. The new location near us is also set up this way.
First, let me say that I don’t like being followed around when shopping; I don’t like “helicopter salesmen” who hover over me while I’m browsing, especially after stating that I’m browsing. If I have a question, I’ll seek out assistance. I don’t need someone reading me the labels on everything, or intruding into my conversations with my fellow shoppers about the products I may be discussing with them. I understand that they may very well be instructed to be this persistent, but when a customer indicates that they’re just looking around, that should mean something.
Our initial visit to a Teavana began with an upbeat salesperson pouncing on us like a lion on a gazelle. We entered the store wanting to explore their offerings, not necessarily purchase. Neither of us had been in one, and it looked full of interesting tea “things.” As soon as we crossed the threshold, the relentless sales pitches began. “Are you aware of the health benefits of tea?” “Do you like that sample? Let’s get you to the back where you can purchase it!” “These [$100+] cast-iron teapots are the best. They retain heat so much better than the others!” We sampled a couple of different teas, heard a boatload of sales pitches, and then simply had to flee because the small store was cramped and we couldn’t discuss the products of interest because our salesperson was so smothering. We thanked her for her time and quickly left, looking at each other wide-eyed and whispering, “Uh, could she have been any more suffocating?!” upon exiting.
Perhaps that works for some shoppers…? While I’ve never worked on commission, I do know from working in retail that customers typically don’t like being followed around and hounded. There’s a good balance between being helpful and being annoying. When your sales tactics are that vexing, they defeat their own purpose by running potential customers away. However, after that first experience and the one I’m about to tell you about, I researched and found that they are trained to use these frustration-inducing methods.
So a couple weeks ago, I caught wind that a Teavana location was soon to open about 10 miles from our house. Still wanting to try some loose teas, we decided that maybe the aggressive sales were a characteristic of only the Columbus location.
Approaching the newly-opened store, we saw that it’s set up exactly like the other location. We stopped at the sampling station at the entrance to try the advertised flavors, and were again pounced on by an overbearing salesperson…
“Are you new to tea?” “We only have the BEST quality teas!” “Are you aware of the health benefits?” “Here’s a book of ALL of our flavors!” “Why do you drink tea?” …and many more. I couldn’t even soak in what I was being told due to the fact that all these sales pitches were bombarding me, one after the other.
My “favorite” line was, “Here. Try this Strawberry Rose Champagne blend. It tastes JUST like Valentine’s Day! I mean…strawberries…roses…champagne. It has it all! You’ll LOVE it!” *I strongly dislike strawberry-flavored anything, so that was another tactic was lost on me.
I told her that we had been to a Teavana before, and that I was browsing. She continued to follow us to the wall with tumblers and tea makers, urging us to move to the check-out so she could explain how to go about purchasing tea. After I picked the Teavana PerfecTea Maker and a tumbler, we complied and followed Pushy Patty.
Purchasing. This is where my husband got most annoyed. Their main strategy at the tea-buying part is to open these giant tins of tea and “waft” the scent of the tea into your face (while spouting off what high-quality ingredients are in each one), hoping you’ll become enamored with the aroma and buy a whole pound of it. You cannot purchase less than two ounces, and they make it seem like you must also purchase their tea tins in which to store it. After researching, I found that this is a common deception. If you don’t purchase tins, they DO have bags for the tea, too. However, for first-time, uninformed buyers, they make you think that the $6/$7 tins are mandatory, and that only their tins will keep your tea fresh for longer than a week. Our salesperson briefly showed me the half-pound size and then spouted off how the one-pound tin was better because you receive a 10% discount when you “fill it”…and that it was only $1 more. I thought “fill it” meant with any amount of tea, as long as you were purchasing some with the tin. With this information, I considered it a good deal to get $1 containers to store the teas.
You then tell them how many ounces you’d like, and they scoop the loose teas into your tin (or bag, now that I know that’s an option) on a scale. This is where steam comes out of my husband’s ears…
I asked for two ounces of the Youthberry Wild Orange tea into the one-pound tin, thinking since I was getting it filled, it’d also be 10% off. The girl started scooping large scoops of the tea into the one-pound tin. Now, I’m terrible at estimating size, volume, etc. but I knew this was overabundant. “Uh, I’m sorry, but I just want two ounces. Oops! I thought I said that.” (It wasn’t an omission on my part, because she over-scooped for all three teas, saying she was just getting used to measuring them out.) So, she poured out maybe a tablespoon of the tea, and said, “How does that look?” I saw on the scale that it was still closer to eight ounces than two. I told her it was still a little much, so she dumps out another miniscule amount. We did this maybe two more times, and then I gave up and let it go. THAT’S HOW THEY GET YOU. (Why wasn’t I more assertive? That was actually abnormal for me.)
Being a new store and new employee, I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was just inexperienced, but I now know they do this to customers in hopes that they will do as I did – just settle for the excess amount. I know. I could’ve kept having her dump more out. At that point, our tea-buying was getting overwhelming.
Not knowing any better, I purchased three varieties in their own tins, thinking they were just an additional dollar. Little did I know that the tins were an additional $7 each. The “only $1 more” referred to the larger tins being a dollar more than the small tins, NOT $1 more than your tea purchase. Needless to say, the total came to a higher amount than I had anticipated. Due to the increasing crowd and cramped quarters, I quickly paid, and we left. Grouchy.
I questioned whether maybe it was my fault not fully hearing the prices of the tins, but after reading review after review of dishonest Teavana sales tactics, I know that was not the case. Reviews from former Teavana employees also stated that they were instructed to be dishonest in their sales pitches in order to meet sales goals. This company has a reputation for their dishonesty and sales-aggressive employees.
Right at the time that I fall in love with loose teas, I find that our only local significant retailer of loose teas is quite deceitful.
I contemplate whether I should continue my patronage with Teavana, or just avoid their unethical business altogether. Do I love some of their teas? Yes. Is the PerfecTea Maker one of my favorite kitchen gadgets now? Yes.
Does anyone else have a similar experience with Teavana? Experience with great online tea vendors?