Tag Archive - UK

Will Vente Privee make a success of flash wine sales? Probably

French event sales site Vente Privée has added wine sales to its product offering in the UK, and they may be the ones to make this model really work.

This felt more like a fashion event than a wine tasting. There’s a reason for that.

Vente Privee SalesInstead of the acres of table-tops loaded with glass bottles, we are greeted by several hosts who would not look out of place at London Fashion Week – the professional, attentive, smiling PR team and the fashionably-dressed management.

At the end of the upstairs room of the appropriately French Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, constantly drawn to his smartphone, but dipping into our conversations occasionally and coolly, is Xavier Court, the man we’ve come to listen to.

The occasion is the launch in the UK of Vente Privée’s wine offering. Vente Privée is a French e-commerce site that pioneered the online flash sale model, that has not only survived far longer than most internet brands, but expanded to cover 8 European markets and with a reputed turnover of €1.3 billion from 20 million registered customers.

Impressive numbers, but what do they mean for the world of wine retail in the UK?

Flash sales, or “Event Sales“, can take different forms, but they are about offering attractive products, at substantial discounts, for a very limited period of time.

The image one might conjure up is of cheap, overstocked products pushed by spray-tanned presenters on TV shopping channels, and some wine sales sites could be accused of following that path, and having failed. Vente Privée’s model, driven as it is by its base in the world of fashion, is different to this image.

The positioning of the site is not simply to offer discount sales, like Groupon for example, but to create a virtual brand ‘pop-up’ shop that communicates the brand message to all those who browse, even if they do not, or cannot, buy. With around 20 million active shoppers and prospective buyers in Europe, this is a powerful driver on its own, but it may also encourage many new customers to trial a product and potentially become converted to the brand. It isn’t so much about getting wine shoppers to buy against the ticking clock, so much as encouraging casual wine consumers to buy “on impulse”.

As a wine commentator I am not alone to be worried that, once again, it sends a message to consumers that wine should only be bought “on sale”. However, as a committed wine consumer, I should also say that I’d be willing to suspend those worries if a genuinely attractive offer came along.

Admit it, we’re all the same, we do love a deal. The question is, what is a “genuinely attractive offer”?

  • Real wines: Vente Privée usually negotiates directly with the winery brands and so gets their buy-in and targets high-end wineries. After all, they are offering a one-off promotion, where they create the content, including video recommendations from respected wine professionals, give the brand the right to approve it, and then display this advertising message to thousands of targeted consumers.
  • Real discounts: The price has to be a genuine offer because pricing sites such as wine-searcher.com make it easy to see if the “retail price” being used is accurate, and if the offer is real – a site like Vente Privée cannot afford to get a reputation for inaccurate offers.

The list of winery brands is quite impressive already, with Chapoutier, Chateau Giscours and Albert Bichot already on the site, so these are not cheap imitations, and with a strong French market for wine sales, the prospect of maintaining this level of quality in the UK is high.

Vente Privée will face several obstacles, including:

  • long delivery lead-times (approximately 3 weeks from order, to receiving wines from the winery, repackaging, dispatching from their dedicated warehouse in Beaune, then finally the delivery to the UK)
  • additional costs (extra delivery charges, plus UK Duty costs)
  • a competitive wine market
ventee privee custom wine store

Custom branded wine store

Others have tried this, such as the launch of Lot18 almost exactly two years ago but closing only four months later. So will this model succeed in the UK when others have failed? I believe it can, and probably will.

The key difference is that Vente Privée is not a wine retail business, it is a branded sales business. It already has a massive audience, and a great deal of experience delivering branded products to consumers. It is ADDING wine to the list of options for shopping-savvy regular consumers, not trying to change the habits of confirmed wine buyers. The wine market will only be a small fraction of the business, but an attractive one if they achieve their target turnover of up to €2million in the first year. This would make them one of the largest online wine retailers in the UK, despite the small percentage of their total business.

So why do this at all? Xavier Court admitted that it is not all about the wine itself. Vente Privée launched in the UK around 2009 and grew its member numbers rapidly, but Xavier admits that the product offering did not match that growth, and it takes a big effort to get unimpressed customers to come back to shop.

Today, Vente Privée has 650,000 registered members in UK but only a small fraction return to the site regularly. The decision to add wine sales at this stage is not only to diversify the offer, but also because like the UK supermarkets, Vente Privée’s research shows that UK consumers love a wine bargain, and those who do shop for wine also spend above average on other products.

“Wine so efficient on Vente Privée because it is about impulsive buying, … a game, … pleasure.” says Xavier Court, and he does seem to know his audience.

Vente Privée needs wine to perform well in the UK in order to invigorate the sales across all its brands, and because it has the experience, the deep pockets and existing contacts, it has a very good chance of succeeding.

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Spot the wine blog – updated

How would you like to share a glass of wine with 700 potential new readers of your wine blog?

The Wine Gang have offered me the opportunity to showcase a small number of UK bloggers at their upcoming The Wine Gang Christmas Fair on November 7th, 2009 at Vinopolis. In exchange for spreading the word about their event (which I would have done gladly) and a little blog building expertise, I am being given the opportunity to bring 3-5 bloggers along to the show with me to taste the wines and showcase wine blogging to a community of wine lovers.

The Blog Spot

I have a small area in the show where we can set up our laptops with free wifi (for us, not the general public I’m afraid), power and the space to speak to wine lovers about our blogs, our views on wine and what they can learn about wine from bloggers. This is called the ‘Blog Spot

I believe that this is a great opportunity for bloggers and readers;

  • Bloggers can meet their potential target audience and find out about what interests them, what sites they read (if any), what motivates their wine buying and what wine lovers really think of wine blogging. These blogs will be exhibiting alongside some of the biggest names in UK wine retail as well as distributors, brands and generic bodies. It is an amazing opportunity to create a brand new audience for your blog content
  • Wine consumers can learn what motivates bloggers to go to the efforts of maintaining a blog, usually for no reward (except appearing at wine tastings) and what their particular passion is. It is an easy way to find some great new sources of wine information to complement their own wine buying research and maybe even new friends to share experiences with.

