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double-o sippin' Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

AR: Yes.  In general, we schedule wines about a month in advance.  That's really our goal right now.  It used to be that we were a week in advance, then that quickly spread to two and then four weeks, as more and more wineries began beating a path to our door.  But, yeah, it's a big challenge.  Every day, we've got to execute very efficiently on each one of our tasks that's absolutely critical.  One of the great things about my partnership with Agent White is that he keeps me in check, he keeps me very focused on what he calls 'the critical path' — we have a very specific and set path through every day.  There are certain things which we cannot ignore, things that must get done no matter what.  It's a lot of work, it's a lot of pressure at times.  But the farther ahead we can get, the easier it becomes, and that frees us up to focus on other things like marketing.

NM: So, apart from the obvious fact that this whole approach separates you from the majority of other online wine retailers, how else are your sales and service different? What do you feel you offer the consumer that s/he may not find elsewhere?

AR: Consumers on the internet are a unique bunch.  They are savvy information shoppers, and they're sometimes value shoppers.  I think a lot of people shopping on the internet, in general, have the perception that things they buy on the internet will be less expensive than those things that they find in a store.  So, while we don't want to be viewed as a discount house, our discount is really there as a way to lower the barrier for a consumer to try a new wine, to lower the risk of trying that wine by putting a small discount on it.  Typically, the wines that we sell are anywhere from 20%-30% off, sometimes more; it depends on the wine and the winery.  But we want to introduce new wines to the consumer, wines they've never tried before, because it's really our belief that if they do try some of these wines, they will fall in love with them.  And in falling in love, they'll want to buy more.  And that's actually a benefit to our wineries, because once that consumer has tasted that wine and wants more of it, they can't buy it again through The Wine Spies, but have to go back to that winery's website and make those follow-on purchases through the winery itself.  So the wineries really benefit, as well.  Plus, we've had feedback that those follow-on orders have resulted in literally thousands of dollars in sales for them.

NM: This entire business model, similar to the practice of espionage after which your company is themed, sounds frankly quite risky.  Why did you choose to go with the approach of offering a 24-hour deal on only a single wine per day?

AR: Only because I thought it would be a successful model, and also a novel one.  I think novel is good.  Of course, novelty is not: we didn't want to be perceived as cartoonish; we were careful with that in our style, the look that we'd chosen for the site.  And we certainly use a lot of humor in our wine reviews. Our 'Mission Reports,' for example, are sometimes fictionalized.  But the core of them — the core of the reviews, the review part of the reviews specifically discussing the wine —that's 100% real.  When we review a wine, we do so on five criteria: look, smell, feel, taste, and finish.  And we use those words, rather than words like 'nose' or 'palate' that are sometimes confusing, especially to new wine drinkers.  We wanted to keep the language a lot more approachable and a lot more accessible, by using very plain words.  We wanted to keep the reviews fun and lighthearted and yet be completely factual.  It was our intention to educate and introduce [wine jargon] eventually, but from the beginning we wanted to keep things really accessible to wine drinkers of all experience levels.

We did a survey of our customers after about a year in business, and we were very gratified with the results.  The chief take-aways from our survey were that we're doing a great job in finding consistently wonderful, high-quality wines; we're doing a great job in thoroughly describing those wines; and then finally delivering wines that match those descriptions when people get them home and drink them — which is a really important thing.  A review of anything — be it a movie, a play, a book, or a gadget — can be very subjective.  And when you get into wine, things can get super-subjective, so we have this goal of keeping things very honest and plain, without dumbing things down to those higher-end wine consumers who are used to using more high-fallootin' language.  So we have to try to strike a balance.  And I think, at least according to our customers, we've really achieved that goal.



 

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