E-commerce experts tackle drinks retail

19th February, 2013 by Gabriel Stone

A team of e-commerce experts have turned their attention to the UK drinks trade with the launch of online retailer 31Dover.com.

31DoverWith a background in online work for John Lewis, BT and his own recently sold spare parts site, eSpares, David Laurie, the co-founder and CEO of 31Dover has set up this latest venture in partnership with London-based luxury drinks retailer Vanquish Wine.

Highlighting the opportunity he believes he has identified, Laurie told the drinks business: “We’re trying to take people who are completely mystified by supermarket shelves or the selection criteria of our competitors. We’re helping our customers to make a choice – and the right choice.”

In order to achieve this, he pointed to 31Dover’s “very rich, content led site”, which features video tips, a virtual barman and cocktail recipes.

Despite these features, Laurie emphasised a focus on simplicity. “People just want to get from A to B clearly and crisply and to be able to check out,” he remarked of the e-commerce sector in general. “They don’t want to engage in a whole dialogue.”

However, he added: “If over time you can prove yourself, then you can start having a conversation with them.”

Turning to 31Dover’s relatively concise selection of around 100 wines, Laurie noted the retailer’s next day delivery service as he explained: “We’re streamlining for logistical purposes as well as helping people to choose. The theory behind our wine list is that it’s like going to a decent restaurant – it’s a list instead of just thousands of wines.”

Wine buyer Peter Hogarth, who has previously worked for Berry Bros. & Rudd, Harrod’s, Oddbins and Wholefoods, currently works with around 10 suppliers, although some wines are shipped directly from the producer. “Once we have the volumes we’ll do more of that,” he remarked

Summing up the range as offering “A more interesting selection than a supermarket without trying to take on the independent who can hand sell,” Hogarth argued: “Wine is always presented in quite a staid, boring fashion.” As a result, he emphasised: “Our descriptions are trying to be straightforward and concise. I don’t mention any fruit flavours or technical jargon.“

Although noting that the wine selection avoided the cheapest end of the market, just as 31Dover is not positioning itself as a fine wine merchant, Hogarth observed:  “Because we’re online we can have lower margins so we can give better value than ‘bricks and mortar’.”

Despite being an online business, Hogarth also stressed 31Dover’s commitment to offering a human face and product knowledge. “People are available on the phone and we have in house expertise – that’s what I’m here for,” he remarked.

Since it started trading at the beginning of January, 31Dover has built up a customer base across the UK through a combination of Pay Per Click (PPC) web advertising, working with brand ambassadors and especially word of mouth, which Laurie noted: “particularly for a UK audience is very important.”

Hogarth described the first three months’ trading as an important time for learning about customer shopping habits, from how they search for products to the styles that have most appeal.

“What are people searching for: is it Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc?” he queried, adding: “We’re still working on our search terms to narrow the selection.”

On the spirits side of the business, Laurie revealed some early observations about customer habits. “People go for their vodka and stick to what they know, but for gin there’s more research and interest – we feel the enthusiasm through their journey.”

Anticipating that this demand would gradually become better reflected in 31Dover’s spirits offer, Laurie noted: “What you’ll see over time is more artisan products. There are some great young brands kicking around that deserve a nationwide audience.”

He also outlined the mutual benefits to the partnership with Vanquish Wine, which currently supplies much of 31Dover’s spirit and Champagne portfolio as well as providing its London address for the company’s name.

In return, remarked Laurie, “They use us as a website to sell further afield, especially in places where these isn’t much availability for some of these products.”

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