Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Online Wine Retailer Rant

It’s been a while since I have had a rant, but today feels like one of those days that feel the need to vent a little bit about wine retailers. That said, if you don’t feel like listening, I won’t be offended in the least, so feel free to stop reading here. Many of us use different sites to “source” specific bottles of wine. A few of the most commonly used are Wine Access, along with my favorite, Wine-Searcher.com. I find that we use Wine-Searcher a ton, and I can even justify paying the $30 a year for the Pro Version. What is the difference between the free version and the Pro Version you might ask? The answer is simple. With the free version, you do not get all of the stores that may carry the specific bottle that you are looking for, where the Pro Version gives you all of the results. Sometimes this is beneficial as a result you do not come up with may end up being the cheapest price, or a retailer that you may have done business with in the past. In some cases, I can think of times when the savings from just one purchase have been more than enough to cover the cost of the subscription. With that being said, I highly recommend this site. So, on to my rant. One thing that I have been finding, which I find extremely annoying, is the fact that online retailers will register with Wine-Searcher.com, and they will list particular wines that may have been small in production, or are just all around hard to find. There is nothing wrong with that….unless of course they are just doing this to attract people to their site, in hopes of getting them to browse their store an purchase other bottles. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me, and I really wish Wine-Searcher would do something about these retailers. A perfect example was today, as I was searching for a 2004 Sine Qua Non “Covert Fingers.” This is a beautiful pinot noir, and happened to be my personal 2009 Wine of the Year. This is an amazing wine, and happens to be in the top 5 wines I have had during my lifetime. Today was no special occasion, and I actually search for deals on this wine quite often. Today however, a hit came up for this wine from a company located in Los Angeles, who's name I will not call out, as I do not want to give them business that they do not deserve. As soon as I saw the search result come in with a price of $125, I knew this was a hoax. Regardless, I clicked the link to see if they did actually have the wine, and sure enough, they did not. However, they achieved what they were trying to achieve, and they got me to browse their site because they were advertising a product that people are interested, yet they do not carry it. This is a perfect example of retailers using the old bait and switch, trying to get you to come to their site, in hope that you will look for something else when they do not have the wine that you are looking for. Unfortunately, this seems to be a very common practice. I even had a similar thing happen a few years ago, while looking for magnums of Foxen pinot noir “Sea Smoke.” Many of you know the awesome mystique of Sea Smoke Cellars, and their vineyard where Foxen sources these grapes from. Foxen happens to be the only other winery producing pinot noir from this vineyard, with the exception of Sea Smoke. These are incredible wines, and not exactly easy to get, especially in the magnum format. So I finally found the wines from a now defunct retailer (this was karma at its best) called Cellar Brokers. They had magnums of the 2004, 2006, and 2006, so I purchased one of each. My card was charged, and a week went by and I never received an order confirmation. So I called them, and never had a phone call returned. I e-mailed them, and still nothing. After several weeks, I was refunded my money, because they finally decided to tell the truth in the fact that they could not acquire these wines. With all of that said, how many of you have run into situations similar to this one with online retailers? What do you think should be done to keep this from happening? I think that this is a very poor practice, and these sites like Wine-Searcher and Wine Access really need to crack down and initiate some kind of fraud policy on this. If one good thing has come out of this however, it is the simple fact that now I am weary to purchase from a retailer that I have never purchased from before. If I do come up with a retailer that I have never heard of and find questionable, I use my online resources on the different wine boards to research them, to get feedback from other board members. I will encourage you to do the same. Long story short, be very careful of placing orders with stores you have never purchased from before, and do the leg work to ensure that they are a respectable retailer. I will say that I am grateful for sites like Wine-Searcher and Wine Access, and it would be hard to obtain such good wines at great pricing without these resources. I'm a huge fan, and will continue to be!
Off my soap box….for now! Stay tuned for more rants in the future! Cheers! -F. Scott


James L. said...

Having done work with a lot of wine retailer websites (including my family's shop in Central NJ), it's disappointing to hear how frequently you've come across the same frustration! What do the retailers tell you when they cancel the order?

From my experiences, there are definitely some retailers out there that are bad apples. But at the same time, I know that most of them aren't purposely looking to dupe a potential customer. Most of the time, it's a problem of data; either:

1) The store isn't updating their website or the feed to Wine-Searcher often enough. (I should also note that Wine-Searcher only updates listings twice a week)
2) The store is using a matching service to populate content on their items, and an error has occurred.

That said, maintaining this data and minimizing errors is the responsibility of the retailer. And if/when an error occurs, it's up to them to owe up to it and handle the issue gracefully.

NJFoodies said...

James: I have never actually gotten to the point where I have placed the order, which I guess is actually better than placing te order, being charged, only to find out that they have never even had the wine in stock.

What I have been finding is that retailers are popping up on Wine-Searcher.com in many searches that I am doing on wines that I am looking for. (We subscribe to the Pro-Version for $30 a year, and it pays for itself usually on 1-2 sales. Well worth it).

But my frustration comes with that fact that I search a wine, it shows up at XXXX retailer in XXXX USA, so I click it, and instead of bringing me to the wine in their online store, it brings me to the stores main page. Then, when I go to search the wine in their online store, the wine is not even listed, because they are not even a retailer for the particular wine. So what this does is draws people in, in hopes that they will purchase something else when the wine they are looking for is not available.

I see the points you are making, and couldn't agree more in the fact that stores need to keep their inventories updated and current.

Just out of curiosity, which store in Central Jersey is your family involved with? We're always looking for fun new retailers to visit.

Thanks for the comment, and thanks for stopping in! Cheers!

NJFoodies said...

James: here is a quick example. I log onto Wine-Searcher Pro, nd do a search for Covert Fingers, one of our favorite Sine Qua Non wines, this happens to be their 2004 pinot noir. The first entry that comes up at a ridiculously low price of $125 per can be found here:


However, when you click on the link, instead of bringing you to the wine in their online store, it instead brings you to: http://www.bacchusla.com/

Now when you do a quick search on their site, and click the inventory tab, then their inventory list, you will see that they have NO Sine Qua Non. Sure, they have some impressive wines like DRC, Sreaming Eagle, etc, but to me, it's false advertising, and the bait and switch to get people to view their site.

Unprofessional? Sure, but I guess you have to do what you have to do in this economy to bring in potential buyers. Regardless, if I owned a wine shop, which we of course don't, this is not something that I would practice.