A coffee bean trader brews up more business with a mobile site

March 16, 2015 11:40 AM

For buyers who are constantly travelling and away from their desktop computers, Olam Specialty Coffee has eased the buying process with a new mobile strategy that lets them check the fluctuating price of gourmet coffee beans and place orders on the go.

The trading company in January relaunched its e-commerce site using the responsive web design approach that adapts the look of the site to the screen being used, meaning it renders well on smartphones and tablets as well as PCs. That redesign produced a 17% spike in online traffic and order volume, e-commerce manager Hayden Kwast says.

“We had a steady increase in sales beforehand, but there’s definitely been a jump since then,” he says. “We’ve seen a big jump in traffic and sales, and we attribute that to the responsive site.”

Olam Specialty Coffee—which sells online at—connects growers with companies that roast coffee beans, such as coffee shops. Olam has expanded its number of buyers, or roasters, in the last three months to about 1,000 from 700, Kwast says.

The ability to update the e-commerce site content on mobile devices “in closer to real time” under responsive web design has encouraged customers to visit and place orders on the site via their smartphones or tablets more frequently, Kwast says. The new site lets roasters use their phones for updates about current bean availability and prices—which fluctuate according to fuel cost, shipping price and weather—and allows them to lock down a market price for a certain type of specialty coffee. Customers can also log in to and see the current per-pound market price.

“The buyers of the accounts are often traveling,” Kwast says. “The nature of their day job is very hands-on. It’s hard to always be on a computer, and they’re often checking things on their phone or tablet. We send out weekly updates on what products are available, and they want to be able to get that information on their mobile device.”

"Even when customers don’t place orders online, they still research about 80% of their purchase online before calling their coffee trader," he says. Many of the largest orders are placed by phone. “Once you get above a certain dollar amount, people are much more comfortable to call and place that order over the phone,” Kwast says.

Olam has been in business since 2010. For most of its first three years it connected with growers and roasters only offline, requiring in-person meetings and phone and fax communications with growers in Yemen, Ethiopia and other coffee-growing regions to gather the information that roasters need to know to serve their target markets with particular varieties of coffee beans. In addition to fluctuating prices, the type and flavor of coffee, for example, can vary widely based on the type of bean a roaster uses and whether it’s grown in a dry or humid climate.

Many of Olam’s clients are small companies, and for years it was too difficult and time-consuming to explain to each customer individually the differences in the products offered by several hundred growers, Kwast says. With such complications, he adds, Olam worked with only about 60 roasters until 2012. With the launch of its e-commerce site that year Olam expanded its customer base to some 700 roasters.

Olam launched its e-commerce site on Magento Enterprise, a part of eBay Inc.’s eBay Enterprise e-commerce technology and services unit. Olam pays $15,000 per year in Magento licensing fees, Kwast says. Olam worked with Magento and web development firm Levementum to code both the initial version of and the new responsive web design version.

The increased business from buyers constantly shopping away from their desk justifies the cost of Olam’s new responsive site, Kwast says. He declines to specify the cost of the redesign, but notes that the design work was done by Olam’s in-house team of web designers.

Kwast also credits some of the company’s growth over the past few years to a “general momentum,” as more customers have become familiar with the relatively new coffee trading services company. More recently, Olam has also helped to boost business by hiring two new coffee  industry sales reps who’ve helped expand Olam’s circle of roasters, Kwast says.

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