Is eCommerce compatible with account management?

23rd May 2023

According to our Fine Wine Buyer Satisfaction Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that eCommerce was their most significant buying channel.

Yet fine wine relationships are commonly rooted in personal service.  With that in mind, we ask the question, can eCommerce work hand-in-white-glove with account management?

Fine wine merchants highlight a number of key concerns when it comes to online retailing, ranging from reliability of stock management, allocation management and the overhead of running eCommerce.

Where there’s a barrier to eCommerce adoption, often it’s around the perceived potential loss of customer relationships. The fine wine industry is a people business and to loosen the direct ‘white-glove’ element that comes with traditional account management is a genuine cause for doubt among many.

Wine Hub clients thriving with the integrated Hub Webshop eCommerce solution have helped inform the insights we are able to share with you to help align selling online with your core business values.

We will provide real-life examples to show how eCommerce can be used to complement an account management philosophy.

Meet customers’ modal expectations

It is important not to underestimate the role eCommerce has to play in how customers feel towards your brand.

Existing and new customers may value direct contact for advice and information, but they also want the ability to buy online, what they want, when they want. For many, to be denied this convenience by one merchant, simply means they’ll look elsewhere, since a typical fine wine buyer will have many merchant relationships.

Building a roster of relationships is essential behaviour of a fine wine buyer to ensure they get the desired quantities of allocated wines, which establishes a network of trusted merchants they can choose from for their other drinking needs.

“Channel switching” has become a well-observed consumer behaviour that’s ingrained into how we all evaluate and buy. Different channels may well reflect the different ‘mode’ that a client is in (e.g. buying for themselves, buying for their business, buying everyday wines).

Tom Mann, Managing Director of Mann Fine Wines has been in the fine wine business for many years and expresses his customers’ needs in the following way:

People want to be able to go, “that’s the wine I want, I want to be able to put my card details in and secure the stock”.

We’ve picked up a lot of new customers from website orders, and lots of people have commented on how easy it is to use. I have to say it’s striking how many offline clients are purchasing online as well.’

Build client relationships and broaden market reach

Far from creating a transactional, distant relationship with your customers, offering eCommerce enables a business to satisfy customers by meeting them where they are. By providing a content-rich, easy to browse-and-search online experience, perhaps complete with your own tasting notes and those of the major critics, you ensure more customers can engage with you, and that can help to scale your business.

A well-informed eCommerce platform provides the opportunity to couple white-glove service with a personalised, exceptional online experience. For example, setting up a VIP club enables your existing clients, or top clients (everyone segments their customers differently) to be offered wines that you aren’t able to offer to everyone, or allows you to offer certain wines at favourable prices to your most valued customers.

Of course, building a network of loyal, long-term customers is the goal for most wine businesses. Maisie Turner at Decorum recently revealed that following a surge of new online engagement during Covid, many went on to become collectors of wine, proving that by enabling your wine business to be discovered online and delivering the education and buying experience customers want, you can cultivate high quality, repeat business.

With this in mind your online promotional strategy needs strong consideration, to balance short-term sales with the desire to nurture a robust, long-term clientele with whom you will develop and deepen relationships through account management.

It’s not just upselling that can be initiated online.

Only a relatively small proportion of your potential audience will know what agencies you import or which sought-after wines you carry. And whilst you may want to get the message out to more of your market, you don’t necessarily want those wines to be snapped up by people you don’t know, competitors or speculators. That’s where an enquire or on allocation option is valuable – generating requests that are then fed into account management to make contact.

Analyse online data to improve your offline strategy

Selling online allows you to track your clients’ behaviour and buying habits.

Analysing how users interact with your website and what pages are most consulted will give you insight on what products they are most interested in. The data you get from your eCommerce website will give you the opportunity to better understand your customers’ needs and build a compelling offering for both online and offline.

Each of your customers’ online buying habits can inform the service you will provide them offline, thus allowing you to improve their buying experience and increase customer loyalty.

Pairing eCommerce with account management

The world of fine wine is a specialist area and expert advice is key. In our recent survey of private fine wine buyers, 56% said advice from a trusted merchant was a significant factor when deciding what to buy, with 69% also citing the importance of critics reviews.

The optimal formula for one business to pair online with account management isn’t going to be exactly the same for another business. Values, market positioning, client base profile, your stock list, are all variables that differentiate your business.

Going back to the earlier example of a VIP club, choices around how you deliver your value proposition online might include an on account option and having wine defaulted to be delivered into your storage account.

Broaden your services

Another aspect worth consideration, that offers great value to your clients , is consignment. Paul Hammond, Co-founder of IG Wines explains, ‘There’s a lot of consignment in this industry – brokering client wines – they might have a portfolio and sell some of it, so we can immediately upload that wine onto our platform, that feeds into our eCommerce and those wines become instantly available.’

eCommerce is an enabler for a sophisticated client services operation. Logistically many of our clients struggled with brokerage before implementing the Wine Hub with an eCommerce platform.

Your buyers are already online, so why not give them the opportunity to buy that bit more from you, as well as providing an integrated customer experience.

Selecting eCommerce that’s fully integrated with industry-specific business management software enables you and your team to inform clients and site visitors with real-time information, customer histories and robust stock control that allows for live inventory positions.

Online allows you to build a funnel of transactions and interest that you can then further develop through personalised customer service. Your webshop also provides a self-directing resource for those among your existing clients who have a propensity to channel switch and take more of their wine spend.

Want to optimise your wine eCommerce?

Get some practical advice in our Guide to wine eCommerce.

Guide to wine eCommerce
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