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drinking wine at the wineryAmidst a lot of happy talk about how the wine industry is developing e-commerce solutions to the problem of how to sell wine in a pandemic, Kate Dingwell’s article in Forbes raises an important question:

The rise of e-commerce also poses the question—how do wineries replace the experience of sitting down for a glass in a vineyard and hearing the story behind the wines from the grower himself? While pandemic has seen the advent of virtual happy hours, few, if none at all, have been able to replicate the immersive experience of visiting a vineyard and connecting a consumer and a wine on an intimate level.

The short answer is you can’t.

The fine wine market is built around the personal connection people make when they visit a winery, talk to the winemaker, join the wine club, and make the winery a frequent stop on their weekend getaways or vacations. I doubt that there is a technological replacement for this experience.

I suppose one could be sanguine about wine tourism returning once we get a handle on Covid19. But if wine consumers get really comfortable with the ease and affordability of e-commerce, there is some danger that wine tourism will not return to its former robust state.

That will probably have a negative effect on brand loyalty.

E-commerce sites give you lots of choices and its to their advantage to throw those alternatives in your face with their recommendation engines. “If you like that wine, you will like this wine even more.”

Amazon is at the end of this road and that means every time you make an inquiry or a purchase you will be faced with 50 distractions directing you away from what you were looking for. E-commerce is not about brand loyalty; it actively destroys it.

I guess we can only hope that the attractions of sipping a lovely wine overlooking the vineyard on a crisp autumn day will be so compelling it will overwhelm the benefits of convenience.

But the evidence for that hopeful note is mighty thin.