It’s Go Time — How to Choose A Winery E-Commerce Vendor

With the world upside down and all traffic to winery tasting rooms on pause, many wineries are quickly moving towards e-commerce. However, with so many vendors in the industry, it can make finding the right one daunting.

Here are a few tips when choosing a wine industry e-com partner.

References: First, ask for a minimum of 3 references. Make sure you ask questions about how hard it was to launch? What were the biggest challenges in moving to the platform? How is customer service? What do they wish the vendor did better?

Stack: Since no vendor fully encapsulates all of a wineries’ needs, ask which partners work best with the platform you are evaluating and why. Nothing is worse than investing in a system and thinking it will work with your other tools only to find out that they are incompatible (either system or culture). Also, ask them about their recommended stack and to point to websites running the recommended combination of products.

Data Mobility: Make sure it’s easy to get your data (sales, products, etc) out of the system once you get it into that system. Too many vendors make it nearly impossible to leave them after you’ve launched.

Data Migration: The bane of all website launches is data migration: moving from one system to another. The problem is the new platform inherits all the bad practices and failures of the last platform and can even create new ones. Be sure to ask prospective vendors how they deal with data migration. What are the limitations? What are the known problems that come with migrating from your previous platform (loss of credit cards, bad customer dates, etc)?

Based on their answers, ask yourself, what can be cleaned up prior to your migration. Dealing with any existing data problems (to the best of your ability) prior to migrating will reduce your data debt and make the migration smoother. By understanding the known problems of migration you will be prepared to handle any challenges post-migration (e.g. having to call club members to get new credit cards).

API Based: Not only are they going to need to be able to spell API, they really need to have a sincere dedication to the philosophy of API’s since no platform is going to have every feature you want. It’s important they are API based (REST APIs) to integrate well into systems around them. The strength of a platform isn’t being an all in one solution — it’s being best of breed and integrating well with systems around them. It’s a bonus if they allow for apps to plugin to their platform, have webhooks and a partner network.

Also, make sure you REALLY, REALLY understand if they have a fee structure for other companies to access the API. Too many charge for access per vendor and some charge multiple fees per vendor.

Headless: Every major non-wine e-commerce platform (like Shopify) have gone to being headless and plugging into an external Content Management Systems. There are so many great Content Management Systems (CMS) that the CMS should not be part of e-commerce. (Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, etc all try to be great at commerce and leave the CMS to someone else). If they have their own CMS, ask how that feature set compares against market leaders like Wordpress, etc.

Modern Club / Subscription: A wine club is no longer receiving a bundle of wine on the wineries terms. Blue Apron, Dollar Shave Club, etc have taught us that modern subscription is about user choice, flexibility and a subscription designed with the customer in mind. You can’t just have a recurring order. You need true subscription tools.

Mobile Checkout: Today, you need more than just a responsive website — with more than 50% traffic coming from mobile, you need to have a mobile-friendly checkout. Typing a birthdate into a checkout on a mobile phone is terrible. Typing your address, etc is hard. Apple Pay, Google Pay, one-click checkout — anything to get the form fields cut down.

POS Integration: For a winery, the first sale often happens in the tasting room. Repeat sales online. Your customer isn’t based on channel — your customer is based on brand. You need some way to integrate customers with your POS system.

Personalization: Personalized product selection, personalized content sells more. (16X greater add to cart than just generic product selection). The system needs some form of personalization.

Customer-Centric: It’s such a generic term — but your system needs to be customer-centric. Too many people look at backend functionality rather than customer-facing functionality.

A few bonuses:

Mobile Payment: Anything to speed up checkout. Apple Pay, WeChat pay, etc.

International: 20% of visitors to Napa (not today with COVID but last year) came from outside the United States. Being able to sell to these customers is probably the biggest single missed opportunity for wineries today.

Fulfillment: The first piece of backend management (after a POS integration) would be fulfillment integration. Who are they tightly partnered with and why? What are the limitations with their fulfillment integrations? If you are self-fulfilling — how easy is it to generate labels and get tracking to customers? If you have a fulfillment house, same question.

Idiosyncratic Winery Needs: How do they handle allocations, futures, or reservations? How’s their integration with compliance software tools?

Marketing Enablement: Look, almost all winery software platforms lag in cool new tools that help enable sophisticated marketing. The good companies have API’s. The best companies have already integrated or have agency partners that have enabled great products like chat rooms, marketing automation, retargeting, etc, etc, etc. Ask what tools they’ve tried. Which ones worked. Which ones failed. Why?

Privacy: GDRP, CCPA, etc. It’s coming. Better have an API based system that can handle all of this.

Training and customer service: While most platforms now do web-based manuals and training videos, it’s key to understand how current they are with their help, what customer support tools are available, and how they prioritize user feedback for new features.

Roadmap: What’s next on their roadmap for development in the next 6 months, 12 months, long-term? How do they prioritize development and why?

Finally, don’t expect the new system to give you all the features the old system had. You and your staff are going to go through a period of significant learning and re-calibration of processes and reporting changes.