Making an Impersonal Experience, Online Shopping, Personal

When a customer comes into your tasting room, service should be and always is the top priority. Friendly faces and warm greetings are prevalent and everyone is focusing on that visitors satisfaction. If someone has a question, you are there to give an answer. If someone has an issue or special request, you are there to resolve and fulfill it. Most importantly, your customers know how much you appreciate their business and them.

Matching that personal experience during the purchasing process on a website is way more difficult. Your online store is technology and when it comes to technology and business, technology is intended to streamline operations and reduce human intervention. Everyone knows that and sometimes an online purchase can seem so isolated from any other human interaction. So, how do you personalize an experience being created by a mostly one way system?

First and foremost, put your phone number on every page! Despite the length of your FAQ page, you are not going to be able to answer every single question that your customer might have. Most websites drive people to contact forms and emails, but if I have a quick question sometimes I want to talk to someone right then. Be accessible according to your customers preference. Make sure your website clearly articulates the fact that you are available via phone, contact forms and emails.
**Added Bonus** It brings a level of credibility and can help improve conversion from visitors to purchasers.

Showcase the same level of professionalism on your website that you hold your staff to. Have a consistent look and feel on every page. Your site was designed to provide a smooth and consistent experience and your customers like that. Sometimes, people get a bit carried away with editing the text on pages and it often leads to a page that is very difficult to read or navigate.
Avoid the following:
Bolding entire paragraphs of text – Use bold and italic sparingly.

Centering text – it works on print materials better than it does on the web.

Different colors – Your brand is important and your website was designed to match your brand. Don’t create a rainbow in your content. It is distracting, looks amateurish and takes away from the consistency of your site. Also, it can be hard to read. (If you can’t read that last part, put your cursor at the start of the sentence, left click and hold, and drag to the end to highlight the sentence.)

CAPITALIZING – Why are you YELLING AT ME???

Making text really BIG!

Underlining things that are not links. – This confuses me. The internet has programmed me to think that when something is underlined, it is a link and I am often concerned that my left mouse button has stopped working when I click on an underlined word and nothing happens.

Give your customers what they want. Imagine a customer is in your tasting room and they want to buy a case of wine that you currently do not have at the winery. Are you going to turn away the sale? Nope. You’re going to explain that you currently do not have any in stock but you would love to ship it to them or have it available for pickup later that day. So why wouldn’t you say the exact same thing if a customer is trying to buy a wine that is temporarily out of stock on your website? Your not, right? I am willing to bet that you are in fact allowing that customer to add the product to their shopping cart, but making sure that you clearly state throughout the checkout process, that there might be a slight delay in getting that wine shipped out to them while you handle the logistics in completing the order. Like I said, I’m willing to bet that is what you are already doing. :)
**Opportunity to be a customer service superstar** In a backorder situation, follow up with the customer directly so they know you are aware of the state of their order and it is not landing in limbo or no man’s land.

Most people can tell if an email is automated and there is nothing personal about that. In order to remain personal, include non webby methods of communications. Emphasize the fact that a customer can always call you directly. Have a question about your order? Give us a call or login to your account. (Notice the login is the second choice. We love talking to our customers, right?)

Don’t stop at the website or after the order is complete. I know that you can’t always do it, but when you can, follow up personally. Call and ask about the purchasing process and was it easy? How was the wine? It pulls the curtain aside and shows the human behind the technology.
**Added Bonus** You can usually get another sale from these types of outreaches. Not too shabby and a fantastic way to impress your boss.

Include special collateral with pictures of your winery/vineyards in shipments to remind customers of their experience when visiting with you. And my personal favorite, a special hand written thank you card. I have only gotten one of these ever, but I can tell you that it made my day and it made me a fan for life!

These are just a few suggestions, but there are plenty of other methods to turn a non-personal experience, like shopping on a website, into a great personal experience.

