I've been thinking a lot recently about wine websites and merchants sites and what they acheive - are they really succesful and do they do what they really ought to and tap into the market that they all ought to.
This has all come about because I've been working with some colleagues on putting together a new site for our work - hopefully it'll be all up and running by November and I'll post on here once it's done.
I think that far too many merchants think that the way to make money from the web is to have a e-shop where they list their wines, put up special offers update once in a while and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. Except it isn't that easy - if it was I'd have gone solo and done it a long time ago. The problem of course is that if you aren't a household name (or very early one) like Tesco or Majestic people are not going to just come on in looking for wine to buy. In the same way merchants hope that by listing their wines on wine-searcher and by being good value they will pick up business - and they can - but it is dependent on them having a selection of wines that are the kind of thing that are highly sought after "named" products - we're talking Lafite, Romanee Conti, Gaja or Grange - but not every merchant does these wines and it would be pretty boring if they did. In fact most merchants sell wines that they have handpicked to meet a particular need in their range at a particular price point - but it may be that the quality of the wine is far greater than its renoun - in which case the merchant isn't going to sell a lot online just by waiting for people to come on in.
The next way people sell online is if they have a good mailing list, of people who will visit their site when prompted to, the old mail order merchants are particularly active on the web for this reason. But for a merchant like S H Jones - our renoun is local and we're very much based from our shops and in the locale rather than having a wide distribution - and it is relatively locally that we aim to start building business but hope to push out from our base.
If a merchant wants to sell a fantastic little known wine - they need to do it by hand selling it - which is fine and great if you are stood in a shop, or at a tasting where you can enthuse to people about a wine - what a merchants website and online presence ought to be trying to achieve is to take that hand selling and enable more people to hear about how good it is - through blogs, videos, and a host of online media. Introduce people to certain wines, give them a great offer on a first purchase, build trust and communicate with them again and again and again. Then when they've bought wine from you, loved what they have bought, loved the service, bought into the wines your selling then they may become regular customers.
Our most regular internet customer at the moment is in Australia - they shop with us because they have family who live locally, because the wines sell are good, and because they trust us to pick the right thing and offer excellent service. I suspect they also like the fact that we're not necessarily the slickest operation in the world - but then we are honest about it - we try!