One of the trends we have noticed in the wine ecommerce industry is a trend towards mobile commerce. This is reflective of the general trend in ecommerce and likely one that will be successful, as consumers detach from their desktop computers and start to make purchases on the go via tablet or smartphone.

The likely success in mobile commerce for direct to consumer wine sellers (whether retailer or winery) won’t make all mobile channels equal winners. Currently, there are two major sales channels for mobile transactions – via a custom built app or via a mobile enable website. There are smaller channels such as Facebook commerce which have yielded so little traction up to this point that we can ignore them from this discussion.

Let’s look at making a purchase via either one of these channels as a consumer.

Via a custom mobile app:

  • Customer identifies retailer/winery that they’d like to purchase from (via website, Google or in-person)
  • Customer is informed that there is an app available in an app-store (iPhone or Android)
  • Customer searches for app
  • Customer downloads app
  • Customer browses store within app
  • Customer purchases (ad-hoc or recurring)
  • Customer receives purchase confirmation either in the app or via email

Via a mobile enabled website:

  • Customer identifies retailer/winery that they’d like to purchase from (via website, Google or in-person)
  • Customer purchases (ad-hoc or recurring)
  • Customer receives purchase confirmation via the website or via email

The major difference here is the discovery of an ecommerce enabled portal. For an app, you need to inform the potential customer of its existence and then encourage them to download it. That is a huge problem. How do you resolve it?

  • Marketing – spend money to tell people about your app
  • Misdirection – direct mobile users who try to visit your website to your app

Either one isn’t a great user experience. If you spend marketing dollars to tell people about your app, the likelihood that you will break-even on the channel goes down. With misdirection consumers can actually get turned off your product. If your customer tries to visit your website via their phone or tablet and get directed to your “purchase only mobile app” it is an extremely effective way to ensure they won’t return. Perhaps the customer wanted directions to your location, or food pairing information on their already purchased bottle, a push directly to commerce will discourage them.

While mobile payments are undoubtedly going to be a huge part of our ecommerce future it is much less certain that users will be using custom built apps.  Even successful custom built apps, such as those by HauteLook are driven from their web-based store and aren’t stand-alone apps.

Finally, there needs to be a discussion about why consumers want to purchase via their phone or tablet. In the wine world, there generally isn’t a need for “fast” transaction like HauteLook or Gilt, unless you’re talking about some of the forward thinking Flash Sale wine websites like Lot18, Tannic or Wines Til Sold Out. Most purchases which are done by mobile commerce in the wine world will tend to skew towards tablets where the user experience is much more akin to those on a computer versus those on a phone. For those Flash Sale sites a mobile phone centric app makes sense. For retailers or wineries that focus on ad-hoc or recurring sales, the business model for custom app creation simply isn’t there.

Why spend the money to create a custom app when a mobile enabled website will accomplish most of the same goals? Other than time-sensitive sales, we can’t think of a good reason.