5 Reasons Would-Be Customers Do Not Purchase

  1. Final Sticker Shock
    No big surprise here but one of the most common reasons a customer will not complete the purchase process is the final cost is more than they expected. Sure, they could pull a product or two from their shopping cart, recalculate and it might be in the right range but the damage has already been done. Once they see that final price, including shipping, their mind has already determined that they are not prepared to pay that much right now. Introducing the other factors that lead to the total cost of the order earlier in the checkout process will help soften the sticker shock.
  2. Checkout requires a login or account creation.
    If you are requiring a password of any sorts on the first page of your checkout process, you are throwing sales out the window. Bottom line. No ifs ands or buts.
  3. Unclear product information and product pages
    If a customer is landing directly on your product pages, they are coming from either a referring site or a search engine. Either way, they are looking for a particular product or information. Make sure you are presenting it appropriately so they can find the information they are looking for quickly and then moving thru the checkout process.
    1. Clear and high quality images. Heck, even add multiple images.
    2. Make sure your price is clearly shown and make it near that good old add to cart button.
    3. Additional information such as bottling date, time in oak, winemaker etc. is easily available but is not necessarily clogging up YOUR description of the product.
    4. REVIEWS!!!  I’m sure we all understand the major importance of customer reviews and their influence on would-be buyers.  Even if you do not have any reviews, showing you care enough to capture that feedback is valuable.
  4. Slow pages
    If your pages take a long time to load, would-be customers are closing their browser window. Ensure your web site visitors and customers can quickly access the pages they are looking for and the checkout process is quick in order to ensure a good experience.
  5. I don’t feel secure.
    If your customer gets a warning message when accessing a secured page saying it is in fact not secure, your would-be customer is no longer a potential customer. If someone is going to input their credit card information on a website, it must SCREAM secure transaction. The first indication of a non-secure transaction renders an image of a creepy guy in trench coat, down a dark alley just waiting to steal your financial stability. Don’t be that creepy guy!

So, To How Many States Can You Ship?

Much has been written about the benefits of direct shipments to consumers since Granholm opened up many states to legal interstate shipping.  There is much worthy conversation about the growth in consumer shipments, the growing dependence of smaller boutique wineries and specialty retailers on direct to consumer sales in markets otherwise unavailable to them, and the greater margins to be realized by selling directly to the ultimate consumer rather than through the wholesale tier.

Despite this conversation and the current debate over the possible impact of HR 5034 on the future of direct shipments, many wineries remain unsure as to which states they can ship.  Additionally, many other licensees, specifically retailers and importers, are unaware that they are also able to ship to consumers in a number of states.  All of this begs the question…to how many states can you ship?  And what are they?

Winery Direct
The actual number can be a topic of some debate because it can vary depending on your approach.  It also will depend on how you are licensed, as direct-to-consumer reach is greater for wineries than it is for retailers.  Another issue is whether to include only direct-to-consumer states or also states that can be reached through an established 3-tier network.  Some resources like to include any state that has a permit system in place, whether feasible or not, as well as states allowing onsite-only shipments or through consumer-obtained permits. 

Under the broadest approach, a licensed winery can ship to 45 states including all permit and open states, onsite-only states (DE,NJ,OK,RI,SD), consumer permit states (AL,MT), and 3-tier (MA,NJ).  This broad approach has its issues however.  Onsite restrictions and consumer permit systems aren’t workable for online sales.  Even some of the permit states have restrictions that may be problematic from a practical perspective.  

Indiana would be such a state.  The Hoosier state’s permit includes a “face-to-face” requirement, meaning the purchaser must make an initial visit to the winery (ostensibly so that identification can be confirmed) before any future shipments can be made to the consumer under the permit.

The only states completely off limits to direct shipments are AR,KY,MD,MA,MS,PA,UT, which are primarily control or partial control states with no practical permit system in place.  In fact, it’s a FELONY to ship to either KY or MD without a permit, which isn’t generally available in either state.

Practically speaking, consumer direct shipments by wineries are available to 36 states:  AK,AZ,CA,CO,CT,DC,FL,GA,HI,ID,IA,IL,KS,LA,ME,MI,MN,MO,NE,NV,NH,NY,NC,ND,NM, OH,OR,SC,TN,TX,VT,VA,WA,WV,WI,WY.

Retailer Direct
The options for retailers and imported brands are less broad but still available for some very desirable states.  There are as many as 15 states (AK,CA,DC,ID,LA,ND,NE,NH,NM,NV, MO,OR,VA,WV,WY) that permit retailers to ship directly to consumers, either with or without a permit, although with some restrictions.

The 3-Tier Alternative
There is a 3-tier alternative to shipping to consumers, even to some states that do not have direct shipment permit systems.  Through IBG’s Fulfillment Center, we offer a 3-tier network allowing wineries, retailers, and importers to reach up to 23 states, including MA and NJ, which are otherwise unavailable.  Through our network of licensed wholesalers and retailers, licensees can reach consumers in CO,DC,CT,FL,IL,MA,NJ,NY,NC,VA, and WI by shipping within the 3-tier system.   Combined with our partner’s direct shipment capabilities to most of the retailer direct states shown above, fully 23 states are available without the need for the licensee to acquire direct shipment permits.

