Vinocamp Bordeaux – another lesson in online communication, community recommendations and online wine sales

At the beginning of the month I attended #vinocamp #Bordeaux. This barcamp was a lot bigger than #vinocamp #Lisboa with significantly more winery people attending. Lately I have been pondering about how crucial an online presence has become for any (wine) business – and I had also been thinking of how an online presence can improve sales. So needless to say that I signed up for the e-commerce session or how to increase your online sales to start the day in Bordeaux.

I have to admit that I am a bit of a web02 geek so I was a little shocked to find out that a lot of wine domains are so not focussed on the web… Quite a few vignerons present in our room did not have a website… Others did, but it was of such poor quality that one tends to give up and look for the next winery.

In order to encourage wineries to invest a little more in their online presence, we discussed a few examples of online success stories. Melanie Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant shared her experiences of the Tarlant Facebook page. The page has more than 11.000 fans, generally people who have bought Tarlant Champagne at some point in the past. Their affinity with the brand is strong enough that most people will actively look for Tarlant Champagne again when wanting to purchase a Sparkling wine. Why is this page so successful? In my opinion because it’s a window with a view into the life at Tarlant, what is going on (in pictures) in the vineyard, in the winery and to a lesser extend in the sales and marketing… It gives people a great feeling about the brand and keeps them coming back for more. Regularly, people share their experience of where and when they enjoyed a bottle of Tarlant, and there always is some interaction from the Tarlant family and other fans. To me the page is alive and hence it’s growing success. Yes it does require time, effort and quite a bit of involvement of the Tarlant family, but the sheer number of fans are proof that it was worth the effort!

Gerard Spatafora, social media strategy manager at Millisema spoke about the enormous cost savings the en-primeur company has made by going digital. Online newsletters cost a fraction of the traditional catalogue, and the company’s investment in it’s online presence caused it’s web sales to surge in the last few years. At the moment almost 70% of the en primeur orders are made online – quite an impressive statistic. So how did they do it? They actively looked for ways to give the customer more (useful) information… Some examples – they shot videos of the vineyards and wine making process of some of the prestigious chateau’s who’s wine they have been selling en primeur for ages. The fact that the customers – who aren’t necessarily in France – had the opportunity to see where the wine they had purchased really came from was seemingly a big hit:-) They also focussed on social media to interact with their customers and started to partner with sites like Vinogusto where regular people are talking about wine. Vinogusto is a wine focussed review site, where people share their experiences about the wines they have drunk (or bought to cellar) and about restaurants, bars, wineries or wine stores they have visited. It is a little like the “Tripadvisor” for the wine world. Having been heavily involved in a travel review site for the past two years I understand full well the importance of customer reviews on the online conversion rate – people look for reassurance before they buy. This is not a new concept – Amazon has been using customer reviews for years as a means of information/reassurance for their customers. It works because it allows customers to read about how satisfied other people have been with this product and it creates confidence. And I feel this is something which is especially needed in the world of wine, where people are often intimidated and quite scared to make the “wrong” choice…

A perfect example that reviews or customer recommendations do work can be found in nakedwines.com, an online wine store who actively encourages its customers to share their experiences on the wines they have bought. The reviews are displayed next to the offers and one only has to have a quick look at the growing curve of this site to realize that the recommendation model works very well.

