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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, July 21, 2014, 6:30 am

Vintners uncork retail tech for direct sales

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    North Coast wineries are selling more wine directly to consumers and are deploying technology and ideas from the wider retail world to do so.

    Jeff Stevenson, Andrew Kamphuis

    Jeff Stevenson, Andrew Kamphuis

    While retail sales in general and of certain luxury products were slowing or slipping in the first half of this year, sales of wine directly to consumers continue to accelerate, according to companies with direct-sales services for wineries.

    “We’re up 15 percent every month from last year,” said Jeff Stevenson, whose Santa Rosa-based VinoPro company sells $9 million–$10 million in wine annually for wineries over the phone.

    The average order size grew from $370 in 2012 to $390 last year and was holding at around that level through July 15 of this year, Mr. Stevenson said.

    “Overall, sales are way up,” said Andrew Kamphuis, chief operations officer of Napa-based WineDirect, which offers winery management, regulatory compliance and direct-sales software as well as telesales and fulfillment services. About 950 wineries use its Vin65 e-commerce platform on their websites, and 250 use its point-of-sale software.

    WineDirect fulfillment center in Ohio

    WineDirect upgraded its three fulfillment centers, such as this new one in Ohio, to handle the User Choice Club service for winery customers launched earlier this year. (credit: WineDirect)

    Sales for vintners using the software for at least two years grew an average of 40 percent January 2012–December 2013, he said.

    Eye to retail

    “Rather than looking at what their neighbors are doing, more wineries are asking what other retailers are doing and how they can do that,” Mr. Kamphuis said. That includes the increasingly e-commerce standards of shipping included and fast shipping (within a few days) that Amazon and Zappos mainstreamed, he said.

    Vintners also are asking how to implement retailing ideas such as referral and bring-a-friend discounts by chauffeur-sharing service Uber and customizable packaging by Apple, he said.

    These trends have prompted WineDirect to upgrade organizational thinking, software and configuration of its three fulfillment centers — 260,000 square feet in Napa, Paso Robles and Glenwillow, Ohio — to be able to custom-pack wine club orders. The User Choice Club option launched earlier this year.

    Mobile-minded

    A rapid consumer shift to more use of smartphones and tablets than desktop or even laptop computers is bringing a move to mobile in the wine business, albeit at a slower pace.

    WineDirect’s Apple iOS-based point-of-sale software is being released for Google Android devices. (credit: WineCredit)

    More than one-quarter of visitors to websites with Vin65-powered stores do so on mobile devices, Mr. Kamphuis said. In June, mobile visits accounted for 27.8 percent of such traffic.

    Yet, only about half of WineDirect customers have mobile-friendly websites — those that load quickly and are easy to view and navigate without zooming and scrolling on smaller screens.

    “If you knew that 25 percent of your traffic needed to have a mobile-optimized site, wouldn’t you do it?” he asked.

    Yet, in a group of 68 vintners he spoke to on July 18, only one-quarter had mobile-ready sites. The company offers customers a dozen responsive-design site templates in a half-dozen color schemes free of charge, and one-quarter of WineDirect-powered site traffic now sees those designs.

    VinoPro since May has placed builds Apple iPad-based kiosks for tasting rooms, restaurants and hotels to encourage visitors to become more involved with the winery and request follow-up contact from the business. (credit: VinoPro)

    The company is so serious about this shift to mobile that it isn’t setting up new Vin65 stores on sites without responsive design, which uses one site design to automatically configure the look based on the size of the visitor’s screen. Until the past few years, a common approach had been to have one site for visitors on desktop and laptop computers and another site for mobile visitors, often requiring twice the update work.

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