Tag Archive - retail

The Wine Gang – friend or foe?

The Wine Gang

The Wine Gang

[Update: it has been pointed out that my title, written in haste, is a bit unfair. I'm not going to change it, but please treat it lightly. I was intending to jokingly refer to fear of 'gangs' not to suggest one might actually fear these lovely people :) ]

What if you were a well respected wine industry journalist or commentator and you tasted literally hundreds of wines a month, but your main paying gig (newspaper, magazine, TV show) only gave you time and space for a handful? What would you do with all the rest of those notes, impressions, events and connections?

Well, one answer is to blog about it … but I would say that! That’s a story for another post.

Another is to put them together in handy newsletter and sell it to wine lovers around the UK and the rest of the world. The problem is that the Paid Subscription model is either dead or on critical life support.

However, The Wine Gang are attempting just that. The ‘Gang’ consists of well known names such as Tom Cannavan, Olly Smith, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon and Tim Atkin. Each month they publish a newsletter with around 200 tasting notes for an annual subscription for consumers of £20.

What marks this out for me?

It is presented in a way that is actually useful to the average consumer.

Instead of being a collection of hundreds of tasting notes of wines by some sort of ‘theme’ like region or style, these tasting notes are arranged by retailer or importer. They are grouped so that you can reasonably put together a shopping list of wines to try and have some chance of actually getting them easily, and they also recognise this by making the report printable so you can take it to the shops with you.

Ultimately, unless you are a real wine fanatic, you want what you read about on the internet to educate and inform your own drinking, so it really ought to be focused on what you can buy – or at least let you know where you can source it.

The Wine Gang newsletter also includes a few handy summaries in their different “Bunches of 5” lists from each newsletter, which not only has the usual ‘best’ groups, it rather unusually also includes “This month’s shockers” – always a favourite read of mine.

I do have a few issues with the site;

  • It brings together some of the top wine communicators in the UK and all we get is one article and the tasting notes. Where is the personality?
  • There is little interaction with readers. In this era of ‘social media’ it feels old-fashioned and aloof
  • In a market like the UK that is very price-driven, it needs to communicate better how the “investment” in a subscription can be repaid
  • It would benefit from a broader range of content such as audio, video and images to bring the content to life
  • The site, and its contents, are not well publicised enough and are hidden from the main ways that consumers will find it – search engines

The question is whether consumers will be prepared to part with their cash for a newsletter when so much similar content is available free?

That remains to be seen, but I think that if the personalities behind the site could step forward a bit more, it would have a reasonable chance.

It does, once again, raise the interesting question: What is a Tasting Note worth?

I will try to address that question shortly.

Disclaimer: Several of the members of The Wine Gang are personal friends as well as colleagues. I have worked in collaboration with The Wine Gang in a professional capacity, and will be sponsoring an upcoming promotion, but these are my personal views and I have been a paid subscriber of the newsletter since the first edition.

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Would you give your details to a “Naked” stranger?

Unfortunately this isn’t as exciting as it might first appear, but it has potential, so let’s call it titillating.

I was sent a link to a soon to be launched wine company, excitingly called Naked wines. Unlike some other recent developments in nudity and wine (see http://www.slurpswish.com/ also known as the Naked Wine Show), the site does warn you up-front (so to speak) in their only Terms & Conditions that “Nudity is optional”.

The main thing that caught my attention was the fact that this site is recruiting 100 “tasters” to receive 3 bottles of FREE wine in order than they can taste and review them. This is, at least I believe it is, a means for the new company to select a range of wines that really appeal to their target customers. That is a great idea.

There is a rather questionable mission statement of sorts on the site that says:

… to cut to the chase, we believe that UK wine drinkers are being ripped off.
How? There are far too many over-priced, over-rated wines wrapped up in ‘The Emperors Clothes’ i.e. mediocre wines tarted up in fancy packaging.

Of course I would agree that there are many wines that do fall into this category, but “fancy packaging”  is not the main fault, in my view over-reliance on price promotions is, and there are no guarantees about pricing here. They seem to be creating an online retailer, and therefore a form of mail-order business, and fancy packaging doesn’t play nearly as big a role here as it does on supermarket shelves. At least the wines are being selected at least in part by consumers, so hopefully the wines themselves will be worthwhile drinking.

So, these 100 people have a great deal of responsibility to carry. Who are they looking for, and what are they going to do … and for whom?

No idea!

I thought I would try to find out a little more about this company and what they will actually be doing. Unfortunately, there is no information on this available anywhere on the site.

Being a curious type, I decided to sign up to their site. I was asked a few very basic, and slightly leading, questions about my age, wine buying habits and interests, and told that my application would be reviewed and then told if I am selected (I did get a £40 voucher for my trouble). I’m not sure how what they asked for would really differentiate one applicant from another. In fact, I eventually found out that they had already filled all their places because of an “overwhelming response” which to me implies that since they have not taken the form offline, what they are doing now is simply building their database!

What concerned me is that they are asking for quite a lot of information about the consumers, whilst providing absolutely nothing at all about themselves. Would you be happy to hand over your details to this stranger? There certainly isn’t a privacy policy statement that I could find.

Naked wines might have an exciting new model to offer, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that a company setting out to use the internet to build this might just provide some details about themselves, should it?

Anyway, watch this space, and we can hope that recent economic problems do not stop this business from doing something new.

