If You Build It, Will They Come?: Creating a Successful Retail Wine Site //php get_posflags()?>
Posted on | February 24, 2010
Written by | James Laurenti
Before I start this post, let me introduce myself. My name is James Laurenti, and I’m the primary point person at BevSites for new stores going through the web development process. I’m also one of the key people that support our sites once they’ve launched. Prior to my work here, I’ve spent the greater portion of my life growing up around my family’s wine shop in New Jersey and have also worked at a retail store in the Boston area.
From my experiences, I’ve learned that while many wine retailers understand the benefits of having an online presence, their approach to this aspect of their business does not always come naturally. Now that we have come to a time of year when retailers have recovered from the past chaotic holiday months and have reoriented themselves toward working on their 2010 business goals (which often include an initial stab at a website), it seems appropriate to offer some advice:
Scope Out Your Ambitions and Plan Ahead
It may sound cliché, but ask yourself why you want a website. Before you move forward you need to know what your goals are. Do you want to sell your inventory online? If you want to offer a vast selection of items on your website, you will need to invest in a platform that’ll automate your inventory updates from your point-of-sale (POS) system (or devote countless hours making manual updates to add new items, change prices, etc.). Will you offer just store pick-up and local delivery, or do you plan to ship product via common carrier as well? If you plan on shipping, consider what extra labor and resources you’ll need to operate your website. Before you commit yourself to building a site, also decide on a budget for the project and ideal launch date. Ultimately, you want to have a clear vision of what your will offer, how much it should cost, and when it will be delivered before you begin.
Showcase Your Strengths and Personality
If you want your site to stand out among the crowd so that your visitors and first-time customers remember it, you want to stress your store’s particular character and any competitive advantages that you have. Perhaps consider first why people shop at your brick-and-mortar location. Do people come in because you have an outstanding Italian wine selection? Knowledgeable staff? Maybe even just some wacky shtick? Highlight how you differ from your competitors. Think like a consumer: would you trust your credit card information to a generic, impassive-looking website or one that reflects the people and brick-and-mortar location behind it?
How will someone outside your local area find your site if you don’t broadcast it? Thankfully, there are many available channels for advertising,both free and paid—including but not limited to wine directory sites (e.g. Wine-Searcher), shopping sites (e.g. Google Products), search engine marketing (e.g. Google Adwords), and social media (e.g. Twitter).
A dangerous misconception that I’ve noted among some retailers which I’ve worked with is that if paid advertising doesn’t create a direct profit from online sales, they feel the investment proved worthless. Not so. A sale to a new customer provides more than money; it gives a retailer an opportunity to impress them, make them remember their enjoyable shopping experience, and inspire them to shop on the site again. They can become part of your active customer base and be receptive to e-mail offers you may send them. Provided that the store doesn’t spend advertising dollars recklessly, uses services that will exceed their budget, or burden themselves with too much business to the point that they can’t maintain a high quality of customer service, stores should not be shy to advertise.
When you have an opportunity to communicate directly with a potential customer to make their shopping experience more pleasant, do so. The store should also become sensitive to common issues and fine-tune their site to assuage these. A simple example is to personally reach out to customers who order 375ML bottles of wine to confirm that they want half-bottles and aren’t expecting an unbelievable low price on 750ML bottles. Showing this kind of awareness and initiative demonstrates your keen observation and dedication to ensuring that your customers have the best experience possible. This inspires confidence and builds customer loyalty.
Take care to also have a plan for when problems arise (e.g. a customer receives a shipment with a broken bottle), and be sure to establish policies and display them on the site. In the end you won’t be able to make everyone happy, but as long as you take care to communicate clearly with customers and show that you are fair and sympathetic, you will always have far more happy, loyal customers than accusatory, angry ones.
There certainly isn’t any one formula for creating a successful website. However, through intelligent preparation, accentuating your character and strengths, reaching out to new customers through advertising, and dedicating yourself to providing them respectable service, you stand to find success online.