Want to come along and feature your blog?

1. Who is eligible?

If you are based in the UK and write a blog on any topic, but include wine regularly (but not necessarily exclusively) then you qualify. This offer is open to wine bloggers, food bloggers, travel bloggers and anyone else who likes to talk about and share their thoughts on wine.

2. What do you need to do?

Create a post on your own blog in the next 10 days (published before midnight, Tuesday 6th October, 2009) on the subject of “Buy Smarter and Drink Better Wines” (The Wine Gang strapline). Interpret this as you like! You can write in your own style, in the context of your own blog and for your audience, even produce a video or any other format content, but we want to hear what YOU think about how consumers can learn more about wine and improve their appreciation of better wines.

Most importantly, you need to link back to this post and to the new The Wine Gang Live blog so I know that you have written it (it wouldn’t hurt to leave me a comment or notify me on twitter as well, just in case).

All participating posts will be read, and The Wine Gang and I will select from these the ‘best’ entries. Unfortunately I can’t give strict criteria as I want to leave you free to interpret the brief as widely as possible, but we are looking for creativity, a good sense of how wine appreciation can be improved and of course for those ideas that can encourage more people to enjoy wine, responsibly!

I will also try to feature as many as possible of these posts on The Wine Gang Live blog at: http://thewineganglive.com

Those selected will be notified before October the 12th so you can make plans to be at the show, but please put Saturday November 7th, 2009 in your diaries now!

I hope you agree that this is a fun and exciting opportunity for wine bloggers and wine blogging, and I look forward to reading your posts.

UPDATE 06/10/2009: Today was the deadline for submissions, but I have been too busy to remind people about it. I already have a number of candidates, but I would like to spread the word a little further, so I am extending the deadline to the end of this week (ending on Sunday 11th October). Due consideration will be given to those who did get their posts up for the original deadline, of course!

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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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Coffee and wine

A Starbucks coffee shop in Leeds, United Kingdom
Image via Wikipedia

It seems that Starbucks is about to start selling wine and beer alongside its coffee in New York Seattle.

Is this a victory for common sense and the treatment of the public as responsible adults, or something else? Sadly, it is probably 99% something else: financial self-interest.

Starbucks are in a whole heap of financial trouble and looking for ways to turn around the business. Their coffee brand has lost much of its lustre and now they have too many outlets selling too little coffee to keep shareholders happy (never mind all the jobs they provide). So, a new model is to be found.

Is the idea of alcohol served in a coffee led retail space revolutionary? Not at all if you have ever visited France, Italy, Spain and pretty much all of Continental Europe. Unfortunately it says a lot that this is not the norm in the US, or in the UK.

It worries me though, not because of what they are doing, but because of why they are doing it.

This will be one of the first experiments on liberalising the straightjacket of alcohol licensing in the UK and US, and as such it will be watched carefully and treated as a case study. If it were to be done properly, the staff in the local area would select suitable drinks for their clientelle, one they had a relationship with, to ensure they were selecting the mix that would be right. In practice it will be treated as an auction with the biggest brands bidding to be listed and ‘marketed’, and there is every chance the customers will not be interested.

Will that do anything for Starbucks?

Maybe in the short term, but if it is a failure in the medium to long term, it will not only be bad for Starbucks, it will make it that much harder for any well intentioned cafe owner doing it properly.

I must say I am very pessimistic about it working in the UK if all else stays the same.

If you like good coffee, like me, you will realise that the very robotic uniformity and ‘global solution’ approach to serving coffee that is killing Starbucks’ coffee brand is total anathema to the real world of wine and beer.

Dear Starbucks, don’t you realise we are laughing and crying when you say:

“We’ll be equally as proud of our beer and wine as we are of our coffee,”

PLEASE do this properly, or not at all!

Oh, and by the way, I’m available at reasonable rates to advise on implementing this in the UK, and while you are at it, I have an idea that will REALLY change the business – feel free to ask :)

Update: if you are interested in these two subjects you might also want to check out: http://coffeelikewine.blogspot.com/

Further Update (23:34): In case you didn’t decide to follow the link in the first paragraph, and have not read this story elsewhere, Starbucks is trialling this coffee + wine + beer concept in only 1 store in Seattle to be called “15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks” (except missing the inspiration bit in the name). This is not (yet) an announcement that they will do the same in the main Starbucks branded outlets.

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New list of UK wine blogs

Wine Blogger

Wine Blogger

I am starting my research to create a better list of all UK Wine Blogs, and eventually hope to include the Irish too. I posted my original list last year and I’ve found it a useful reference as I don’t know of many other such lists out there.

I hope it will be a useful resource for readers and those who want to engage with UK & Irish wine bloggers. I also plan to use it to meet new wine bloggers, maybe find out more about what makes them tick and what they hope to achieve. I might even publish some of this as interviews on this site.

Please take a look at the re-published, but as yet not updated, list which I have put together on a new static page on this site, entitled (funnily enough) Wine Blogs.

I know there is a lot of outdated information and many missing blogs. Leave me a comment here (the comments on the page aren’t working in this template) and I’ll use that to update the list. Feel free to leave me links to your blogs or maybe links to others that you read.

I particularly want to hear any ideas on how to break up the list into categories.

Oh, and if you are looking for a more general list of wine blogs around the world, you should check out WineBlogger.info

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