Sep 14 2012

Ultimate Winery Online Sales & Marketing Guide

AnnexCore

Best Practices for Selling Wine Online

Owners and operators of wineries can take the age old art of winemaking to the next level by incorporating modern technology and e-commerce into their business model. Designing and developing an e-commerce website is easier than one might expect. The free, honest and open exchange of information with online visitors is one of the prime tenets of building a successful e-commerce website dedicated to the sale of wine. The main objective of any e-commerce website is to develop a lasting client base of satisfied customers who will return for future purchases. Maintaining an open dialogue with website visitors winery owners can convey shipping requirements, special offers and services related to shopping on the site, as well as frequent short and simple surveys for gaining valuable customer feedback.

Stay Compliant When Shipping

There are approximately 37 states where wineries may legally offer direct shipments to customers. This direct shipping is predicated on the seller being in possession of the appropriate permits. Shipping permits are different for each state and will often be based on how an order is accepted. Often using services like ShipCompliant is useful as they help you distribute your wines legally and efficiently throughout the US market.

Compliance versus Non-compliance

It is important to possess the appropriate permits when shipping to a particular state and to also be certain that orders are not shipped over volume limits. Always avoid shipping non-compliant sales orders, the result otherwise could mean a loss of one’s permits in a particular state. This could ultimately result in a winery’s products being pulled off of all store shelves. Here are a few tips for shipping.

  1. Know the purchaser’s age – It is important to ascertain a purchaser’s age prior to any transaction. It is best to do this on the initial homepage when a visitor first lands on your website. Services such as IDology help reduce fraud rates with their processes to verify against other data sources.
  2. Confirm shipping addresses – Always ascertain that a buyer is at a valid and confirmed shipping address. This is important because the winery will ultimately pay the sales tax on orders that have shipped.
  3. Use wise transaction policies – It is important to authorize payments at the point of transaction and to then capture those payments when an order actually ships. This reduces delays in shipping and additional payment collection issues.
  4. Collect appropriate sales tax – There are two general options when collecting sales tax, by either charging tax based on a purchasers address or by charging one fixed rate and absorbing any potential losses associated with a fixed rate tax collection system.
  5. Provide clear information on shipping by states – by offering this information in a clear and concise way you will reduce abandoned shopping cart events and disappointed customers.

Age Verification

Typically there are two ways of confirming a purchaser’s age which includes age verification and age affirmation. In the case of age verification the e-commerce site requires a purchaser’s name and address. This is considered a stronger and more dependable check. In addition, there are a number of independent type verification companies that offer to do this in exchange for a small fee. With age affirmation the website owner simply collects and retains the visitors date of birth prior to their entering the website. By incorporating standard website technology the e-commerce website owner is able to retain this data for future transactions and visits.

Compliance & Protocols for Credit Card Processing

Companies that store, process or transfer credit card holder data are required to comply with the Data Security Standard or DSS. It is important to note that a winery is ultimately held accountable for proper compliance with data security standards. For example, if a winemaker is utilizing a third-party type vendor, it is important that they confirm that this vendor is indeed compliant with PCI DSS. Here are a few good tips for being more proactive and maintaining proper compliance.

  1. Routinely check networks for potential computer viruses or other similar dangers.
  2. For the highest level of security always ensure that data is fully encrypted.
  3. Maintain a policy of storing the minimum amount of data.
  4. Stay current with software updates and security type patches.
  5. Maintain a policy of keeping company employees up to date on all compliance related issues.

Existing eCommerce Platforms specialized for Wine Industry


It’s often advisable to go with an existing eCommerce platform to avoid many of the pitfalls you’ll encounter when you try to develop a Winery-based online store yourself. There are plenty of solutions, once we would recommend is Nexternal, although, there are plenty of others like eWinerySolution, Vin65, and Vinespring customized for the industry.

These solutions will help in every aspect from having your wines indexed by Wine-Searcher.com and Snooth.com effectively, to taking care of compliance issues, multiple taxation rules, and even wine club management. These are just specific features I’m mentioning, most of these will have the foundational eCommerce features like product management, marketing tool integrations, and other tools to streamline fulfillment and ordering.

