Why We Are Here
Sometime in 1995, Amazon.com launched and quickly became the iconic online seller of products. They started out selling books, and quickly moved into electronic media such as software, music and movies distributed in CD or DVD format. A bit later they began to offer furniture, toys, electronics and household products. In a little more than a decade, they have expanded to offer seemingly every product under the sun. But there is one product that you will not find anywhere in Amazon.com, the one that literally grows under the sun, and that is Wine.
The reasons are quite simple. There are regulatory pressures on alcohol. Unless you’re living in a censored society, books are far easier to buy than wine. Wine is also hard to ship. Liquids in bottles are heavy, and they require climate-controlled environments to maintain quality. But most of all, wine is inscrutable. You cannot define, nor critique, nor review wine in absolute terms.
Even if you were to cast aside differences in personal taste, the experience of wine can never be objective because the wine itself changes. It varies by brand, by varietal and by appelation. More to the point, it varies by vintage. The 2004 harvest will taste different from the 2005 harvest, even if you clone the grapes and grow them in the same soil year over year. Within one vintage, the same bottle will taste different if you open it today as compared to a year later. Even a glass from the same opened bottle will taste different if drunk now or an hour later.
Compare drinking a glass of wine with the experience of reading a book, or for that matter listening to music, or watching a movie. Sure, you can read the same book twice and get a different experience from the second reading. But it’s still the same book. (There is a counter-argument in the form of reader-response criticism, Stanley Fish and all that mush we might have learned in college, but we won’t get into it.) With a book, the same sequence of words are in the page every time you read it. The molecules in a glass of wine are evolving by the second.
For this reason, wine is a challenge to product-ize and difficult to sell online. There is however a time-proven solution to this type of problem that any good marketer would know: sell the brand, not the product. One can see how this works against the Amazon business model. As an online buyer, I might go to Amazon to buy “The Da Vinci Code”. In my mind, “The Da Vinci Code” is the product, and Amazon is the brand that I trust to deliver that product. Okay, maybe the author carries some brand cache here, but if something goes wrong with my shipment, I’m blaming Amazon, not the author.
Amazon’s everything under one store model erodes and undermines brand recognition, the key to selling wine online. The IBG model is: to each brand, its own store. That is why we are here.