At the recent London Wine Fair, in the Innovations Zone, I met the team from Winebuyers.com, a new online wine club that claims to be trying to drag the wine world kicking and screaming into the 21stcentury. Definitely not a bad thing I think we can all agree. So what are they planning and how does it all work?
What is Winebuyers?
I’m going to take this directly from the website: this is an online wine club that gives you access to wines from all over the world, direct from the producer with no mark-ups and a commission free price tag. One click of a button and the wines arrive direct from source with a choice of 27,000 wines from 38 different countries, from Mexico to Madagascar.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? So how does it work?
Where Does The Wine Come From?
WineBuyers.com works by signing up producers and wine merchants to provide the wines for their site.
It’s a completely transactional site. WineBuyers.com themselves hold no stock. The producers and merchants are wholly responsible for stocking and distribution in accordance with the contract, or at least that’s what I gather from brief chats I’ve had with both Winebuyers and a couple of producers that have signed up.
Winebuyers.com makes its money from charging said producers and merchants a monthly fee for advertising their wines on the site.
What Are The Upsides
From a consumer point of view, that means you’re not paying WineBuyers.com. You’re paying directly to the seller. Kind of leaves you a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling inside to know that the farmers and producers are getting a bit more coin for their efforts.
You’ve also clearly got a massive choice, and plenty of seriously impressive and hard to find bottles. First page of sales includes £6k whiskies, and 20 year old Bordeaux first growths. If only that lottery ticket would finally come in for me!!
From a merchant sellers’ point of view, you’re gaining access to markets you might not otherwise be able to tap, be it either geographically or technologically. The beauty of the internet is that it crosses all boundaries, but technology is expensive for smaller outfits, and critical mass to your site can be a real bugger.
Producers themselves have an access to market without needing to secure an importer to do all the donkey work for them. They are also able to sell their wines directly to consumer at or around retail price, so capturing the 20-40% margin usually reserved for merchants, which is very useful indeed.
What Are The Downsides
First up for me is “wine aisle syndrome”. Too much choice without any direction for the consumer is actually pretty off putting. The website’s got very easy to use filters and you can of course narrow it all down for yourself, but 27000 wines? That’s just a bit nuts, and even for someone who, like myself, feels like they can at least read wine labels without panicking it’s a bit much.
When the PR firm approached me afterwards to start thinking about what they were up to, they kindly offered to send a couple of sample bottles. Would I like to go online and pick a couple. Sounds incredibly ungrateful, but my initial reaction after 2 minutes on the site was “I can’t be arsed with this”, there was just too much choice, I couldn’t decide.
Luckily they’ve got a blog, which could well develop into a handy buying guide. Also the “Wine of the Week” section can provide a bit of inspiration. I can see that getting tapped pretty often!
Other thing really is logistics. It is without question the biggest pain in the arse in the entire wine industry. From delays to smashed bottles, it’s a nightmare all round, especially as the Amazon.com world we live in means everyone is desperate to spend as little on deliveries as possible.
I’ll have to check with them if they centralize their customer deliveries, because if they don’t they could have absolute chaos on their hands.
It’s a great idea, and clearly a potential treasure trove for the committed wine lover. It‘s effectively an Amazon marketplace model exclusively for wine-o’s.
They need critical mass of customers soon in order to keep the sellers paying the monthly fees without too much of a grumble, but as and when that happens it’s going to be very interesting see how many of the independent importers’ and wine sellers’ market share they can steal away, which given the specialist nature of the site, is unquestionably their target audience.
If it works out it could definitely ruffle a few feathers at the very least.
Good luck to them.