Sell wine online? That sounds a little bit weird right?
You might think that wine lovers tend to keep it old school and offline when it comes to buying wine. You might think that, like a vintage Barossa Valley Shiraz in a cool environment, wine drinkers have matured incredibly slowly in today’s ecommerce world.
Well, the stats suggest otherwise.
March 2020 saw a 291% increase in DTC (Direct to Consumer) wine sales online compared to March 2019 – (The Future of Commerce)
Like we stated in chapter 1 of this series on how to sell online, this is not a one-off event attributed to Coronavirus. This is a clear indication that ecommerce is fast fulfilling the need for speed, efficiency and convenience in the modern world.
In this chapter, we’re going to show you how to catch the crest of this wave by selling wine online. The 5 steps below cover all the necessary planning, building and marketing of your store in the early stages of your wine ecommerce journey.
How to Sell Wine Online in 5 Simple Steps
Step 1: Define your Buyer Personas
Image courtesy of Vtiger
If you’ve read the first chapter of this guide, you’ll know the importance of nailing your buyer personas.
To recap, a buyer persona is a visualisation of the customers who will be buying your wine. It’s a data-backed method to establish who your future clients are and the kinds of approach you should use to appeal to them.
A buyer persona is usually made up of the following:
- Demographics: Age, gender, income and location.
- Background: Job, career arc and family.
- Pain points: The kinds of problems your customer faces when it comes to buying wine.
- Motivations: What drives your customers in regards to purchasing wine online and life in general.
Think about it like this: a cheap wine retailer and a premium wine retailer will have two very different buyer personas.
The merchant who targets bargain hunters may have younger buyers with lower incomes, while the merchant who targets luxury drinkers will likely have older buyers with higher incomes.
|Cheap wine retailer||Premium wine retailer|
|Age||18 – 25||40 – 60|
|Demographics||Gender||An even mix of male and female||Skews towards male|
|Income||Low ($15,000 – $25,000)||Medium to high ($45,000+)|
|Location||Student towns||Affluent neighbourhoods in suburban USA|
|Job||Student, possibly with part-time hospitality or retail job||CEO, manager, advisor, specialist|
|Background||Career arc||Currently no or very little work experience||Worked for 30 – 50 years|
|Family||Potentially living with parents and without kids of their own||A spouse and 2 children|
|(1)||Doesn’t have a lot of disposable income||Doesn’t have a lot of free time to search for wine to buy|
|Pain Points||(2)||Doesn’t have the knowledge of different wine types||Doesn’t have a wine collection that can compete with their peers|
|Motivations||(1)||Wants to get as drunk as possible for as cheap as possible!||Wants to show off their wealth via their wine collection|
|(2)||Wants time away from study and work to relax with friends.||Wants time away from work to spend with friends and family|
Bear in mind that you’ll need more than one buyer persona to cover your various audiences. If you’re a cheap wine retailer, not all of your buyers are going to be students, likewise if you’re a premium wine retailer, not all of your customers will try to boast about their wealth!
It’s recommended to have two or three different buyer personas; one for each type of customer that you’re targeting.
Name each of your buyer personas based on their characteristics. The examples above can be called something like Student Samuel and Experienced Edna.
If you’re completely new to selling wine online, it can be difficult to know where to gather the information for your buyer personas. Sure, someone who’s moving a brick-and-mortar wine store online might have some pre-existing knowledge of their customer bases, but where is the first-timer supposed to start?
Take a look at 2 great ways to create your buyer personas from scratch:
- Social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… they’re all vast oceans of consumer data. Checking out trending wine topics can give you an idea about what the public wants and if the wine niche that you’re offering can fulfill those desires.
- Competitors – There are successful companies out there who already know how to sell wine online. Take a look at their social media channels and subscribe to their emails to see the kinds of interactions they have with their customers.
