Why wineries fail at eCommerce.


Do you agree?

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

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

Magic: Wine 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.

A guy selling marketing services in wine country California pontificating about how wineries need to spend more on marketing is the sad state of affairs for smaller marketing firms. Not really relevant, absolutely no data, no understanding of the return on investment, zilch.

Amazon failed at wine eCommerce as well. Maybe he should try peddling them some advice, I’m sure Jeff would appreciate the help.

I’ll agree to this extent–most winery websites tend to be relatively uniform and don’t vary much in terms of overall design. There’s the standard photos of the owner and/or winemaking staff, the winery, and/or the vineyards. There’s an “About Us” section where you can read about the history of the winery, perhaps a discussion of what makes their wines unique (hint: it might involve their “unique” terroir), a “Contact Us” page with address, phone, map, etc. It’s relatively rare to see a winery website that is truly inspired.


I agree with your comments, except that I find that when I’m looking for information, I appreciate that things are relatively uniform. When businesses get “inspired” it usually makes it harder to find the info that you’re looking for, which defeats the purpose. Case in point, was looking for a menu on a restaurant website yesterday…couldn’t actually find it on the website. When I clicked menu, nothing seemed to happen. On other occasions, I have been frustrated to see pictures but no words to guide.

In short the more unique websites generally serve to frustrate, not inspire.

In general you are talking about small businesses. Go to almost any small company website and you’ll find similar issues.

Make it a unique and magical experience to visit the website but at the same time dumb it down for smart phones. Yeah, great advice.

I’ve hired someone to revamp my site to be more e-commerce friendly in Spain. Any new suggestions of examples to share?

Guarantee the delivery of paid-for wine orders, as Total Wine does. Oh, wait,…

Restaurant website culture has a particularly strong anti-user bent.

That is a lot of pompous there. That “85% water, 15% magic” comment is OBNOXIOUS.

His second point is dead wrong too. I can’t think of a single winery that isn’t messaging a great story, no matter how not exciting it may actually be. Whether or not that message is getting out as loud as it should is a totally different point, but that’s the norm.

This is a good point - I want to be able to find information quickly.
But then again, most wineries aren’t targetting this crowd with their websites. We (mostly) don’t buy in to branding, but most consumers do. So whom is the advice directed towards? Brands that are aiming for the general consumer would likely need different advice from those targetting the knowledgeable nerd crowd.

The larger issue for small wineries is the legal problem shipping. The best website in the world is no good if you are not allowed to send goods to your customers.

As an eCommerce professional (not in wine) with some wine industry knowledge, I do agree with some of the points made by the person (Astra DMS?) referenced by the OP. At least, on the surface. It’s true that wineries generally do a pretty poor job in eCommerce. I disagree with most of the rationale laid out by Astra DMS wholeheartedly.

If a consumer is visiting a winery’s website there is an assumed level of knowledge of the winery already. People generally don’t just randomly happen upon a winery’s site. This is why the “story” or “magic” really isn’t all that important. Wineries need to spend more time explaining the What of their business. More information on the wine itself, less on how Dr. Dave decided to leave his practice at the age of 65 and follow his life’s passion of owning a winery. Chances are good that if someone’s visiting Dr Dave’s winery website they already know that story. What they probably don’t know about is the new carignan they just released. People can actually buy the carignan. Explain more about that.

The point is well made that many wineries have sites that are extremely similar and cookie-cutter. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong here, but this mostly comes down to many wineries using VineSpring or another out of the box, inexpensive software platform. They’re easy, cost-effective, and (I’m assuming here) just don’t break down. The McDonald’s of eCommerce solutions, if you will. One piece of advice I’d give to any winery that would ask is to not be afraid to use a service, platform, etc that is not wine specific. Feel free to use a wine specific 3PL and couple it with a non-wine specific front end. Leverage non-industry people’s love of wine to get stronger service at cut-rate prices. I’m sure there’s a wine-lover somewhere down near your winery who works his/her days at Google, Apple, etc. They probably come into your winery all the time. I’m sure they’d be happy to do some work on the side for cheap prices if it means getting their hands on some of your higher-end, allocated stuff in addition to a few schillings. Your end product will be much, much better.

The mobile point is moot as any good website nowadays is responsive and will function equally well on mobile, desktop, tablet, etc. See point above.

Bottom line, so many wineries miss the point that a website is a revenue accelerator with a touch of marketing, not a marketing tool to sell things on occasionally. Margins are much better and you can own your customer interaction when you sell directly. Do more of that, and do it well.

