To state the bleeding obvious: these are confusing times. What other word can you use when official figures show the economy shrinking by 20% in a month while some wine merchants saw sales leap by 60%, 70% or even 80%?
Indies have experienced this boom at a time when it’s been difficult, and sometimes impossible, to do much of the stuff that has brought them success in recent years. The tastings, winemaker events and cocktail nights. The casual, unhurried chats with customers. All the things that make winemongering feel like part of the leisure economy rather than merely a strand of the retail industry.
For many independent wine merchants, business has suddenly become rather transactional and impersonal. But just look at those numbers for April and May. Maybe some of us could get used to this new way of working.
Indeed it’s noticeable that several indies have recently revamped their websites – Cheers in Swansea and Vindinista in London have both done excellent jobs – to make the online buying experience more efficient and enjoyable.
Nobody really wants to see e-commerce replace the treasury of bricks-and-mortar wine shops that this country currently supports. But if lockdown has fast-forwarded the consumer trend towards online wine purchases, indies should certainly be claiming their slice of the action.
Until now, many merchants have given online sales a swerve on the basis that they can’t do as polished a job as the big boys, and will always be outgunned on price. Both of those points remain valid.
But perhaps that’s not the whole story. For many independents, websites can be unashamedly parochial affairs, with the simple aim of reminding long-standing and recently-acquired customers that their friendly local indie is the most interesting and convenient place to source their alcohol – either digitally or face-to-face.
Some merchants will be more comfortable with this web-based approach than others. A little technical and marketing assistance from suppliers could go a long way.
Not every indie website will be a work of creative genius, but it would seem reckless to risk hosting a site that greets the user with Christmas opening hours from 2018, or makes it hard to understand how ordering might be possible.
Transactional? Impersonal? Maybe. But if this is how some people want to get their wine kicks, that’s a market ready to be tapped. It doesn’t mean we can’t do the touchy-feely experiential stuff too – eventually.