When it comes to product attributes, wine is a particular tricky commodity. When examining a single wine, there are many factors that consumers may want to know before making a purchase. Most recently, one of these attributes--vintage--has been the center of a lot of scrutiny. This past May, California-based retail juggernaut BevMo! was served a class-action lawsuit for advertising in-store and online (mostly on wines under $25) vintages that didn’t match the products they were selling. Following on the heels of this story, later in May, TINA.org (“Truth in Advertising”) conducted an investigation of 30 liquor stores in CT and published very similar findings.
Although this has become a recent hot topic in the news, by no means is vintage accuracy a new problem. In 2007, the Washington Post published an informal study by an FDA food scientist, Alex Jordan, who discovered the same discrepancies in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC retail stores. Over the span of a decade, there’s not a sense that much progress has been made on this common data inaccuracy, nor has anyone attempted to explain or suggest solutions to the problem. The exposés simply suggest retailers need to own up and fix it.
Unfortunately, the “problem” goes beyond how retailers manage their stores. Much of the issue has to do with nebulous importance of vintage. While everyone agrees that vintage accuracy on luxury wines, where this attribute conveys much about the quality, drinkability, and collectibility of the item is incredibly vital, this focus of all of this news have been centered around budget-friendly wines, where, despite variations in reviews and ratings, generally the actual value of the product doesn’t change. That’s why it’s not surprisingly that when a vintage changes on a given wine that a store regularly stocks, the retailer might not even realize it. Often the newer vintage of a product will have the exact same wholesaler item number at the same exact cost, and it arrives without any suggestion that it’s a different item.
Tracking those subtle vintage changes for potentially thousands of wines, and ensuring all advertising, shelf-talkers, and online listings are perfectly aligned is an extremely daunting task. The best tool here, for retailers, is their Point-of-Sale (POS) system. Yet even here, unless a retailer implements a wine-retail specific solution, such as mPower or Atlantic Systems, the system might not even offer a unique field for tracking vintage data. In those cases, it’s on the retailer to think ahead and customize their system’s fields to track this uniquely and ensure that field is constantly reviewed and updated.
Perhaps, thankfully, most of the focus has been on in-store signage rather than retailer websites because, here, the challenge becomes even more formidable. If a store has any hope of maintaining an inventory accurately, integrating their POS system and importing constantly inventory updates--including vintage updates--is a must. Here, it’s worth noting that maintaining the vintage in a unique field is even more important. Even if a store simply inserts the vintage at the end of the product title field, there’s opportunity for that information to get parsed incorrectly or lost in translation by advertising partners.
The recent BevMo! and TINA.org exposes will likely not be the last incidents we hear about inaccurate vintage data ending up on shelf-talkers and websites. Realistically, given how this attribute is often subtly updated on budget-friendly wines, and how most POS system solutions don’t include “vintage” as a native field, we’ll likely hear the same type of reports well into the next decade. That said, as frustrating as the situation is, the gravity of the BevMo! situation provides a good “wake up call” for retailers to examine what they’re currently doing to monitor vintage changes and how they can improve their internal procedures to minimize inaccuracies.