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Sunday 21 September 2014

Fat Grape raises online auction stakes

19th August, 2013 by Gabriel Savage

A new online wine auction firm is promising to outstrip the competition with faster service, better customer engagement and more exciting deals when it launches next month.

Fat Grape founder Alex Davenport-Jones

Fat Grape founder Alex Davenport-Jones

Fat Grape is due to go live on 24 September, allowing both business and private customers to trade fine wine by the case or single bottle, with a next day delivery guarantee.

The UK-based company has been set up by Alex Davenport-Jones, whose 20 years in the drinks trade have included, among other roles, work for Hennessy Cognac, Almaviva in Chile and Pesquera in Ribera del Duero, as well as London merchant Lea & Sandman.

Claiming that customers will “pay the lowest fees on or offline,” he suggested that most lots would sell for “between 10-30% below market value,” although clients will have the option to set a reserve price.

Despite the prospect of these deals, Davenport-Jones stressed the appeal of Fat Grape for sellers as well as buyers, especially against the backdrop of a deflated fine wine market. “I believe many clients will have plenty of stock and now realise that it will not appreciate as much as they had hoped,” he told the drinks business.

While anticipating that the majority of sellers will come from “middle England” families looking to cash in on inherited or investment cellars, he also highlighted the appeal for HMRC, hotel or restaurant businesses, lawyers and estate agents looking for a “quick and painless” way to dispose of wine stocks.

For the trade, Davenport-Jones presented his site as a useful way to clear space for new vintages or gain access to a wider audience. He suggested that the company was also looking to import wine from producers directly, negotiating a discount for the end consumer by avoiding the “middle men”.

As for the service offered by existing wine online auction firms, Davenport-Jones told db: “I don’t feel they have marketed themselves as well as they could and should have done,” adding: “I feel that too high a proportion of their wines let the site down.”

For his own site, he predicted “anything up to 100 auctions a day” once the business develops its full programme, saying: “we do expect fairly fast growth particularly as this is a relatively new concept; a simple and exciting online process.”

In order to protect customers from fraud, he explained: “All funds will go through us to stop fake wines being circulated and give the best possible chance of genuine provenance. If the buyer is not happy we don’t release funds or investigate further.”

In addition to a trading platform, FatGrape.co.uk will also feature complementary educational and interactive elements. These will include a users’ forum, news section, monthly seminars and a three-tier education service – complete with mixed case selections – designed to cater for all levels of wine knowledge.  Customers will be able to provide feedback or complain about other users via the “Gripevine”,

Explaining this broader scope of the site beyond its core auction business, Davenport-Jones remarked: “Once people start to understand the fundamentals of wine and the variety of styles offered, then their level of interest sharpens very quickly. I hope we can inspire, educate and entertain while enabling people to enjoy wine as well as wanting to invest in it.”

Lots will be accepted for auction from 10 September, with a commission-free period in place for both buyers and sellers until 1 November. The site also features a charitable element, with 10 pence per lot being donated to conservation organisations Tusk and the African Wildlife Foundation.

For more about success and failure in the evolving world of online wine sales, see August’s issue of the drinks business.

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