We all know the wine industry has been hit as hard as any by the tough economic times.  Maximizing potential market access can be a key to growth and continued viability for many wineries and retailers.  The decision to ship to some states is easy because of the size of the market and ease of access.  Others may be more difficult.  Either way, be aware of your options and keep in mind alternative methods are available.  I’ll have more to say on accessing consumer direct markets in future posts.

Texas Two-Step: Siesta Village Market Back for a Second Look

It looks like the Texas retailer case of Siesta Village Market is headed back to court for a second look.  The plaintiff’s announced they are petitioning for a rehearing of the panel’s decision a few weeks back to refuse to rehear the case en banc before of the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The plaintiffs understand it is necessary to exhaust their options before the full Court of Appeals before proceeding to the Supreme Court, should it come to that.  The plaintiffs cited the following in their petition:

“The panel opinion errs in two areas of exceptional importance.  First, the panel opinion contradicts substantive holdings of the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court by permitting the State of Texas to discriminate between in-state and out-of-state participants in interstate commerce.  Second, the panel opinion applies an analytical method contrary to the method mandated by both Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent in Commerce Clause cases such as this one.”

This case is tremendously important to opening up Texas to DTC for retailers and imported brands as well as setting precedents for retailer direct in other states.  It is unclear at this point when the petition will be decided and I’ll continue to track.  My guess is, regardless of who wins, if the case is decided by the full 5th Circuit the losing side will appeal.  This one looks to be going the distance.

Recent Direct Shipping News

A few recent developments on the direct shipping front of which you should be aware:

Texas:  The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused a rehearing en banc of last January’s Siesta Village Market decision by a panel of 5th Circuit judges.  The panel had ruled to uphold the Texas law prohibiting out-of-state retailers from shipping consumer direct to Texas residents.  This means such retailer shipments will remain illegal unless one of two things occurs:

  • The case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  This is certainly a possibility but dependent on the financial wherewithal of the plaintiffs and with no guarantee of success; OR
  • The Texas Legislature acts to change the law, which seems unlikely.

Massachusetts:  A bill to allow both instate and out-of-state wineries to ship direct to consumer to Massachusetts residents stalled in committee in the Massachusetts House and has until this week to pass before the current session ends.  HB 4497 is based on the Model Direct Shipping Bill and features the usual permit, age verification and volume limits requirements.  It does not appear to include retailer direct shipments.

Virginia:  The state ABC has resolved an issue that has prevented wineries & retailers from using 3rd party fulfillment services when shipping direct to Virginia residents.  The ABC created a direct to consumer permit specifically for such services.  The cost of the permit is $120.  This can be considered both good and bad news at the same time.

  • It’s good that they resolved the issue in a manner that helps everyone:  consumers, wineries and fulfillment services because there was much confusion after the ABC issued a ruling last year preventing such shipments, so this clarifies the situation in a high wine consumption state.
  • It’s bad because it sets an unfortunate precedent for other states to copy.  In most states, fulfillment services can ship direct to consumers as a service for their licensed winery customers without any permit requirements.  Now, other cash starved states could possibly look at this permit model and emulate it, adding an additional expense to consumer direct shipments.

Until next time.

We’ve Seen This Before: Consumer Access Denied In Delaware

If anyone doubts the opposition to direct consumer access to interstate wine shipments is largely about money, they need look no farther than the recent rejection of a direct consumer access bill by the Delaware House Economic Development and Commerce Committee.  In a 5-3 vote the committee decided not to allow the bill to be considered by the entire House.  You can read about it here in an article by the Associated Press on BusinessWeek.com.

The usual concerns of access to minors and collection of taxes were foisted up by opponents of the bill, but the real opposition was centered on concerns by wholesalers and retailers of revenue lost to out-of-state wineries from consumers seeking to purchase wines that the wholesalers and retailers likely don’t carry in their own inventories anyway.

Of particular interest were comments by the Teamsters union representative, who said direct shipments would hurt drivers and warehousemen who work in Delaware’s three-tier distribution system.  Not stopping there, he further suggested that instead of making consumer access to wine easier for Delaware residents, the state should follow the Maryland example and make such access to an otherwise legal product a felony.  It doesn’t appear his primary concern was minor’s gaining access to wine shipments.