Like we said, your buyer personas only have to be a rough idea for now. When your site has more traffic and you’ve made some sales, you’ll have valuable data that can help you refine your personas further.
|⭐ Want more? Check out Uncorkd’s great ideas for your wine buyer personas!|
Step 2: Get to Know the Law
It’s probably no surprise that there are quite a few laws around selling wine online.
The nature of the digital alcohol business means that customers of a certain age cannot legally buy your product. It’s an issue that is dealt with in different ways around the world, so as a merchant, you need to be clued up about your requirements in whichever country you plan to sell.
Check out 3 of the most common questions that prospective merchants have about the whole process:
01. “Which U.S states allow me to sell wine online?”
We won’t lie to you: the laws surrounding wine ecommerce in the U.S are complicated to say the least.
Each state has its own rules about who can buy your wine, as well as rules about the shipping of wine that differ between B2C (Business to Consumer) operations and B2B (Business to Business) operations.
On the whole, regulations for selling wine to other states are quite strict. Just check out the amount of states where it’s prohibited to sell wine out of state:
Image courtesy of Wine Spectator
Fortunately, it’s much easier to sell wine to consumers within your own state. If there’s demand for online wine within your state, your customer base will surely still be large enough.
|For a state-by-state review of the laws, check out this comprehensive rundown from Wine Institute.|
02. “Which certificates will I need to sell wine internationally?”
Things only get more complicated when it comes to selling wine between countries. Each country has its own rules and you’ll have to research the customs of every country in which you want to sell wine.
Here’s what you’ll need just to sell within the U.S:
- A wine permit, which you can get by applying at the TTB.
- A winery license, which is issued by your state.
- A retailer’s license, also issued by your state.
- A shipper’s license, issued by each state to which you plan to ship.
- Proof of agreement between you and your carrier.
As for selling overseas, you’re going to need all of this and more. You’ll need to research the requirements of each country you plan to ship to in order to ensure everything remains above board.
03. “Which shipping company can I use to send wine?”
While the US national postal service, along with many other countries’, don’t ship wine, there are plenty of dependable alternatives when it comes to getting your product to your customer:
- UPS – Ships to 220 countries worldwide. UPS also helps wine merchants to become approved wine shippers.
- DHL – Straightforward delivery service with clear instructions for new store owners.
- FedEx – Has temperature-regulated delivery and specific wine pick-up locations for your customers.
If you’re looking to ship wine throughout Europe, then be sure to check out the service from Eurosender. Simply provide them with the details of the shipment and they’ll tell you exactly what you need.
Step 3: Choose Your Marketplace
With the solid foundation of your buyer personas, plus a bit of knowledge of the law, you’re ready to sell wine online either from your own online store or on a marketplace.
As is the popularity of the niche, there are a few marketplaces to choose from. Here are 3 of the best and what they do differently for the merchants they support.
#1 – Wine Direct
In addition to a genius logo design, Wine Direct has a wide range of features that have established them as one of the top platforms for selling wine online.
In terms of helping to start and then scale your store, Wine Direct can boast great tools relating to ecommerce, marketing and customer service.
- Large template library to help you design your store.
- Email alerts to build and maintain your wine club.
- Reports to help you scale your store.
- Mobile responsiveness, so you can edit on the go, uninhibited.
- Considerably more expensive than its competitors. The cheapest plan starts at $299 per month.
#2 – Blackboxx
Blackboxx gives you 3 options to start selling wine online. You can integrate it with an existing store to form a wine-centred ‘microsite’, you can add it as a seamless plug-in to your existing store, or you can use it to build a store from scratch.
This makes Blackboxx especially great for merchants who already have a store but are thinking of a move into wine ecommerce.
- Versatile in the ways you can use it.
- Themes to help build your brand.
- Cloud-based operation with no downloads required.
- In-depth reports system that helps you get to know your customers.
- Not great on mobile.
- Lacks customer service channels.
- Unclear pricing – you have to contact Blackboxx directly.