===

Since I first started writing about this, I have read on Alastair Bathgate’s excellent wine blog “Confessions of a Wino” that one of the people behind Naked wines is Rowan Gormley who used to run Virgin Wines (who seem to be doing quite well right now) and you do get a certain echo of their style on this site. It also refers, interestingly, to this being the Last.fm of wine. Hmmm.

Does anyone else know anything about this project? What do you think?

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Oddbins chain sold to ex cellar

Oddbins put up the “SOLD” sign yesterday (see here, and here). Really, for those who have been following this (including me), it was not a surprise. What might be a surprise was who bought it. Ex Cellar.

Who?

Well, I can’t claim to be clued up about all the businesses out there, but this one is pretty small, with only 2 outlets BUT … it has a particularly powerful motivator, the kind of thing that might be needed to turn around the performance of a business like Oddbins. The family name.

Ex cellar is run by the son of the founder of Oddbins, Simon Baille.

I come across a phenomenon regularly both in my professional life and my personal experiences. The businesses that impress me most are those where everyone I come into contact with are motivated to make the ‘relationship’ with me (the customer, or supplier) a success because it is good for the business, and for them personally.

I’m sure that seems like common sense, but how many times are you served in a restaurant by someone who obviously is there only for the money and really is only doing the bare minimum? Instead, think how you feel when you walk into a small business and are served by the owner who does everything to please you and make you feel important – because you are.

The best larger businesses manage to engender that feeling even when you are being served by an employee, not the owner, but that employee is fully committed to the business and to the relationship.

Oddbins USED to have this. There was a camaraderie, a pioneering spirit and a sense of fun that was shared amongst all stores. Even though they were not running a small, independent local store, you still felt like it was, but still got the benefit of great buyers sourcing interesting stuff from all around the world.

When it lost that sense of fun, that commitment, it lost its USP and it became just another retailer. Even the mightiest can fall at this hurdle (Starbucks is on the retreat, and McDonalds has been for some years too).

I hope that the new owners can use the family link to recreate that personal commitment from the staff to the business that will make Oddbins a great source of wine again. It is not going to be easy, but all of a sudden, there is at least the potential for this to happen.

If I could make a suggestion though, I would suggest that the developers of the ex cellar website do not get the job of redesigning the Oddbins site! If you need contacts, let me know!

Beyond the call of duty

I just have to point you to the kind of post you never expect to see, but exemplifies the future of retailing, one built on relationships and service and not on the “fast-buck” concept.

Price check: 2005 Caronne-Ste-Gemme Haut Medoc

Can you recall seeing anything like this before? I have had such conversations, but only face to face in the old fashioned local stores that know I’ll be back again and again. These are a dying breed in the ‘real’ world.

The difference here is that this post is up for ALL to see, not just for ‘best’ customers. It shows how committed Jill at domaine547 really is to her customers, current and potential.

Thank you Jill, and I hope you get the success you deserve.

Can you point me to anyone else who has done this?

Shopping for wine in supermarkets

Imagine the scene:

Tesco. Saturday morning. Shopping trolley already half-full. Bored kids. Lots more things to get done today but … you want to get a bottle of wine as a treat for yourself at dinner.

You turn into the wine aisle having resisted the siren call of the latest 2-for-1 deals everywhere else in the store – and all you can see is a wall of 600+ different wines never mind spirits, fortified wines, beers and ciders.

“Hell! OK, 2-for-1 it is. Maybe next time I’ll get something nice.”

Well, at last I have found someone working on a solution! I’ve always thought that something like this ought to have been done before now, but I had not yet found it.

Supermarket Wine is a site dedicated to bringing together EXPERT reviews of wines that can be found in the UK supermarkets so that you can improve your shopping there.

Strangely (for me) this site seems to have been around since 2006, but I must admit I had not heard about it. However, I saw it on a list of must-see wine sites (on a US blog) and thought I’d give it a go.

As I have mentioned before on this site, there are others looking at this area; including Love That Wine and Quaffers Offers (amongst others). The issue was that one had the consumer input, the other the expert view. The ideal, of course, was to combine them. This is what the new site strives to do.

The key has always been finding how to communicate the value of a wine relative to its price. A low priced wine might be great value if the wine is good enough, but how much better is a more expensive bottle? The risk of getting it wrong increases greatly as the cost of the bottle goes up, so consumers are naturally wary.

The solution for supermarketwine.com is to republish the ‘expert’ reviews of the wine columnists of the various British newspapers, already trusted sources of reviews, and link them to the wines with each retailer. Easy!

If you see a review you like, go to this site and link through to any of the retailers who stock it. In addition, once on the site you can read, and contribute, to the ratings from other consumers. You can filter reviews by retailer, price, grape variety, taste characteristic and even reviewer. How many more options would you like?

In practice, the site seems rather short of consumer input (I have yet to find one to be honest) but in true Wine 2.0 fashion the option is there.

Maybe if we give it a go we could build up the kind of traffic that would make this site a worthy reference site for consumers, the developer has certainly put lots of time and effort into building it.

And there is one last thing. I don’t like sites that give me no information on who is behind the business. This site is totally anonymous. No contact details, no name, nothing personal at all. I’m sure the person, or persons, will have the best of reasons for this, but one of the best ways sites can generate customer loyalty is to create a relationship with consumers. Anonymous sites do not do this.

So, Mr/Ms SupermarketWine.com, who are you? Fancy a relationship?

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