WINERIES NEED TO UP E-COMMERCE GAME
So much is changing so fast in the wine business, it is difficult to know where we will be by the time you read this. One thing is for sure, distribution channels are changing and producers, distributors and consumers are all affected.
If you are making wine, especially expensive wine — by the way, that’s just about anything over $20 — your most crucial placement venue, restaurants, are closed. As one producer put it, “that pipeline has all but dried up.”
Actually, it’s worse, with so much money sitting around in high-end wines at restaurants, many are liquidating their wine lists. If you think getting on that list was tough before, wait until the restart. And that’s only if your client can restart their business.
Consumers could be the short-term winners as more and more cult wines and typically impossible to find labels become available for sale, either through wine clubs or internet sales. Even then, it will only be a deal for those who have the cash to burn. With so few people working, buying fine wine (that’s wine over $20, and for many that number could be $15), is not going to be a priority for anyone unless it’s available at fire sale prices.
Small distributors have been struggling to keep their heads above water for the last decade as wineries consolidate into larger and larger groups, and those groups consolidate their distribution.
It’s particularly noticeable in Canada, where provincial monopolies have retuned their product lists to serve the largest distributors and their brands, all but abandoning the boutique, individual winery market and small agents. That sector has been trying to hang on, selling its handmade wines to private wine shops and those restaurants mentioned earlier, but it is a losing battle.
Why is it important? Think of conventional farming in vineyards. We know that applying herbicides and pesticides are harmful to the environment and that in the long run, the chemicals are killing the ecosystem: the bees, the microorganisms, the birds, and all the predators that keep the ecosystem in balance. Eventually, the vineyard dies or produces wine of little or no interest.
The same story was already happening in the wine business before COVID-19. Consolidation has dumbed down selection and forced out any wine that has a story, or needs its story told to contribute to the milieu and, ultimately, the mystery or magic of the wine world.
This scenario will no doubt intensify over the rest of 2020 unless producers can find a way to alter and maintain their distribution channels (agents, sommeliers, wine and drinks media, critics et al.), so that they are ready to respond if and when the virus has run its course.
The time to plan is now. Local producers can start with the easiest and safest thing to do — get some technical help to update your website. I’ve seen better takeout sites put together by restaurants in 24 hours than some winery e-commerce platforms that have been operating for three years. Search the web for images of your winery and wines and be honest, are you satisfied with what the world sees every time they Google your business?
Pay attention to the “story” section of your website, usually one of the worst drop-downs if it even exists. Make sure you craft a compelling narrative or, better yet, hire a writer who can put your story together and tell it concisely and persuasively. Those few paragraphs are a crucial window into your business and what your winery is all about.
I can assure you consumers are flocking to the web to communicate with friends and buy products online that they never thought they would. It’s up to you to be ready when they come to your e-door.