Monday, October 29, 2007

Buying Wine Online - Part 2

I've previously examined some of the reasons why I believe people buy wine (see my earlier 'Buying Wine Online' - Part 1) or actually selling, as in this particular case. I also touched on the fact that it is a very small percentage of what I think is a huge market potential for selling wines online now that some of the laws have opened up to customer direct shipping. The market is there, the need is there, but companies have not adapted some basic principles of direct marketing and/or familiar with a consumer direct approach. In addition, there are a lot of new players (wineries) that just do not have the experience in selling direct and have yet to put the resources in place to properly handle this new approach. Aside from a few consummate marketers, the majority of the sites selling wine have a "give it a rating, a picture/description, throw it online and it will sell" attitude that falls way short of what savvy buyers are looking for.

I'd like to present a few ideas of how companies or wineries could do a much better job for the potential customers and sell a lot more wine in the process:

1) Price/value. This is so obvious, but still so overlooked. There is absolutely no incentive whatsoever for me to buy a wine online, pay the extra shipping, and wait for it to arrive, if I am not saving at LEAST $1 or $2 per bottle on a case. Especially in the states that allow grocers to carry wines, mainstream labels are almost always cheaper than you can find anywhere online. It is very hard to compete in the mass markets for these wines. Here's a concept - do the homework and price wines in order to sell at volume and show the savings to the consumer. Yes, it may be below what "retail" should be, but it just plain has to make fiscal sense and be clearly spelled out to the buyer. Offer single bottle or mixed case pricing that is a true value.

2) Reasons to try a wine. One of my biggest pet-peeves is just a long linear list of wines with a rating and a brief description of the wines I may or may not be familiar with. Like I will just magically want to spend $20 - $30 to try something new because Spectator or Parker gave it a 91 rating. Mmmmmm, not so much. Spend time giving the wine a story (personalize it), talk to the customer for what types of flavors/tastes they might encounter (in lay person form), present occasions where it might go well (perfect pre/post-meal quaffing, mixed parties, holidays), give food recommendations (perfect with...), compare it to other types of wines they might like (if you like bold fruity merlots...), and present user reviews from others that liked the wine (even if manufactured a bit).

3) Shipping costs. I can, without a doubt, assure you that this is one of online customers least favorite things to encounter. I ran a catalog business for 10 years, and after trying numerous offers to entice customers, the #1 overwhelming winner in comparison tests was 'Free Shipping'. Even when the "% Off" offer was actually saving them MORE money, they chose free shipping. Arrange your pricing and back-end shipping so that you can ease this burden to the consumer. Give options that allow the consumer to upgrade shipping if needed, but in general, make it a non-issue.

4) Wine & Food pairings. Let's face it, most of the wine bought is usually going to end up around some sort of food or occasion. The vast majority of sites totally drop the ball, miss the boat, are lazy, or whatever, in taking this approach. If I run across a wine that intrigues me (i.e. you've done a good job in perking my interests up (see #2 above)), you can seal the deal much quicker if you include what this wine would be ideally paired with, food-wise. I guarantee that if I am planning a big party or dinner and looking for that "perfect pairing", and I run across a wine that meets my food criteria, I am far more likely to give it a try.

5) Wine bundles/packages. People like easy decisions. When you can bundle things as a package that is perceived as a great value, you get their attention. You can also offer various things to appeal to a variety of occasions or tastes. Bundle things by a party occasion, a food occasion, seasonal option, varietals, countries/regions, 'sampler' packages, price, etc. The options are numerous and people just like things that have been well thought out for them.

6) Educate. I know this might come as a shock, but not everyone knows what a Bordeaux blend, Rhone style, Meritage, or Sauternes is. Most probably do not know that Pinot Noir is Burgundy's grape or that Burgundy even makes white wine! The reality is, 90% of the potential market stays with the mainstream varietals - Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir (only because of the movie Sideways), and Shiraz (pfoooey, Yellowtail) - without venturing to some of the lesser known great wines (and values). There are very easy ways to educate (without confusing) the customer that there are some great wines to try outside their comfort zone. People in general want to learn about wines they're buying/trying, and with the vast amount of info online that is available for this, I am amazed more do not do a better job informing customers more.

7) Customer service. This could be an entire subject on its own. But what I can tell you is that if you cannot be immediately responsive to customer needs, you will not be a player very long in the business. This cannot be an 'OK' area for businesses, it has to be exceptional. Customers are getting more and more demanding and will not tolerate poor customer service at any level. I am blown away how many times I can still not get a real person on the phone when I have a simple question during my purchase. One of the most underutilized features in this industry is the "Live Online Help" option available to companies they can employ. Let's face it, almost more than any other industry, the wine market is challenging (at best) in its presentation. People need a lot of help and are just not readily getting it.

8) Personalization. This one hits home with me the most as I really enjoy going to the local wine shop, browsing, looking at labels, seeing what's new, talking to the owner, getting recommendations, finding hidden treasures, etc. The online market can never duplicate this experience, but they could sure try better. If someone could really step up, spend the money and try to create a 'virtual' store of sorts, I think they'd be on to something. If at the very least, do the little things to personalize the experience more - remember the visitor, past purchases, ask for input, live help, give shopping options, tips, wine & food pairing, post latest deals, etc.

9) Offer exclusives. Companies should work more closely with wineries/distributors in offering some more exclusive labels that customers cannot get anywhere else. There are a lot of great wines that end up only going to wine club members or only available at the wineries. People like have access to things that no one else has, price becomes much less of a concern in these instances.

That about summarizes it and gets a lot off my chest. I realize this talks to industry more than consumers, but it affects consumers directly. This can assist in voicing their opinions and help put expectations more in line.

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!


No comments: