I don’t limit my wine purchases to online stores and I actually buy both at producer’s cellar, as at supermarkets and specialized physical stores (which btw are opening their online version), and I think they all have their place.
However, after a somewhat disappointing experience with an online shop / club (I expected more care for wine by the visible faces) I take some thoughts that I have shared with them for this article, that finally only expresses my opinion based on own and nearby experiences; the examples happened although they may seem illogical.
The ideal online store
To start it is good it has available a wide, varied and / or specialized offer. Also sold by the bottle and not just by full boxes.
The essential thing is to keep the stock updated, not offering what is not available really. To breach delivery times because the order got paralyzed (even without notice), or to report it is not available once the customer has paid for something...
It's a nice touch that when this happens someone with deep knowledge calls you to provide another option and to advise personalized way, and I also appreciate that they take the extra cost involving the choice of substitution. But when dealing with one of the fundamental bottles of your order, or you realize this happens too often ...
I like each wine to be identified by name, vintage and if necessary adding the type(s) and estates: don’t forget there are wines with the same name for the white & red, or the same name for different steps in the barrel, and even same name for different appellations.
In some occasion I bought a vintage but I received another and this leaves you the doubt about whether it was a mistake (especially if it’s not the first time they do). They have also sent me red instead of white wine.
There is one detail I discovered when incorporating barcode catching into the app (Download it here or try online beta version here): they generally don’t differentiate vintages. For a "supermarket" this is functional (note that some "supermarkets" are getting better quickly), but when I go to the online store, which is supposedly specialized, I hope they care wine service as best restaurant would. And the sommelier knows that it is NOT the same. Of course, even if I know it!
In addition, having the wines undoubtedly identified makes easier to find what you want among the results returned by searches at the store.
Although not mentioned, it is understood this identification should also be applied to the cart, order and invoice.
Continuing with the look of the store, I also look critically at the product information provided:
- the datasheets content (I want to know more about what I am going to taste, I appreciate their didactic role: teach me something every time!)
- rigor in the description (at least that the data don’t differ with those in the bottles, and no misspellings! (Amazing, if they send you printed cards with monthly batch).
- data structure and filtering capabilities that will help me discovering wines using searches.
BTW: scores and awards don’t matter to some people, but for others they can serve as a reference: it's okay to display the information, but don’t forget they correspond to specific vintages.
If the store has its own scoring system, a legend that translates the scales is appreciated.
Distribution is a very important aspect, especially in online sales. And sometimes a headache for the customer and for the entrepreneur that really cares.
Let’s start with the package. Luckily, boxes designed for shipping bottles are used in a majority way, and they protect bottles very effectively separating them individually by cardboard cells or even polystyrene, which also provide some thermal protection.
I have noticed that in shops usually careful with packing, when you order an irregular number of bottles (different from multiples for their boxes), sometimes they put extra bottles "as they can". I understand you have to save costs, but you should put extra care not to spoil bottle labels or wrappings; it doesn’t cost much and supports the image of caring for the wine.
We all try to have a suitable place for the wine (light, temperature, odors, vibration); many make the effort to buy a refrigerated cabinet or wine cellar, and assume that the Store’s warehouse will be conditioned.
But wine has to leave "out there" to get to its destination. And until deliveries by drones arrive, we’ll continue waiting for the courier van.
To maintain or ensure a temperature controlled transport is complicated and increases the cost, so the best thing you can do is to minimize the exposure to thermal uncontrol, maintaining an acceptable cost.
A (continental, national) shipment in 24h after confirming the payment is fine.
There are shops that also take care of the details and don’t send orders later than a deadline in order not to leave the wine stored by the logistics operator during all weekend. From their conditioned warehouse to your home in the shortest time possible.
On the other end there are others that provide 72 hours, which may be extended by the weekend (5 days with your wine "out there"). We'll see when the summer (hot) comes. Oh, if it goes wrong they send me another ... The trouble comes if the wine you're discovering is degraded but not clearly spoiled: it turns out you don’t like it, you find flaws ... nowadays not only who is with you that day or the next hears you, the one who follows you on Twitter from the other side of the world does too. Or maybe you post your tasting notes on your blog, or upload them to the app ...
Result: You don’t enjoy the product as you should have done after the illusion and effort put by its creators and in addition communicate an "erroneous reality."
Someday I’ll write a whole post about my vision of logistics and its future. By now you are the customer for online wine store, and this is customer for the logistics operator (or at least the store chooses it). I am sure we will soon see a paradigm shift: it’s necessary for online commerce.
It is common to get mainland postage for free from a certain amount (6 bottles, 60 € ...), and also –increasingly- selecting "delivery schedule agreed" with additional charge being offered as an option, or “pickup at store or point of delivery” at a lower cost, just as discounts for payments by bank transfer are offered.
And now is when we talk about money!
The price should be able to be shown tax-included, and must be competitive while fair.
Talking about competitive prices when comparing and choosing online doesn’t require too much effort doesn’t need much explanation. I also say that the price should be fair, and I mean that it should guarantee it’s good in the three ways that give balance to a business:
- Good for the customer
- Good for the seller
- Good for suppliers
Without this symbiosis, future will be even more difficult for the store.
Operation of the Online Shop
The problems to collect / pay are not so usual, but this is the sensitive area for the client (the pocket) and when they happen the concept of "Secure Payment" is eroded.
About the shop itself, I also give importance to such issues as
- Let there be no failure that remove cart information.
- Basket/cart information is maintained though I exit. Release the reserve of stock after a certain time and re-check (and inform) when back again to the store. (I usually spend quite some time choosing, in a number of short visits to the store.)
- easy to order (even without registering)
- easy to track order, billing and shipping status
- To be able to sign up for a monthly shipment
- To be able to make changes up to a certain time
- and, if necessary, to unsubscribe as easily or accessibly as it can be registering (this also required by law in some countries)
I am probably too ingenuous and should pay more attention to the protection of my data etc. If you notice, the information isn’t always offered in a simple, understandable, and not too long way (giving impression of "small print").
I am one of those people who value the word, so I hope they meet what is offered. Similarly I don’t find acceptable they write some ambiguous conditions that could seem what will not be. Because they will serve to be right only once against me, and as a gift, also for me to "make social" my experience.
You have to be honest, and above all, to answer; and to everything that is exposed (ie to answer a suggestion won’t be not considered when it will happen).
And we're already talking about the Customer Service:
I appreciate that the store take the initiative and contact promptly to incidents to resolve or explain (when it doesn’t occur whenever you place an order, of course). Personal attention is also shown avoiding repeating the same mistake with the same client.
It is also good to contact by phone without added payment (be able to call a toll free number or a fixed, not a special pricing one). Or availability of Skype and Whatsapp or similar, and if the contact is by email, try to respond in a couple of hours during business hours.
In any case it is necessary to act swiftly to correct the errors found by customers. Because despite the care taken, they sometimes occur
- billing errors
- wrong product
- breakage during shipping
- Product spoiled or damaged
And something must be done, not only to correct the error, but to palliate its effects.
About faulty product, not all stores are easily found its policy in this regard; and to have in view would be good. In any case giving an answer without delay is the minimum that should be done, (and I don’t mean the automatic mail "we received your email and we will contact").
It is not expecting too much to commit to replace the defective product with the same or refund the amount, plus the assumption of the return postage (if required) and shipping charges. Surely you have heard the producers say you mustn’t shame or hesitate to return a bottle in a restaurant or in a specialized store because (the producers) just change them always. But it still gives repair, especially when it is something that you haven’t just purchased, even if you have it stored in conditions. You should always save the bill, although in practice the online store knows what they sent and to whom. (Like everything else, there are other opinions about it and I am aware: http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/49756)
To stand out: Added value
Having a referent in the team, or varied punctual collaborations is attractive (when you tune to their tastes); someone with a recognizable career participating (which is not limited to promoting the store posing for the photo).
Instilling respect for the work of those who make it possible to enjoy that wine.
Monthly selection of lots of different wines ... 2-3-4-6 (no repeats) as a club to support learning and deepening knowledge. And in this line, permanent and specific thematic lots varying adapting to available stock. Good excuse for a tasting taking advantage of them, especially if there is documentation explaining the selection connecting links / theme, tasting recommendations and other elements (clues to find nuances, plus tasting notes) to provide educational value.
Customizing the experience.
Customized suggestions based on simple tests (short, entertaining) surveys, shopping and ratings history, user configuration ... Not to mention that likes and tastes may be changing and the customer evolves, don’t typecast (forever).
Interactivity and flexibility (Seeking this wine, don’t see it in your offer, can you get it? at what price?) This could be the 4th way to be good in: Good for the competence (converted into punctual provider)
Socializing the experience.
"The best wine is not necessarily the most expensive, but which is shared" (George Brassens)
Share opinions, promote virtual and non-virtual tastings ... I mean, broaden the experience of enjoying wine, caring and encouraging the social aspect. Promote or facilitate the management of joint purchases (best price for all, less accessible priced bottles sharable in a hangout).
From the store to my ... phone.
If you are one of those who have installed an app through which you track what you have in your cellar, what you want to have, what you took and what you thought, you thank to have available your wine data, not being filled by yourself. If this doesn’t happen at least you have the satisfaction that another person can take advantage of what you filled because you share it.
I could have started a post about "my ideal mobile app on wines," but instead I began playing and created dastagarri, and it already goes looking like slowly.
Can you imagine a shop.dastagarri.com ?
Meanwhile you can invite me to a wine (and do NOT click on the link!)
It has been a very long post, thank you for reaching to the end.