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We’ve recently been featured in WBM – Australia’s Wine business Magazine, is one of world’s most influential wine magazines. It was founded in 2005 and is based in Adelaide. We’ve reposted our top 10 tips for successful wine clubs here as well as a link to the original printed article for your enjoyment. You can also read the article as it was originally published as a PDF.

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You produce great wine, your cellar door is popular, and your wines sell through the usual channels. You want to sell wine to consumers online and are researching wine clubs. Smart move, that: wine ecommerce is big business and growing fast. Why not raise your winery’s brand value across all retail channels and pump serious profit into your coffers?

But the mountain of information on ecommerce technology and best practices can be daunting for any winery, large or small.

Consumers have been “trained” by other retail sectors to expect ecommerce that is fast, secure, easy to use, and suits their shopping preferences. It is a lot to consider.

Wine ecommerce is rarely executed well, partly due to poor vendor service to the wine industry. Wine ecommerce is complex, with many potential wrong choices that can become expensive headaches without yielding return or efficiencies. Happily, the upside is that wineries can cherry-pick best business practices and technology from other retail sectors.

Though our business is primarily in Australia, our perspective is drawn from active wine ecommerce on four continents. Starting with a clean technology slate and deep wine industry knowledge, we built simplified, streamlined ways to fulfill the most valuable aspects of direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine ecommerce. We have found these top 10 ecommerce success tips to be common to wineries globally, and are sharing them.

  1. Lavish your best customers with your best treatment.

    Wine ecommerce is never a ‘shopping cart’, but always about relationship-based commerce. Wine is a high-touch sale, so deep customer relationships are essential for wineries.

    A recurring-purchase wine club is a loyalty program, a deal struck with your VIPs to commit to recurring purchases of your wines in exchange for privileged access to such things as library releases, special events, and small-lot wines. Clubs deliver members authentic interaction that is only possible via strong attachment to your brand.

    Though casual customers on your email lists are valuable, always reserve top benefits to committed wine club members – keep them special.

    Treat VIPs like royalty; it will translate into a profitable line of business. Wine club members generate up to 16 times more annual revenue than ad hoc shoppers.

  2. Wine clubs are about value, not about price.

    Avoid a ‘discount’ mentality at all costs! Always compete on customer experience, give customers reasons beyond price to love your brand.

    The best wine clubs pick a consistent shipping schedule; always have consistent package pricing; tell customers the price before they buy; send wine club packs in smaller but more frequent shipments; offer rich self-serve options; clearly communicate shipment status; reduce club turnover by capping membership.

    They also tie shipping costs into wine club packs, and only show bundled, all-included pricing to reduce shopping cart drop-off.

  3. Fully harness the power of the Internet.

    All wineries are wise to become technology enabled business using real-time cloud computing, or software-as-a-service (SaaS). It delivers best-of-breed applications that are constantly updated, effectively ‘future proofing’ your business. The days of running wine clubs on a spreadsheet are over.

    This is especially relevant for wine ecommerce, where innovations enable constant focus on the front-end customer experience while seamlessly serving back-end administration and systems.

    Make maximum use of mobile commerce. One in three (33%) wine shoppers now buys via smartphone or tablet device, up from 25% in 2012. Mobile is red hot!

    The best wine clubs use Internet-enabled metrics to gain insights and tweak customer interaction and marketing.

  4. Focus all your marketing on a brilliant customer experience.

    Your brand’s authenticity is an unbeatable competitive advantage. Maximize and promote it with marketing campaigns. No in-house capability? Hire a brand expert – it is worth the modest investment.

    Constantly seek new, fresh ways to engage and build loyalty. Drive return engagement by making it simple for customers to learn, rate, share food pairing ideas, interact with social media and buy more wine!

    The best wine clubs invest in great design; tell authentic stories regularly; give ample choice and self-serve capability; and regularly contact members.

  5. Successful ecommerce starts with customer experiences at the cellar door.

    Up to 70% of wine club members enroll at the cellar door; it is clearly the top success factor. Cellar door staff love incentives to promote the wine club, and enjoy this kind of visitor interaction.

    The formula is simple: personal cellar door introduction to the wine club with step-by-step help available translates into a positive brand experience and sales.

  6. Let the four kinds of wine ecommerce power your profits.

    Wine ecommerce is different from other forms of online sales, so capitalize on those differences to profitably market your wine.

    The most common type, ad hoc ecommerce, is where you passively list your wines online and hope customers find, select and buy them.

    Recurring-purchase clubs are the top way to sell wine online, delivering 75% to 90% of your wine ecommerce revenue, and serious profits, too. Wine club customers typically remain at least 24 months.

    Targeted ecommerce reaches past customers with powerful email campaigns and promotions they appreciate.

    Gifting generates profit and doubles your customer base by helping happy customers share your wines as gifts to mates and colleagues.

    The best wine clubs know the different types of ecommerce and refine their marketing accordingly.

  7. Beware of ‘shopping carts’ or ‘all-in-one’ ecommerce solutions.

    Unfortunately, ecommerce vendors typically offer old technology that’s inflexible and unresponsive to the special needs of the wine industry.

    Use specialized software to automate the technical aspects of running a wine club, eliminating the stress of repetitive tasks.

    Employing an “all in one” system or basic ‘shopping cart’ cannot deliver the same results as specialized software with open interface. Choose your ecommerce solution separately from other business software, and avoid stressing about data integration until the need is clear.

  8. Your customers vary widely; how you reach them should, too.

    Consumer behavior varies wildly. While some people live on their smartphones, others loathe using computers.

    Employ social media to deepen relationships, and build your community, but don’t expect to sell wine that way.

    The best wine clubs know that real engagement with wine club members creates a powerful community; encourage wine club members to socialize online and offline, share experiences, and communicate your brand.

  9. Serious profit flows from ecommerce that is scalable and sustainable.

    All ecommerce must scale sustainably to be successful; for wineries it must happen without adding cost, staff, stress or complexity.

    Volume is the big challenge for a successful club. Fulfillment is usually the hardest element, and poor customer experience can be disastrous. That is why wine club fulfillment and shipment must be automated, with a focus on efficiency and easy communication with customers.

    The best wine clubs designate someone to ‘own’ their ecommerce channel, using proven best practices. They use simple, mobile-enabled, admin dashboards for non-technical cellar door staff and management in the field.

  10. Don’t wait for the perfect time: start now, fine-tune.

    Technology now makes it easy and inexpensive to quickly start a recurring wine club and deliver a VIP experience. Resist the temptation to ‘wait and see’.

    Successful wine clubs build their membership gradually, molding this channel to fit their winery’s unique needs.

    There’s no magic to wine ecommerce success: consistently cater to loyal customers, make them feel appreciated and thus, deepen engagement and grow sales. After all, aren’t they the reason you make great wine?

Wine Business Magazine (WBM) is Australia’s only publication dedicated to the business of wine. The magazine focuses on the management, marketing, sales, advisory, finance, supply and purchasing sectors of Australia’s wine industry. The magazine is targeted to winery owners and managers, finance industry specialists, decision makers and heads of industry.