Agree to some extent. You are absolutely right when you say that by the time a consumer reaches Winery X site most of the info is already known, be it via a tasting group, this board or similar to it, media write-up, or recommendation of some sort. At this point all a consumer wants/needs is an efficient way to place an order, in as few clicks as is possible. Many place orders while at work, being “occupied” for too long while placing an order is the last thing anyone needs. So, the fewer clicks the better, IMO.

Software wise, I disagree since I am on both ends of the aisle. IT for way too long by now. Main issue with wineries using 3rd party solutions, such as VineSpring, is the cost first, and then upkeep second. Cost, even for rudimentary boiler plate is easily $5K and rapidly climbing to the $30K plateau, or higher, depending on options. When, in reality, all a winery gets for that is a Shopping Cart and Payment Gateway. And a monthly upkeep of $250 and up, on top of cc fees per transaction. And more fees if they use payment gateways that also charge their own fees per transaction. Are wineries being taken advantage of? Absolutely!

Wanted to reply to Bruce and his view that wineries should have an interesting feature or two to attract traffic, just how many here received their allocation email/letter and then simply placed an order, maybe 2 or 3 times per year? Not really going back to the winery site until next release, right? Yes, it would be nice to have whatever feature(s), although I am not sure what would constitute one that would draw people in on a daily/weekly basis when any such feature would require a winery to again pay a 3rd party to actually code/test/implement the feature. What is the ROI on that? I am thinking of trying one out, just a thought at this point, easy to implement, FOR ME since I am the only one involved in the process and its just my time as investment, just not yet sure how it plays out and will give it a bit of time before I either add it to the site or chuck it. Just not sure what would draw people in to a winery site, on a consistent basis, and if Bruce wants to share his thoughts and ideas I am here to try them out, it would only be my time involved (read below). Bruce, feel free to reach out, if its not too time burdensome I may try what you think is needed and we’ll see if it makes sense. But that said, I am almost sure Bruce will be proven wrong.

In regard to cost, since you seem to be taking a simplistic view, or rather altruistic one, IMO, and have not been involved on the winery side, as you already said. Not a critique of any sort, want to make it very clear, and I used to have similar view as well until I had to jump in with both feet. I was in that same boat all small wineries are with our prior effort, this time we decided to start from scratch and find a solution that works for us. Sure, I spent a few days doing research on my options, decided to use one of the most implemented and used platforms out there for eCommerce. Then bought a template, as you said, hoping that advertised ease of implementation and features would work. No. Really No, as in, What the hell is this crap and why it does not work at all no matter what? After a day of frustration of supposedly easy UI reconfig to simply get all the “look at me” jumping and singing bits and icons and endless scrolling just to get to see wines on offer. Wanted to buy another one, even an empty site sample template took >20 seconds just to load and display, and when reached the author said my internet speed is at fault, never mind that it is usually 120-150Mb down. So, I laughed, hard, for a bit, and I chucked it all, got a readily available FREE template, OceanWP, probably the best one out there save for one more, bought a Pro version editor for it to make my life easier, checked most of the “look at me!” features and endless scrolling, and was all done in 2 weeks’ time, tested and uploaded. All the features we wanted, including security features, stats, and all. Simple, easy to navigate UI. Shopping Cart, of course, and I made it a simple one step/page feature, and Payment Gateway that only charges us per transaction and no monthly minimum maintenance fees when in-between releases. All in? I’d say $200, actually less, for a setup others pay $5-30K for, for all the customization we wanted/needed. And I included learning some Illustrator in that same 2 weeks’ time frame as I handled all the graphics by myself as well. Big question is, just how many wineries are able to do that sans IT on staff? Small guys cannot. Even large guys pay hefty fees, at one point I worked in a shop that did large Napa based wine distributor inventory and now do other well known wineries in Napa, hefty fees just to keep inventory. Unreal. I do understand your point about having someone from local IT companies to help out, but I am not sure how realistic that is, finding such volunteers in this day and age. Most code in Java or C++, it would take them time to learn what I had to to get eCommerce done, and I really doubt anyone will do that just to help out a winery. eCommerce engines are pretty much all PHP and MySQL, with some CSS to do custom UI features.