It’s interesting that Maryland should be brought into the conversation, since a bill introduced in their own legislature recently failed to get out of committee as well, held back by the powerful committee chairperson, who also happened to be a political ally of the Maryland wholesale tier.

Finally, the director of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement commented on the difficulty of enforcement, despite acknowledging that the paper trail created by the bill would make it easier to investigate illegal shipments.

I’ll be the first to say I’ve never been to Delaware.  I don’t know first-hand the situation in that state.  But if I had to guess based on experience, the issues identified by opponents as making direct shipments to consumers a dangerous proposition are not substantially different than those in the 37 states that presently allow such shipments.  Why they can manage direct shipment programs and Delaware or Maryland cannot defy an answer, except money and politics.

Reregulating the Wine Industry

Now that a bill, H.R. 5034, has been introduced in Congress to stop the continued “deregulation” of the wine industry, it’s interesting to look at the game of semantics that is being played by the bill’s supporters in Congress and the wine industry. See So-Called Alcohol Deregulation Bill Introduced in Congress from Wine Business.com.  Most interesting is the use of the word “deregulation” itself. 

The very definition of deregulation indicates “the reduction or elimination of government power in a particular industry,” (Source:  Dictionary.com).  The idea is that what once was governed, limited, and restrained by regulations is now without restriction, free to operate in any manner the industry deems appropriate and most profitable, regardless of consequences good or bad.  One could create a picture of a Wild West free-for-all, with bad guys and good guys fighting it out in the streets at the risk of the community.

This “deregulation” impetus in the wine industry is often associated with the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Granholm v. Heald.  As most in the industry now know, Granholm held that while the 21st Amendment granted considerable authority to states to regulate and control the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol within their borders, the states could only do so within the confines of the Commerce Clause and its opposite by implication, the dormant Commerce Clause.  Since Congress is granted the ultimate authority over interstate commerce by the Constitution states may not create laws, even under the great authority offered by the 21st Amendment, that burden or restrict such commerce between the states.

Granholm’s Result 

Granholm created an elegant interweaving of Commerce Clause jurisprudence and 21st Amendment prerogatives.  It conceded the states’ near complete authority granted by the 21st Amendment as sublimated only to the absolute authority granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause.  To do otherwise would have undermined the authority over interstate commerce held by Congress, creating an exception that would also implicate the Supremacy Clause, as state authority would be considered supreme to that of the federal government in the area of alcohol regulation.

In reaching its decision, the Granholm Court did not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  It did not simply say that all state alcoholic beverage laws and regulations are invalid or suspect.  It did not call for the “deregulation” of anything.  It did not wipe out state regulatory schemes but rather required them to be rewritten in such a way as to not discriminate against out-of-state interests.  It upheld the states’ general grant of authority under the 21st Amendment.  Drawing from years of previous Commerce Clause precedent, the Court crafted a test to determine if such discrimination existed and, if so, whether the discrimination served a legitimate local purpose and that no other non-discriminatory means were available that could achieve that purpose.  This is hardly the underpinnings of “deregulation”.

The real result of Granholm is not “deregulation”, but rather “reregulation”, and this is where the game of semantics is played.  The bill’s proponents and industry allies would like to paint that picture of a Wild West free-for-all to the public.  They seek to benefit from the idea that state control is thrown out the window; that anyone and everyone can buy alcohol on any street corner or through the internet; that states are losing tax revenue because of illegal wine shipments to their residents that are outside the 3-tier system.

State “Reregulation” 

The reality for most states is that their legislatures went back to the drawing board after Granholm and created new regulations that either permitted or denied access to direct shipments of wine to their residents in a way that did not discriminate between instate and out-of-state interests.  They passed meaningful and rather sophisticated laws and rules to regulate the direct shipments coming into their states.  They required permits, fees, and taxes and put in place defined requirements to ensure wine did not fall into the hands of minors.  Additionally, they created new regulations for common carriers as another layer of protection against deliveries to minors.  Quite simply, they “reregulated” the industry under their authority to do so granted by the 21st Amendment.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of direct shipments of wine between the states…good, bad, or indifferent; make no mistake that alcoholic beverages continue to be a highly regulated industry and that the states hold considerable authority to determine the manner in which they are manufactured, sold and distributed within their borders.  The idea of a newly “deregulated” industry as a result of Granholm and its progeny is simply not so.  Instead, it is the product of a clever but inaccurate game of semantics.