#3 – Shopify
Wine or no wine, Shopify is huge news in the ecommerce world. It hosts over 1 million stores on its intuitive platform, many of which are alcohol stores.
Over the years, Shopify has become the don of ecommerce through its flexibility, affordability and scalability. It provides everything budding wine merchants need to make an individual store that grows with your grapevines.
- Flexible – 5 different plan types to fit your needs.
- Has the biggest app store out of all ecommerce solutions.
- Articles, videos, webinars and more to teach you the ropes.
- Rich template library to get you started.
- Customer service can sometimes be lacking.
- Doesn’t help you much with marketing.
- Store building features are a bit outdated.
|We could go on for hours about Shopify… so we did! Check out our full Shopify review right here.|
Sell Your Wine Online With Shopify
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Step 4: Build your Store
Here comes the fun part.
Setting up your wine store on your chosen platform is where the party really starts. This is where you have full creative freedom to start the online wine store that you always wanted.
Sounds intimidating? It can be, but providing that you chose the right platform in step 3, you’ll have all the help you need for step 4.
Check out these tips to build the foundations of your online wine store:
Tip #1 – Get a Template
A lot of the anxiety that arises from building an online store can be alleviated by themed templates.
Templates are set designs, created by ecommerce platforms and 3rd party designers, that can be applied in an instant on your store. From there you can customise every element to your liking.
Shopify alone has 20 food-and-drink templates in their Shopify Theme Store. Although, really, any template you like can be adapted to fit your wine niche.
Tip #2 – Use a Page Builder
Even with the snazziest template, there’s still a lot of editing to be done when it comes to setting up a wine store online.
There’s careful craft and precision that goes into creating the pages of a perfect store. You’ll need to adjust every element to make sure it fits your own expectations.
For the big job, it helps to have a professional service, like a 3rd party page builder, that specialises in helping merchants design the stores of their dreams.
On the whole, page builders let you…
- Choose from a vast library of pre-built sections and elements (reviews, galleries, buttons, etc.)
- Drag and drop elements into the position you want on your page.
- Fine-tune everything about an element without the need for coding knowledge.
- Select entire page designs from a template library and customise whatever you like.
- Edit a page independently on desktop, tablet and mobile.
Page builders are often a vast improvement on the default editor that comes with ecommerce platforms. Here’s a small example of Shopify’s #1 rated page builder, PageFly, in action:
See what else PageFly can do to help you sell wine online. Try PageFly For Free by clicking on the link below!
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Tip #3 – Build your Vital Pages
When it comes to these early stages of setting up your online wine store, it’s best to stick to the necessities.
Start with building these 5 basic pages:
- Product pages
- Collection pages
- About Us
- Shipping and Delivery page
Keeping things to a lean 5 means that you can optimise those pages to perform as well as they can. Pooling your focus on the most important foundation pages gives you a chance to build an online wine store like the examples below…
Bonus: 3 Examples of Great Online Wine Stores
It’s so much easier to start with good inspiration. Here are 3 of the best online wine stores out there, all of which can be found on Shopify.
#1 – Dry Farm Wines
Dry Farm Wines really doubled down on the social proof with their store.
Their homepage alone has 2 customer testimonial sections, a ‘loved by these companies’ badge section and an image feed that updates when someone uses their hashtag in a post on Instagram.
A strategy like this fosters vital trust from newcomers to their website. It can be a powerful method to convert visitors into buyers.
#2 – Vinebox
Honestly, Vinebox has got one of the best page designs we’ve seen for a wine store.
Their homepage is a sublime collection of elements, colours and shapes, but their product page is definitely worth mentioning too.
Everything on the product page is transparent, helpful and pushes customers towards a sale. It has clear call-to-action (CTA) buttons, a standout review system and section, dropdown menus with more details and an obvious route to contacting support.
#3 – FitVine
FitVine knows that the beauty of a wine is the story behind it.
