Why wineries fail at eCommerce

Merchants at heart, who won’t play the part.

Wineries, in general, do a poor job in the eCommerce channel. They always have, and unfortunately the trend continues.

When I first moved to Napa Valley from New York 12 years ago, I held seminars for wineries on the subject of specialty retailing in the wine industry. I would tell them that they might have gone to bed at night as an artisan winemaker and vineyard entrepreneur, but that as long as they operated a tasting room and eCommerce website, they needed to wake up and understand that they were a luxury goods retailer and “get used to it!”. Most never liked hearing that, but some got it.

If you compare most winery websites today with other non-wine luxury goods or lifestyle product websites, there is a complete disconnect. The winery websites are usually ego driven photo galleries that are hard to search, hard to shop, and are rarely as aspirational as they should be considering the targeted retail price points for their wines. 

I could get into a discussion of features, technology, and design as the core of my dissatisfaction, but I would rather focus on the intangibles.

Here are 5 big things that are missing from most winery websites.

  1. MagicWine is approximately 85% water, and 15% magic. Wineries are skilled at creating magic in the barrel and bottle, but that’s where it ends. There is is rarely magic to be found on their websites. 
  2. Stories worth reading: There may be stories worth telling in the winery DNA, but they are rarely found on winery websites. In a two dimensional digital world, it is a well told story that helps inspire positive feelings for the brand, and can extend the relationship from the physical tasting room experience to the website.
  3. Differentiators : Why do so many winery websites look alike? If you stroll down 5th Avenue in NY or Miracle Mile in Chicago and look at the luxury brand store windows, there is a clear message of differentiation from the stores nearby. Too many winery websites look like cookie cutters of most other winery websites on a gallery wall.
  4. What’s in it for me: As a consumer, there is no compelling reason I should care about the brand messaging, the user experience, or the reason I should stay browsing and shopping on the site. It’s all about “them”.
  5. Mobility: Recent national all industry data shows that only 45% of website traffic now occurs on a desktop computer. Yet most winery websites provide a poor user experience and difficult shopping experience on mobile phones and tablets.

There are easily 5 more, but I’ll stop here. The bottom line is that making great wine has nothing to do with creating a great visual palate and making me care about the brand online. It needs to be relevant to my life, not just the vintner’s.