June issue: winners and losers

June 2014 page 1Not surprisingly, we devote a lot of space in our June issue to the winners in The Wine Merchant Top 50. The full details will appear in a supplement in the July edition – along with the names of our five trophy winners and more than 100 highly commended wines.

But while we celebrate the success of these worthy winners, there’s the hint of a dark cloud on the horizon.

Independents are used to competition from online rivals. We hear a lot about the “race to the bottom”: punters can shop around the virtual marketplace and seek out the cheapest price for the wines they want. It’s a fact of life in modern wine retailing, and it’s part of the reason so many merchants have recognised the need to differentiate their offer using tactics other than price.

But if those prices are massively cheaper than those your business is able to offer, and the wines are being shipped direct from producers, the game changes. Amazon is currently talking not just to UK suppliers to boost its wine offer, but to producers themselves. Some of the prices that can be found online are so cheap that the conclusion has to be that either the shipper is selling at a loss, or avoiding the inconvenience of duty.

HMRC points out that distance sellers to the UK are obliged to pay duty and VAT in this country. But how exactly is this policed? How many boxes of wine will be opened, checked for compliance, or seized? What powers do the UK authorities have to go after overseas tax dodgers, and what kind of resources? We await answers.

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