Buying Wine on the Web (by The New York Times)

Posted: February 2, 2013 by wynmaker in Social Media, Wine, World wine news
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

So many choices!

In an ever more digital world, there are a few things that remain reassuringly analog. Wine, for example. The mysteries of a Montrachet or the magic of a Margaux remain too complex and too nuanced to reduce to the zeros and ones of digital DNA, though I imagine someone must be trying. Although technology has its limitations in the making of wine, it is increasingly useful in the buying and selling of it.

The Internet accounts for only a tiny fraction of worldwide wine sales. Most people buy their wine at local shops or supermarkets. But online sales have been growing strongly for a few years in Britain, Germany and some other European markets, as well as China and Japan. There are signs of progress in the United States, where regulatory hurdles have been a problem.

At the end of last year, Amazon opened an online wine shop in the United States. Presumably the e-commerce giant hopes to do for Bordeaux or Barolo what it has done for books: Make a previously unimaginable selection available to anyone, anywhere, at any time and at a bargain price.

But Internet wine sales in the United States have been complicated by Byzantine rules. Some states forbid online sales, others restrict cross-border shipments. Others maintain monopolies over distribution. So Amazon is starting with only a handful of states and the District of Columbia.

Europe, so fragmented and divided in other ways, is more coherent and unified in this niche of the economy. From my home in France I can order wine online from almost any other European Union country and expect it to show up at my door in a few days.

The only variable is cost. For some reason, Italian parcel services tend to charge more than €50 to ship a 12-bottle case of wine to France, about $70. German delivery companies often do the job, faster, for less than €20. There you have the euro crisis in a nutshell — or a case of wine. Still, my cellar would be a lot poorer without those occasional deliveries from the sunny south.

The most advanced online wine market is probably Britain. Wine Intelligence, a research firm in London, estimates that up to 15 percent of all retail wine sales in Britain take place online — perhaps five times the U.S. percentage.

Growth in Britain has been led by supermarket chains like Tesco, which have been using wine as a way to promote Internet grocery shopping services. But specialist British wine merchants like Berry Brothers & Rudd were also early online innovators, opening e-commerce sites well over a decade ago.

“Not only do we like wine, but we also like the Internet,” said Antonia Branston, an analyst at the research firm Euromonitor in London. More and more British online wine specialists, like Laithwaites, Slurp and Naked Wines, are expanding to other countries in Europe, the United States or Asia. Slurp, for example, opened sites in Germany and France last year. While the prospect of a British Web site trying to sell wine to the French might sound a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle, Slurp insists there is a place for it.

Read on …

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