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Jim Agger
 
August 18, 2014 | eCommerce , Fulfillment/Shipping, Site Design and Management | Jim Agger

What Online Wine Stores Can Learn From Omnichannel

As a wine company, maintaining a retail-based presence is tricky at its best. Given the budgets on hand and revenue a wine merchant makes on a given basis, it's impractical for most to set up a retail operation outside of a small shop at the winery itself. That is why most have resorted to the Web to sell wine directly to customers when necessary. However, this doesn't mean they should strictly draw upon the experiences of ecommerce to build an effective program. Merchants have a lot to offer to online stores, especially as retail becomes more integrated with the Internet. The creation of omnichannel solutions should not be mistaken as a threat, but rather as a source of inspiration for all online stores and a way to improve the shopping experience for all.

What it means to reach everywhere
Omnichannel has been given multiple names: cross-channel selling, boundary-less retail, channel-less retail, among other things. All of these mean essentially the same thing, which is to say a customer experience that is the same across several channels, according to RIS. In other words, if your winery were running a retail outfit, the feel and process of buying a bottle of syrah would be the same if he or she were buying it online. Conversely, if they ordered something online, they could pick it up from the store itself rather than wait a few days to have it delivered. All these benefits and others will greatly enhance shopping for people everywhere as more companies move in that direction.

However, as mentioned before, not everyone is capable of building a retail presence, especially small to midsize businesses such as wineries, simply because of the cost of creating and maintaining a physical store front can be incredibly high. As a consequence, they need to improve the experience of online shopping in order to make it appealing to customers, especially if they are unable to even viably distribute wine to a retail location. That means having as far a reach as possible with customers in terms of logistics and fulfillment processing.

The immediacy of shopping
In a survey with AT Kearney, customers saw online retail primarily as a way to conduct research on a product they wished to purchase. While that is a great feature, the problem is that there are several other steps in the purchasing process where Web stores lag. For example, there is matter of receiving an item. Even if a merchant offers options such as including shipping on wines, most people tend to want to pick up stuff the same day if not the same time as they purchase it. One of the benefits omnichannel has over online is the convenience of being able pick up a online store purchase in-store, even during the same day. One way to counteract this is to lower the amount of time for delivery on some of your products, such as a bottle of pinot grigio. Having access to distribution channels that can deliver within 1-2 business days may be particularly useful in this situation.

Another important thing to consider is the return policy in case something goes wrong. Customers tend to want the return process to be as easily manageable as possible. That's why more than 83 percent of shoppers prefer the after-purchase experience of retail to online, with omnichannel allowing online purchases to be returned at a store. This is not as much an option for online-only retailers, which can deter potential customers. A way around this problem is to have a top-notch return policy. That can mean making returns ship free of charge. A wine merchant should also look to make sure that customer service is top notch, especially in regard to any problems a consumer may have with a bottle of Riesling, so that people are willing to come back to a site because it cared for its audience.

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