Experience and education give physical wine stores the edge

Intimidation has been a longstanding feeling amongst consumers when it comes to choosing and drinking wine. However, this negative reaction has gradually eased over the last decade as the internet has made information more accessible while television programmes have increasingly featured winemaking and matching. The rise of discount supermarkets has also helped make wine more readily available.

However, the same trends have driven a widening polarisation between pricing and education. Wine is now the nation’s favourite drink, with people in the UK consuming 22.1 million bottles a week. But a growing emphasis on discounting in some parts of the market has come at the expense of the overall experience customers receive when they purchase and consume it. To many, wine remains driven by savings and discount and actually choosing wine beyond that remains a mystery.

Majestic Wine, the UK’s largest wine retailer, is keen to change this and put experience first. So while many high street retailers are reducing their physical footprint, this 40-year-old brand is investing in its network of more than 180 stores across the UK as part of an omnichannel approach that allows customers to leverage the expertise of trained staff in stores, while also embracing digital channels as they see fit.

“Customers undoubtedly get a better experience by physically visiting one of our stores,” says John Colley, incoming boss at Majestic Wine, which was sold to private equity firm Fortress Investment Group earlier this year.

“All our in-store colleagues are trained to a high level, many with diplomas. We’re the only retailer that is really investing in this kind of expertise. You can’t taste wine online and you can’t have a proper conversation with an expert about a food match for a dinner party you’re planning, for example.

This 40-year-old brand is investing in its network of more than 180 stores across the UK as part of an omnichannel approach

“It’s two-dimensional when you’re shopping on a website and it always will be. That, for us, is a strength we can play to. Digital technology clearly will develop and you’ll get a better experience in time, but I don’t think anything beats physically talking to somebody.

“By going into a store and interacting with a wine expert you’re getting a better deal out of your wine purchase. You get a white-glove experience not just through talking with our colleagues about buying something, but also, if you do happen to choose a delivery method, from our fantastic network of drivers too. Our customers love it.”

A survey by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust found that 88 per cent of people in the UK don’t know their way around a wine list. To tackle this, Majestic has launched a wine-fitting service that enables customers to pick a Spotify-esque playlist of styles online and then try eight wines in-store.

Majestic statistics

By basing this on style and qualities of wine, rather than grape or region, Majestic hopes to introduce customers to new wines, while showing they don’t need to stick with the same old brands or be experts in knowing what to buy.

In its own study, Majestic conducted 40,000 blind tastes with customers in its stores. The results demonstrated that the wines people choose as their favourites by taste rarely match the wines they’ll pick out on a shelf. The wine that won the popular vote in 78 per cent of Majestic stores where the blind tastings took place was a Sicilian red that was nowhere near being a best seller based on Majestic’s transactional information.

With wine tastings clearly so important to customers choosing the right bottle for them, this Christmas alone Majestic will conduct more than 300 tastings.

“Wine can be incredibly intimidating,” says Mr Colley. “I always encourage our staff to crack open a bottle of wine for customers. One of our mantras is helping customers discover wines they’re going to love, so education for the consumer is a key part of what we do in the stores and that really comes through tasting the product.

“When you try something with an expert, who is also explaining about the product at the same time, it’s invaluable to the overall experience. That’s when we stand out above everybody else.

“If you don’t have a starting point when you walk into a store or are confronted with a wine list, then it’s really hard to navigate and be sure you’re going to come out with the right bottle for you. Our trained experts and in-store tastings are there to break down that mistrust or anxiety and open people’s eyes to something they may not have considered.

“We’re always at the leading edge of drinks trends because we have that level of engagement and education within our teams. We see the trends earlier because our trained staff are backed up with plenty of great wines open to taste.”

This unparalleled experience Majestic is able to offer in-store, linked with options for delivery and touch points across digital channels, is one of the key factors that attracted Fortress Investment Group’s buy-in. While supermarkets have the option to reduce wines to less than £5 a bottle, Majestic is more interested in giving consumers other reasons to visit its stores, embracing the status of a specialist seller and providing value through expertise.

“I firmly believe there is a place in the market for a specialist that is differentiated like us,” says Mr Colley. “We’ve been around for 40 years. We want to be around for another 40 and we have to do that by constantly innovating, not just with our products, but with our colleagues and giving customers an experience that frankly they just can’t get anywhere else.

“Wine will continue to become more accessible and that only reinforces our offering because it means we can further showcase the knowledge and experience in our stores. Meanwhile, we will continue to develop our omnichannel platform. Wherever you are and at whatever time you want to access Majestic, we’ll be there.”

For more information please visit majestic.co.uk