Naked wines recently launched their “market place”, an online platform which allows wineries to sell their product directly to the British consumer. There were some teething problems, which in my opinion where at least partly due to the fact that new producers/wineries did not have any brand ambassador’s and no real reviews. Greg Prévôt, CEO and founder of Boottle.fr said something similar… Boottle also is an online wine platform allowing wineries to sell their wines direct in France, Spain and Switzerland. Greg actively encourages the wineries to promote and market their presence on his site and in our workshop I asked if he would be interested to partner up with a site like Vinogusto to import wine reviews to display them on his site. This is a very common feature in a the travel industry – and Tripadvisor reviews have been incorporated on many an online travel booking website. Andre Ribeirinho, founder of Adegga.com, yet another very good wine review website, has been investigating exactly this option, and I hope that some day soon Adegga will be able to export member’s reviews. I strongly believe that wine reviews will considerably increase the wine sale conversion rate in the same way travel reviews worked their magic about 5years ago. I also believe that early adapters and integrators of wine reviews on their sites will see their sales, revenue and popularity soar. Hence, in my opinion this would be a win-win situation: The online selling site sees it’s revenue increase significantly and the review site gets a lot more exposure, which allows it to grow it user base and become a larger player. In turn this means it will have more regular visitors and can increase its advertising potential. And most importantly, I also feel the customer will benefit… If he has bought and enjoyed a wine on the recommendation of another user, he can go back to the review website and look up more information and other reviews by the same reviewer and try other reviewed wines he may not have tried without advice… People often feel more confident trusting the taste buds of “likeminded people” rather than go on advise by the experts – what they really want to know is how regular people like the wine. Customers will also benefit enormously in my opinion, by the fact that the review site is letting them know where they can purchase the wines they have been reading about. I really get frustrated when I want to buy a wine that seems to be available no-where but at the winery…. Direct online selling platforms give wineries the option to make their products available to a wider audience even if they have no distributor in the area.

One last point we touched on in the workshop is the references people use today. We have all become so used to the internet as our primary source of information – “Googling” anything we want to find out more about. Especially the younger generations seem to think that if there were no information on a particular product online it probably doesn’t exist… This brings me back to the beginning of this post and that any business really should think about an online presence, invest in this presence through social media and actively encourage it’s customers to share their experiences online as well. As Marc Roisin from Vinogusto.com very eloquently put it – no one thinks twice of opening a telephone line or a letter box as these are ways for a customer to contact you. A website and an email address is just another opportunity for people to find you. But just as with regular mail or a phone call, one has to read the messages and reply to them in order for the tool to be effective…

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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  • http://vinotinto.wordpress.com Magnus Reuterdahl

    Good post! I’m often intrigued that wineries don’t have web pages and or blogs, and therefore let someone else be the voice of the wine and winery. The same goes for importers. I often search the web in regards of information to fill out a post, to build a story, to make it a bit more interesting, but if the winery or the importer don’t care – why should I? Evean worse are those who have a web page and contact information and does not answer e-mails regarding their wines – that might turn a good wine review sour.

    Magnus Reuterdahl, Aqua Vitae

    • Caroline

      Thank Magnus for sharing your thoughts! I agree – most wineries/importers will answer the phone – but unfortunately they have not realized that emails are there to be answered as well…Let’s hope they cotton on soon:-)

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ Arnold Waldstein

    Nice post Carolyn, thanks.
    What I hear is the huge….no bigger… gap between the reality you paint in Europe and the states.
    You seem to be implying that there is still a debate whether an online presence makes sense and whether digital is cost effective.

    In the states, from wineries to pizza shops, that is long since over (15 years actually) and even the debate of whether social components matter is making way to larger discussions about community commerce platforms and more interesting ties into what I call the ‘global local’ marketplace.

    I don’t think Europe needs to play catch up. The market in the states for European artisanal wines is significant and the local shops are the marketers in most cases. What European wineries and the biz with a US market focus should think about is not catch up but leap beyond. Digital is not the answer, community as a superset is. Online is not the answer, social connections between producer and fans as a superset is.

    I don’t buy the argument that a number of European friends have made that these wineries need to walk (go digital) before they run (design with social in mind). That would be like Asia moving to land line communications rather than making the leap (as they did) to mobile.

    With the size of the US market for artisanal wines growing, I think it better to take a communications leap and not go from home plate to first base, but start rounding the bases so that great wineries connect with information hungry enthusiasts in their language. And speaking in the language of the customers with the soul of your brand is what this is all about.

    Thanks for writing this

    BTW…do consider switching to Disqus as your commenting system. Free and the standard for community on the open web.

    And I would love to see you do a post on the European wineries and bloggers that are doing what you consider the best job of connecting producers and bloggers to fans.