In basic terms, small winery can easily save anywhere from $3-5K per year bypassing 3rd party solutions, just with having free Cart and Payment Gateway, never mind paying $5-30K up front for basic setup and then even more $$$ for any custom features they may want after they go live, or even simple updates. Its all cost driven and a view of ROI that makes small guys sit back and ask a very valid question, Why do we need to pay for a feature we have no idea will actually be useful and draw customers in? I offered a couple of friends of mine to re-do their sites, free of charge, now that I know most, if not all, ins and outs. But all those small wineries paying for a 3rd party solution really do not want to pay upfront for a feature or two that no one knows will actually pay for itself when they already operate on razor thin profit margins when all costs are weighed in. Do I want to get into this side of winery site setup business? Really not yet interested, just do not have the time. Although seeing just how badly wineries are being taken advantage of really pisses me off. One time setup fee is one thing, (hefty) monthly fees just for a Cart and Payment Gateway when they are readily available for free? You really have to be kidding me.

I also need to add that now that I am aware of OceanWP and its feature set, and a few other well known templates, you can’t imagine how many other small winery sites all of a sudden look “very familiar” to me :slight_smile:

Unless a winery can answer one question to themselves… “Why should someone buy our wine at X price instead of the other wine at X price of the same quality?”… then no marketing on Earth can save them.

Marketing is what you do in response to not knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and not being able to know what one delivers as a value-proposition, and why. This is not just true for wine, but for an increasing number of businesses.

Sears was crippled by WalMart and then destroyed by Amazon because in 25 years they could never figure out the answer to that question. So the market answered it for them. Taxi Cabs are now in the process of trying to figure out that answer. I give them 6 years left to come up with one.

This is spot on advice! However, the reason why the wine industry specific platforms have thrived is because they’ve integrated the really, really hard stuff (e.g. state and city tax table calculation tables, compliance software, etc.) that are a nightmare to figure out on other ecom platforms.

The truth is, like someone earlier in the thread pointed out, the wine industry is comprised of tons of highly fragmented, family-owned and operated businesses. Ecom (and the broader digital marketing that’s required to built brand and acquire customers) is really, really difficult to execute at a high-level.

VineSpring and such seem to be using (FREE) WordPress eCommerce templates that have been refactored to be a “winery”, then mostly free plugins augmented by some custom code (mostly shipping and tax tables, CONFIGURED ONCE since taxes do not really change that much once defined, and neither do shipping rates). They, then, of course, charge you for the free plugins and their ONE TIME to refactor these free templates to be winery industry specific. They then just add brand specific graphics, reconfigure menus/pages, and configure shipping and tax tables per customer requirements (to DELETE from an already FULLY POPULATED tables, takes what, an hour with 4 coffee breaks?). And worse yet, wineries are asked to pay a huge setup fee ($15-30K and higher) for that and then still pay rather hefty monthly fees after. Charge one or the other, hosting fees for WordPress sites these days are $15 per month, tops, and way less when you have a bunch of sites hosted under same account, what VineSpring does. I think I can have at least 5 sites under our deal, maybe more, having many more than that is not that much more, monthly. So, in essence, VineSpring pays maybe $1 to host a winery, if that, while charging wineries $200-350 per month, on the low end, and escalating from that, plus their own transaction fees on top of credit card transaction fees (depends who a winery signs with to do this).

People are asking why winery sites are boring. What’s the ROI on not boring, and more to the point, just how one does a non boring winery site? That actually pays off the investment/upkeep. I’m a long time ITer, been doing consulting work for decades now for Fortune 50, and it really pisses me off when I see such blatant rip off of small wineries especially when WordPress provides at least 80% of required features, out of the box, FOR FREE. And the other 20% really requires one time refactoring/new code that is then re-used by ALL customers. Took me 2 weeks, all in, and I was a noob to WordPress, PHP, and Illustrator/Photoshop. $15-30K to someone, plus $250+ plus fees per month forever, for that? Don’t think so. WordPress is very stable and cheap these days, and easy to work with.

And so many still think that winery community is a nice, rosy place full of unicorns.

Very interesting, Greg.

I would guess 80 percent of the people going to a winery’s website are looking to purchase wine, join the wine club or arrange a visit. Who Googles winery with great wine and good story. Web sites should be simple, easy to navigate and have links that go where they say they are going, not another layer of fluff. The story is side light for people like retailers and the curious who want to get a feel for the wines and most importantly, who is the winemaker.

Based on all the phone calls we are getting from people who are “Googling” a winery and hitting call, there are some problems in both Google and the winery websites. Winery websites must be geared towards smart phones. The group of Koreans who spent last week here in the valley had some trouble contacting wineries and every one of them were sporting an i-Phone. One complaint was the website wouldn’t accommodate their smart phones so portions weren’t available, cut off, etc. and navigation difficult.