The independent trade is gearing up for what could well be its busiest-ever online sales period.
After a year in which e-commerce has boomed for many merchants, indies have already reported an upturn in web activity as the Christmas season approaches.
Many independents are reaping the rewards of putting extra time and investment into their websites.
Carl Evans, manager at Saxtys Wines Secret Bottle Shop in Hereford, says: “During the first lockdown we decided to close the retail space and focus online, which took off dramatically.
“Our online presence was already quite strong and now we’re focusing on letting people know that we are delivering all over the UK for Christmas.
“I think people are worried that they’re not going to get their Christmas shopping done in time, especially if the lockdown continues beyond the first few days of December. So our message is ‘fear not, we will get you your gifts’.”
Theatre of Wine in London has made a “significant capital investment” in its new e-commerce platform. “Before, we got by pretty well through handling things over email and phone, but this is really designed to make it a better experience for our customers,” explains director Jason Millar.
“The website is sort of the jewel in the crown before Christmas to make it easier for customers to see what we’re offering and give more exposure to the extra things we do, such as Zoom tastings.
“We assumed there would be a second lockdown, or at least further restrictions, which would mean that people wouldn’t so easily be able to come into the stores. It’s been a big project but it’s something we’re very excited about.”
York Wines has “already done quite a lot of Christmas gifts for people, particularly from abroad,” says co-owner Alex Edwards. “When people who have friends and family in the York area are thinking of gifting, we come up in their online searches, so they order from us. We do have some really great customer reviews on our website.”
Edwards says the impact of Covid has helped the York Wines team “take the opportunity to build better relationships with customers old and new”.
She adds: “It has forced us to be more communicative about the new wines and vintages we are getting in and engage more with customers.
“Also, people are getting more confident about ordering wine online. They see that the packaging is robust and last time we kept our next-working-day delivery schedule throughout – and that’s another positive for us when people can’t so easily get supermarket delivery slots.”
Frank Dudley, retail director at The Vineking in Surrey, says that the company’s website was given a much-needed overhaul earlier this year.
“I think probably like a lot of other indies we looked at our e-commerce and thought, ‘that’s the thing we should have put some money into over the last 10 years, and haven’t,’” he says.
“So in the space of a week we uploaded a couple of hundred extra products, added mixed cases of wine and changed our buying patterns. In April 2019 we did about £4,000 through our website – in April 2020 we did £114,000, so it was a fairly big increase of traffic on there.”
The independents who spoke to The Wine Merchant were also upbeat about their retail and local delivery activity.
Evans at Saxtys predicts there’ll be a higher spend per customer this Christmas. “People haven’t had their big holiday or their meals out and weekends away,” he says, “so they’ll be more willing to spend on their table wine and gifting to make sure they enjoy Christmas regardless of the situation.”