Life under lockdown

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Welcome to another weird week. We hope everyone is keeping safe, and sane.

For some wine merchants, the best solution has been to stop trading altogether and to wait for the crisis to run its course. Many others are staying open, to some degree, where it’s possible to reduce the infection risk for staff and customers. (Alcohol retailers are classed as essential service providers.) But the big news is how well so many indies have been doing with local – and in some cases national – deliveries.

This has created an unlikely sales boom for hundreds of merchants, who are catering for the lockdown needs not only of their own regulars, but customers that they haven’t seen for years, and in some cases at all. Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants estimates that 95% of the people currently placing orders with his business are not on his customer database.

There’s a sense of solidarity and togetherness in the wine trade right now, and that’s something we should take comfort from. Producers are going the extra mile for suppliers, and suppliers are working hard to be as accommodating and helpful as they can to their retail customers. In many cases minimum orders have been reduced, and payment terms made more flexible.

But clearly there are points of friction. A number of suppliers whose order books have been shredded by the on-trade shutdown are selling direct to consumers, bypassing their indie accounts. Others are demanding upfront cash from customers who normally enjoy credit arrangements. Meanwhile there’s criticism in some quarters that indies are focusing too much on sub-£10 fare as they mop up the supermarket overspill – which could have consequences for suppliers who base their businesses on more premium wines.

These are all commercial issues, and they’ll eventually be resolved. For most of us, the biggest priority at the moment is simply staying healthy. Everything else is detail.

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