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Is the world ready for the ‘gamification’ of wine?

E-commerce platform Underground Cellar has introduced a new gaming element for its wine buyers

There’s no denying that many of us like a little flutter. And with the global casino and online gambling industry worth a staggering $2261.79 billion, according to a 2021 report by Statista, it’s a pretty safe bet that our unquenchable thirst for risk, as well as for wine, is here to stay.

That’s one reason why Jeffrey Shaw, founder of Californian e-commerce wine platform Underground Cellar has launched a new ‘gamification’ concept for selling his bottles online. And he believes it could be the future of wine-selling.

In a nutshell, customers choosing six or more wines worth $30 each may arrive at their online checkout to find that half of their order has been upgraded for free to bottles worth $50 or more. Or they might not. And therein lies the fun.

On the one hand, it’s clearly a gamble, as ‘more expensive’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’ wines. Then there’s the issue of taste preference. If you have a specific idea in mind of the kind of wine you’d like to drink, only to find it has been substituted for something else entirely, then it could be rather annoying.

However, it’s also a brilliant way for wine fans to discover new wines, new producers and lesser-known wine regions around the world. The idea, according to Shaw, is to introduce buyers to more expensive bottles, far-flung vineyards and wines produced by smaller, family-run operations that customers might otherwise not hear about.

“Some of the best wineries and winemakers wouldn’t respond to us two years ago,” Shaw has said. “Now they are coming to us, tail between legs, saying ‘we’d love to chat’.”

And of course, there is the extremely inconvenient outcome of falling head over heels for the wine that was upgraded for free, and having to wrestle with your conscience forever more knowing that if you want to partake of its nectar again, you’ll have to shell out $50. Which of course is exactly the point. And vendors like Underground Cellar laugh all the way to the bank.

Are we ready to accept a gaming element to our wine purchases? And is it really that different to bidders spending a small fortune at auction on a lot they’ve never tasted? We might just have to suck it and see.

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