Wine Society embraces digital age with new project

18th July, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt

The Wine Society is developing its digital presence with a new project, as well as expanding its range from Spain and starting to offer parcels of wine to its members.

wine society 2The mutual mail-order merchant’s chief executive, Robin McMillan told the drinks business yesterday that he was working on “a large digital project”, which he said “will shape what we do in the future”.

Almost 60% of all Wine Society sales are through its website, said McMillan, adding that “digital is the fastest growing part of the business in terms of orders”.

The company unveiled a revamped website on April 2 but are considering adding various functions, such as allowing Wine Society members to rate the wines online using a star system not unlike that found on Trip Advisor.

Among other changes to its online offering, the business, which is owned by its customers, is considering adding a section for new members on the website.

“We are looking at how to hand-hold our new members in the first few months because we have a massive range,” said Tim Sykes, head of buying at The Wine Society, explaining the thinking behind possibly adding a new members area.

Sykes also stressed that he wanted to continue to prompt Wine Society members to explore the diverse world of wine.

“Exploration is an important part of the business and so we encourage members to try wines they wouldn’t normally try and, for example, we’ve been very successful with Greece.

“The fact we are mutual means we can go after wines any commercially-motivated company wouldn’t consider,” he added.

AlabarinoA notable area of growth for the merchant is the demand for Spanish wine according to Sykes, prompting him to extend the range with a Txakoli from Rezebal in the Basque country and an own-label (“The Society’s”) Albariño (pictured, left), which sold more than 100 cases over the past weekend alone.

“Spain is an increasingly important area, it seems to be growing rapidly so we are increasing our emphasis,” he said.

A further development at The Wine Society is the decision to start selling parcels of wines and, in keeping with the rising call for Spanish produce, Sykes said the merchant was about to release a parcel of mature Rioja.

“We are doing more and more parcels of sales and we are about to release a parcel of old vintage Riojas from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“It’s not direct from the producers but we have checked the provenance and storage conditions and tasted the wines,” he added, stressing that they were approached by “someone we trusted” to sell the wine.

Sykes also forecast, “I think this offer will go ballistic”.

wine-society-burgundyDespite the fact The Wine Society rarely discount wines from its range of 1,500, the direct sales business is bucking market trends, growing in value sales by 7% over the last two years, when the latest Nielsen statistics show that the UK retail wine market is in volume decline by almost 3%.

The Wine Society currently sells 650,000 cases annually with an average bottle price of £8.70 (this includes Champagne).

As many as 17 of its 20 best selling wines are its own-label offerings, according to Sykes, who also points out that Bordeaux is the biggest single category for the merchant.

Click here to see The Wine Society’s top 10 best sellers.

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