Website Design: Usability & Experience

All good websites including e-commerce websites exhibit several key elements. Here listed are a few good examples of these key elements.

  1. User Friendly – website visitors should enjoy a simple and intuitive experience when visiting your website.
  2. Modern Look – maintain a blog with regular updates or include social media links for a website visitor to find your latest happenings.
  3. Intuitive – design a website that is easy to navigate and gives visitors the opportunity to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently.
  4. Visual Appeal – this can include images and quality photographs as well as text and content.
  5. Easy Navigation – offer links throughout your website that indicate that this is indeed an e-commerce site dedicated to the sale of a wide variety of wines.
  6. Provide regular surveys to customers – all good e-commerce websites should query and survey customers at least once every 4 or 5 months. This important feedback is critical to improving services and products offered on your e-commerce site.

Website’s Search Engine Friendliness Factor

A winery owner can have the most elegant looking website, stocked with resources for the wine industry; however, if no one can find that site, not a single sale will occur. Ranking high for a particular search term is typically done through proper search engine optimization (SEO.) There are several things a website owner can do to improve their search engine optimization. For example, performing a full keyword analysis and choosing the most appropriate keywords that will drive search engine traffic to your site, designing and developing websites that are search engine friendly, and building a solid base of links pointing to your site, as well as adding usable relevant content. As they say, content is king, and good relevant content is perhaps one of the most critical elements of a search engine optimized website.

Newsletter Sign-Up Forms & E-mail Marketing

First thing you need to make sure you have on your website is a web form that allows users to request your messages by entering their contact information. It’s a good practice to have this on every page of your website, especially as a wine retailer, and even having it on your social channels like Facebook.

After you’ve taken care of the issue of placing your form in convenient locations for users to sign-up, it’s time to start growing that list. The easiest way to build your list is by running contest for anything from new wines to gift cards for your wine. It’s also a smart idea to keep a different list of all your distributors, so record these each time a restaurant or retailer places an order. Other methods can be renting a booth at fairs, and expos. Find places that DON’T stock your wine, and giving some free samples while asking them if they would like to receive some of your e-mails.

There are several things you can send your list once you’ve built it from pairings, recipes, seasonal gift suggestion, providing fun facts about wine, video footage, special discounts, rating requests, and images!

Once you’ve done a few e-mail campaigns, you can advance your campaigns by segmenting the customer base, split testing your e-mails on their subject lines and content, and showcasing other customers.

Always be cautious, you don’t want to be marketing to minors. There are Federal Laws in regards to advertising alcoholic beverages. Additionally, don’t try to send all these e-mails out from your regular e-mail addresses like Gmail or Yahoo!Mail, you’ll likely run into a lot of trouble. It’s best to use an e-mail service provider like MailChimp to ensure your e-mails are being sent out, received, and opened. For some great tips read over our E-mail Marketing 101 Guide.

Engage Your Visitors for True Online Success

One of the most important things an e-commerce website owner can do to improve site performance and increase traffic is to fully engage site visitors. This would include offering loyalty programs, sending regular surveys, offering specials and coupons, discounts, announcing events, as well as generating new and interesting PR ideas. Email marketing is also a good way to build traffic to your site. Email communication with customers is a great way to reinforce buying habits in customers. It also helps you to target customers based on their specific buying preferences and demographics.

One commonly overlooked method is Social Media to engage your customers. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have become big factors in influencing buyers now a days, and each requires it’s on attention and techniques. This area it’s often advisable to look at what your competitors are doing, and to hire a consultant to guide you through this, often confusing, area.

Finally, to truly leverage the power of the Internet a winery owner should always make the visitor turned customer feel as though they are indeed getting a great deal on products and services. Ways of accomplishing this include providing quality guarantees, price matches, pre-arrival guarantees, and loyalty benefits. In addition, always find a way to offer extras and bonuses to buyers when they make a purchase to give them a feeling of getting more for their money. At the end of the day an e-commerce site for a winery should engage visitors and make them feel as though they are indeed special. The idea all along is to build brand loyalty and total customer satisfaction.

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