They sell a niche product (low sugar wines) and use their ‘about us’ page to tell the story of their company and their product. Also on their ‘about us page’, interested customers can dive deeper into the nutritional details and fermentation processes of their wines.
Step 5: Marketing Best Practices to Sell Wine Online
With the essentials of your online wine store set up, the journey to your first sale is off.
But how are you actually supposed to get that sale? This can be one of the toughest parts of the whole wine store experience.
After your store is set up, you’ll need a few routes through which you can attract, engage and retain customers.
Here are some ideas…
Idea #1 – Establish a Voice
The first thing you’ll want to do in marketing your online wine store is to determine the tone and attitude of your site.
Like we just mentioned with FitVine, it’s the stories behind the wine that matter. How much? Actually, as much as the taste of the wine itself. Dee-Wine found that 50% of a wine’s success is down to its backstory and the emotional links it creates with its consumer.
Establishing the way you talk to your customers, and telling your stories in that manner, speaks to dedicated wine lovers.
It will take a while to fully settle on a voice, but testing different voices early is a great way to start.
|⭐ Want more? Here’s a great article by Frontier Marketing on how to establish your voice.|
Idea #2 – Promote your Wine Club
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to wine clubs. In 2018, wine clubs were the largest online contributor towards $3 billion in DTC sales (Silicon Valley Bank).
Image courtesy of Wine Enthusiast Magazine
For merchants, wine clubs have become a mainstay in growth strategies. They offer a steady source of income and significantly increase customer lifetime value (CLV).
Fundamentally speaking, starting a wine club and promoting it well should be a top priority once your site is launched.
There’s a lot you can do to make your wine club grow and thrive:
- Live tasting events
- Prize giveaways
- Displaying member testimonials
- Being flexible with shipments
- Exclusive insights for members
- Communicating your thanks regularly
|⭐ Want more? Check out this great starter story about a wine club that brings in $75,000 per month.|
Idea #3 – Foster Loyalty
As is the case across all of ecommerce nowadays, your primary audience as a digital wine store will likely be Millenials.
Millennials are a fast-growing demographic for wine sellers. They account for 95 million wine drinkers in Europe and 75 million in the U.S (Dee-wine).
Why does this matter? Because 69% of millennials belong to a loyalty program (Dee-Wine). Loyalty programs are fantastic sources of sustained income and speak directly to the wants and needs of the expanding millennial market.
Although really, regardless of your audience, a loyalty program can endear your store to the 75% of consumers who prefer companies with a rewards system (SmallBizGenius).
Loyalty program example from Wine Chateau
Idea #4 – Build your Following across Email and Social Media
Email and social media are two fields in which online wine merchants have a competitive advantage.
That’s because these channels are built for personal connection. And, simply put, it’s easier to forge this personal connection through something as rich and nuanced as wine than it is for more practical niches like clothing, technology and sporting goods.
Vine Box built a robust social media presence using stunning photography
The double-pronged attack of email and social media can work so well, but each element needs to be approached separately:
- Use a ‘coming soon’ page before you launch your site. Invite visitors to leave their email address in return for store updates and discounts.
- Use on-store pop-ups once your site is launched. These gather email addresses to which you can send monthly newsletters and wine club invitations.
For social media:
- Build a professional page across each platform that you think is suitable for your store. If you’re targeting young millennials, then Instagram and Facebook may be more suitable than Twitter.
- Target ads at your audience. If you’ve done your buyer persona homework, Facebook and other networks can advertise to your specified demographics. Even a budget of $3 can really expand your reach.
Selling Wine Online: The Fruity Finish
Image courtesy of Kym Ellis on Unsplash
As a wine lover yourself, you surely know what it means to be patient and thorough.
The same principle applies to selling wine online. The steps we’ve mentioned above aren’t supposed to be quaffed, but sipped slowly and thoughtfully until every nuance is uncovered.
Dedicated planning and execution of each step, with further research about what each entails, can see your store flourish from vine to glass.