Wine.com, WineLibrary.com, and all of the other online liquor stores are undoubtedly riding the COVID19 direct-to-consumer online purchasing wave. As reported by Silicon Valley Bank in the “State of the Industry 2021” report on the wine industry, shipping direct-to-customer sales growth has increased by 153%, with a 190% increase in order numbers. There is no denying that online and direct-to-consumer sales are a critical detail for all companies right now, but are the “big guys” playing on an equal emotional playing field to you and your brand?
A newer player to the online wine retailer arena is Casemates, self-described as “a wine community site with direct vineyard deals”. How is Casemates different from the more recognizable, mega-mart online wine stores? The producer is selling their product on Casemates’ platform rather than Casemates selling you wine from their pre-purchased inventory. Casemates lets you, as a consumer, feel as though you are buying wine directly from the producers. While this is not a revolutionary thing, it is something that should make normal online wine stores stand up and take note, particularly as one of the biggest issues with online wine sales is authenticity.
The power of authenticity should not be underestimated. When working with our coaching clients, we always spend time focusing on authenticity and how it can be incorporated into the marketing, customer experience, and overall message of the company. Our interest in ensuring that authenticity is addressed is rooted in personal experience. Upon taking over ownership of our winery in 2010, we inherited not just a tasting room, production facility, and 35-acre vineyard, but also a remote tasting room located three hours from the vineyard in Georgetown, CO.
An old mining town turned tourist destination located about halfway between Denver and Vail, Georgetown sits immediately alongside the busy interstate and sees large numbers of locals and tourists that come to town for both the historic train and the charming vintage downtown. By all measures we should have had the perfect location for a financially successful tasting room; and between the volume of people coming in town and the location, it seemed like a no brainer. As the only winery in Colorado producing 100% estate-grown products at the time, we had a position within the Colorado Wine Industry that made our brand unique and memorable; however, we struggled with conversions of tastings to sales. Visitors routinely asked if the vines were in town or behind the building, which is a reasonable question if one is unfamiliar with the area; but in reality, totally unrealistic as the town’s elevation is 8,500 feet above sea level and sits in a deep canyon that gets a minimal amount of sun each day. If they weren’t curious about the grapes, people constantly wondered where our tanks were located. A challenge not unlike the inhospitable growing location, the size of the building was enough that it might have been capable of holding a single tank. Maybe. It’s not hard to see the huge disconnect between the romanticized image of an idyllic farmhouse surrounded by vines that many people associate with wineries and a remote tasting room located in a narrow mountain canyon in the shadow of the highway.
The cost to run this separate tasting room was not inconsequential, and the revenue brought in was hardly more than breakeven. Not too long into our tenure, we made the decision to close it down and invest the expense into creating a more authentic experience at our main tasting room located with our production facility and vineyard. We opted to invest the money on ad buys driving people to the winery, increasing our staffing, upgrading our tasting room, and improving the customer experience. Ultimately, this made a huge impact on our business. We saw huge upticks in conversions, wine club memberships, customer satisfaction, and cases sold because we shuttered our less authentic experience and invested in our more authentic one.
It may seem as though we’ve gone a little off topic here, but stay with us. Casemates is a good analogy to that remote tasting room: great (online) traffic, more access to people, equally good customer service, and the same quality products. On paper, Casemates looks as promising as that remote tasting room did and there is no question that it works, like the remote tasting room did. It most certainly feels more authentic than a Wine.com. Is it actually more authentic to the customer than any other liquor store that sells wine online? Yes and no. Yes, because the consumer is connecting with the producer through Casemates’ framework, which provides some level of authenticity to the customer because they know that they are still buying from the source, even if that is not exactly what is happening. No, in that they do not actually have much input into the process of a consumer choosing products, so their “touch” is really just a framework. In the wine space, this means one big thing though, there is still a gap for wineries to succeed without using Casemates or other platforms because there is no more authentic sale than one directly from the producer.
How do you invest in your authenticity? Easy. Start by creating customer experience journey maps. This exercise will help you determine where your customers interact with your brand and how those interactions work. Authenticity doesn’t just apply to wineries, it is important for all businesses. Whether it’s your gym or your CPA firm, it does not change. Maybe we’ve lost you here as you’re pondering how this would relate to a CPA firm, but just like selling a product, the customer experience and the authenticity involved with it applies to services, as well. If you are a small firm trying to capture business online, what is a more authentic customer experience- a paid Google ad leading to your website homepage or a link leading to a live chat interface on your website that allows you to engage with a potential customer right away?
Striving for authenticity in everything your company does is a good plan and that is why Casemates is a rung up the ladder from the normal online wine shop and why producers can and should be a higher rung still.