Wine retailers need to speak consumers’ language, Co-op boss says

 Retailers need to change the way they speak about wine and embrace consumers’ language, The Co-op’s head of BWS has claimed.

Speaking to db in a recent interview, Simon Cairns, head of beers wines and spirits at The Co-op, said the retailer was increasingly adapting the language it uses around its wine, as dialogue with its members became increasingly important.

“What we’d like to do is have more of a dialogue so we can be more tailored about the solutions we provide,” he told db. “Historically we haven’t had the channels to allow us to have that dialogue, but digital lends itself to that perfectly and investment in the web makes that possible.”

He argued that it was also important to adapt how it talks about wines in order to communicate better with customers, particularly as the range becomes more locally-driven.

“Because not all the ranges are in the stores, you have to find ways to converse with the consumer that are outside those traditional marketing lines. If you run a press or TV ad, you have to have the product in pretty much all the stores, and that’s not the way the model is moving. Things like digital media which more agile and can be more targeted, have proven to me far more important for us.”

Customer-focused wines

Last year the team ran localised trials in its Holmfirth store to gain feedback from customers on its wines and try to get away from the accepted wine industry vocabulary beloved of buyers and producers.

“It’s been a fascinating,” Cairns admits. “Customers borrow from popular culture to describe wine, which is perfectly natural but fascinating when you apply that lends to wine – you get a really refreshing tone of voice coming back that refers to wine as celebrities, or music. And it’s even better when you apply them to a shelf-edge label as you don’t’ end up with a point of sale which talks about a promotion, but a recommendation from the Holmfirth Book Club, saying they love the wine, ‘because it reminds them of Kylie’.”

“People really related to that, and we saw a 300% uplift in sales in that store, because it was someone in that community referring to the wine in a wine in a way that everyone understands,” he said.

Cairns admitted that while this could not be replicated to the same degree nationally, the learnings could be applied by a more effective use of digital comms and social media to reach more members.

Tailored digital comms

As part of an ongoing web investment, The Co-op has added a product/store-finder to its site to enable consumers to find out if their local store stocks a particular wine that they may have seen recommended in the press.

This, he noted was one of the challenges of convenience retailer, which required a different approach to “big box retailing”.

“We look after over 2,500 sites and the consumer needs for the sites are very different. You can’t have a bespoke range for each store, but you can start to look for similarities to make that offer far more relevant for the shoppers’ mission and what they are using that store for,” he said.

Growing the range

Following last year’s successful overhaul of the wine range, Cairns said the time was ripe to evolve the range further, and the retailer was looking to ramp up the level of tailoring by stores, driven by a more locally focussed ethos.

“There will be no contraction in the ranges, if anything, we’re getting to the stage now where as the model of relevant products in relevant store starts to evolve, we will increase those sku numbers,” he said. “But we will be very targeted about where we put those products.”

He said the move came off the back of ‘lots of background work” in the supply chain and consolidation hubs in Europe that allowed the changes last year, which allowed the retailer to break down larger loads and consolidate more mixed pallets to go into regional networks, as well as bring in more fractional bottles.

“Where we can, we want to bring in more products into the range and still maintain availability, when they weren’t necessarily going to be big volume lines,” he told db. “It allows us to have more flexibility to have a more tailored range for our more premium stores and a range in our more transient stores of smaller fractional bottles and we can service those requirements.”

“Our challenge is how we try to build a range that is future-proofed so that we can maintain the consistency on our retail price. Particularly for a convenience retailer when people visit us on a frequent basis. Our retail price is more visible to them – as it is a smaller range, they see it more often,” he said.

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