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June 14, 2007 | eCommerce , Merchandising , Site Design and Management | WineDirect Admin

Recommendations from an online “Secret Shopper”

The concept of the “Secret Shopper” isn’t a new one. Brick and mortar retailers have been using them for many years to gain valuable information and feedback about their stores, product selection, staff and customers’ overall shopping experiences.

Over lunch a few weeks ago I was talking to a girlfriend about her latest online purchase (a fantastic pair of shoes she bought on eBay) and the conversation drifted to the online shopping experience in general. I got to talking about the wineries I work with, and how we at Inertia encourage them to make the online shopping experience as simple and straightforward as possible so customers can easily browse the online store, find the wines they want, place them in their cart and complete the sale. As we continued talking, she thought it might be fun to do a little “secret shopping” at some winery websites (she wanted to replenish her wine supply anyway) and report back to me what her experiences were like. Being a veteran online shopper (and fellow wine enthusiast), familiar with everything from eBay to Ann Taylor to Best Buy, I knew she could give me some unbiased and valuable feedback. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the highlights of her experience, which she has also shared with the individual wineries she shopped.

Make the wine store easy to find

Many of the sites she visited had their “Wine Store” easily accessible and she was able to get to it quickly, browse their wines and make a purchase in just a few clicks. Others used less than obvious naming conventions for their wine store, or didn’t have an obvious link to it, so she wasn’t sure where to click to get to the wines - in some cases she had to click on 3 or 4 different navigation buttons just to figure out which one got her to the wine store. By that point she was usually frustrated enough to move on to the next site.

Include winemaker’s notes about your wines

Though she knows a thing or two about wine, having detailed winemaker’s notes and suggested food pairings made her much more likely to buy a wine, especially if it was one she was less familiar with. That kind of information helped her know which wines most suited her palate, and being an entertainer, gave her good ideas for what to serve with the wine at her parties. Those sites that were sparse on the information and/or only included vintage and varietal information were much less likely to get her business.

Use quality photographs of your wine bottles or wine labels

Nothing says “cheap wine” like bad photographs. My friend was amazed at how many poor quality photographs she saw on many of the sites she visited. Label shots were fuzzy or unreadable, bottle shots weren’t clear and some, as she said “looked like they took the picture after drinking too much wine”. For many consumers, this might be their first introduction to your site and your product and as we all know, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. For my friend, unless she knew the wine well, she tended not to buy if that first impression wasn’t a good one.

Make your Contact Us page easy to find

While doing her online shopping, my friend had occasion to seek out contact information so she could call and ask a question and at some sites she wanted to sign up for the mailing lists as well - neither were easy to do on some sites. In some cases the contact page only had an email address, in some cases just a mailing address - not even a phone number! She often found mailing list signup pages to be difficult to find or even non-existent. Her impression: “If it’s that hard to find their phone number or sign up for their newsletter, they don’t want my business badly enough”.

Apply the Amazon principle - offer suggestions

My friend is a big Amazon shopper, and often succumbs to suggestion. When she shops for books and music, Amazon always suggests other books or CD’s she might like based on her selection and more times than not she’ll buy at least one additional item, especially if the price is right or she can get free shipping by spending the extra money. She encountered only one or two winery sites that suggested other wines - and in both instances she bought the additional wine because the site made it compelling with information about why, or offered a discount for purchasing the additional wine.

These are just a few simple suggestions that are easy to follow but can make a world of difference in the online shopping experience of your customers!

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