Krishna.com – “the temple on the web” – has discovered an unexpected but surprisingly effective way of introducing spiritual seekers to Krishna consciousness – through its online store.
Krishna.com, launched in 1996 as the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust’s official website and staffed almost entirely by second generation devotees, has two distinct sections.
The main website is an outreach project with 6,000 articles written for newcomers in easy-to-understand language, that cover everything one might want to know about the Hare Krishna movement and philosophy.
Then there’s the store, which supplies people’s devotional needs, providing whatever they might need to set up a temple in their home or live a Krishna conscious lifestyle, from clothing, to musical instruments, to all of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Interestingly, the part of the site intended for outreach has drawn mainly visitors of an Indian background who were already looking for Krishna online. And it’s the store that attracts the most members of the general public.
“Fifty years in, the Hare Krishna movement is struggling to make its message relevant to the average western person,” says assistant manager Manorama Das. “At Krishna.com, we were too, until we came across this discovery.”
Salagrama Dasi works at Krishna.com's renowned customer service
The key lies in the fact that the average person is not looking for Krishna or Prabhupada’s books online.
“But they are looking for incense, or a vegetarian cookbook, or Indian art to put on their wall, or kirtan music because they’ve heard that buzzword, or Harinam chaddars because they’re a fashion item,” says Manorama.
Googling these items, these people come across the Krishna.com store, begin shopping, and go on a journey that essentially leads to them becoming devotees of Krishna.
The store currently has 35,000 customers all over the world, and many have told similar stories.
Carmen in Colorado Springs, Colorado bought yogi pants and a scarf four years ago. Her latest order included a BBT Art Calendar, a one-year Back to Godhead subscription, a collection of Srila Prabhupada's small introductory books, and the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Ivan in Sofia, Bulgaria, ordered cotton yogi pants in 2009. His next order came five years later, for the Srimad Bhagavatam, First Canto, Part One. A month later he placed an order for the full 18-volume set of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The Krishna.com warehouse -- always keeping Prabhupada's mission as the focus
Deniss in Riga, Latvia, ordered some sandalwood soap in 2013, soon followed by three vegetarian cook books, then a Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Maria in Concepcion, Chile ordered a Krishna and Cows fridge magnet two years ago; her most recent order included tulasi neckbeads, a tilak kit, a cotton sari, and brass kartals.
Andrej in Haifa, Israel, bought some neck beads in 2012, followed by a BBT Art Calendar and Krishna Book Deluxe. He’s no asking about the cost of shipping a full set of Srimad-Bhagavatams to him.
Last but certainly not least, Rosemary in Wasilla, Alaska, bought a Diet for Transcendence book in 2012, followed by an order for Discovering the Absolute: Getting to the True Meaning of Life, along with several kirtan CDs.
Several orders later, her most recent purchases include the BBT Art Calendar, tulasi neck beads, the Deity Worship Manual, The Art of Caring for Tulasi Devi, and the Sri Caitanya Bhagavata.
“She wrote to us saying that she is an isolated fan living in Alaska far away from any temple, and is learning more about Krishna consciousness by reading the books she’s been buying from Krishna.com,” Manorama says. “She hopes that one day she can start an ISKCON center in Alaska.”
Perhaps many of these people will never technically join ISKCON. “But they become our friend, are reading the Bhagavad-gita, have a picture of Krishna on their wall and are listening to Badahari Prabhu’s kirtan CD on their way to work every morning,” says Manorama. “So the maha-mantra is helping them in their lives. We’ve reached them. It’s a success.”
The Krishna.com retail store
People stick with Krishna.com over such long periods largely due to the website’s excellent customer service. There’s telephone support during business hours, email support through which staff get back to a customer within 24 hours, online order tracking, and a no-questions-asked return policy. Meanwhile all orders are shipped from the warehouse in Alachua, Florida instead of being drop shipped from India.
“Customer service is our priority,” says Manorama. “We’re not interested in making a quick buck; a relationship with the customer is what’s important. We’re trying to share Krishna consciousness; to build relationships and make friends.”
After purchasing multiple items from the store, customers often want to explore the rest of Krishna.com, including the About Krishna section.
And the reach is massive, getting to places where no book distributor can go.
“For the whole site, we get a total of about 1 million visitors a year from all 196 countries in the world,” says Manorama. “Including places where there are no ISKCON temples or book distributors. People from the most dangerous countries in the world, places where you would be persecuted for being a Hare Krishna – are following us and buying things from the Krishna.com store. It’s incredible the sort of reach you can have with this kind of web project.”
To give a few more statistics, four per cent of the entire populations of Mauritius and Singapore visit Krishna.com. And in Churchill, Manitoba – a tiny subarctic town in Canada with a population of less than 1,000 people – an astonishing 300, or 30% of the population, visit Krishna.com every month.
Customers browse the Krishna.com retail store
“Who are these people?” Manorama laughs. “They must be having town meetings and talking about Krishna.com, because one out of every three people there is on the site!”
Looking to the future, Krishna.com is focusing on making Srila Prabhupada’s books even more prominent in its store. While it used to have only English and Spanish books, it now carries Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and Chinese books for speakers of those languagues who live in Western countries. And staff are currently making arrangements to carry books from all 58 languages Prabhupada’s books are printed in.
Krishna.com also plans to soon launch several affiliate brands to cater to yoga, new age and other markets with select items from their store.
“For the most part, the devotee community is just waking up to the potential of the Internet,” Manorama says. “It has taken it’s time, because we’re kind of like a little Amish community that are reluctant to pick up the latest technology. But you can reach every household with an Internet connection in such amazing ways.”
Krishna.com staff want the ISKCON world to see their site not as a little project in Alachua, Florida but as a worldwide endeavor to spread Krishna consciousness on the Internet. They would like to see devotees all over the world making the site their own and using its resources.
“In our ideal vision, every leader in ISKCON would be saying, “We need to have 3 or 4 devotees from our zone preaching remotely on Krishna.com, because we’ve got visitors from that zone on Krishna.com and we want to connect with them,” Manorama says.
Krishna.com also plans to create regional websites so that visitors are automatically shown information relevant to their location. “For instance, if you’re visiting from France, we’ll show you information about Paris Rathayatra, seminars at New Mayapur or Bhaktivedanta College in nearby Belgium,” says Manorama.
To do this, he needs local devotees to help.
“We really would love to have all of ISKCON involved in Krishna.com on local levels,” he says.
The Krishna.com store is included in this vision. “We’re starting affiliate links,” Manorama says. “Let’s say you’re a temple that has congregation members who live two hours away and can’t come to your physical gift shop for everything; and your small temple website doesn’t have the resources to run an online gift shop. You can have an affiliate store on Krishna.com and your congregation can shop there, which you’ll get commission for.”
In the future Krishna.com also wants to work closely with other Krishna conscious websites such as ISKCON Desire Tree and ISKCON News to take interested new people to the next level by keeping in touch with them, suggesting the next book for them to read, or informing them about a retreat or temple event near them that they can attend.
“On the global preaching front, we have a lot of potential in the future with Krishna.com, ISKCON Desiretree, ISKCON.org, and everybody else cooperating together,” says Manorama.[ iskcon-communications ]