Big retailers have long complained about “showrooming,” when shoppers browse the aisles, find the product they want, and then order it online for less. Now the bane of Best Buy and Target’s existence may be coming to your corner liquor store.
Apps like Snooth, Vivino and most recently, Drync, make it easier than ever to scan the label of a wine or bourbon bottle, compare prices online, and place an order.
Costas Mouzouras, the wine director at Gotham Wines & Liquors in New York, says it is hard for him to be in favor of this type of app.
“Wine is an experience and should be sold that way, not just by scanning a bar code and seeing whatever is going to come up,” he says. Although these apps might be useful in a supermarket where there is typically less hands-on help, it is not a replacement for an in-store shopping experience.
Wine buyers don’t need apps, he says. “They need us.”
Rather than order wine online, Mouzouras says, shoppers should consider buying from local retailers. Many stores, including his, can order a particular bottle for a customer if it isn’t in stock.
The number of online wine orders in the U.S. is growing. For the 12 months ended in June, the value of direct-to-consumer shipments of wine jumped percent from the preceding 12 months, to $1.5 billion.
According to research from the Wine Market Council, so-called high-frequency wine drinkers are more likely to buy wine through a variety of channels, including online. Frequent wine drinkers buy less wine from liquor or wine stores than the general population (37 percent versus 32 percent) and more from online vendors (4 percent versus 2 percent).
Men also tend to buy wine online more than women do, the group found.
So far, online purchases haven’t cut into liquor sales much, says Libby Bierman, an analyst at SageWorks. There has been a slight downturn in store sales since August 2012 (5.5 percent growth in 2012 versus 3.6 percent growth in 2013), but the dip isn’t significant, she says.
In 2012, 6 percent of wine drinkers said they bought wine from online-only retailers, and 4 percent bought from a brick-and-mortar retailer’s website, according to the Wine Market Council.
That’s a pretty small segment, says Mike Osborn, the founder of Wine.com. He says he views the apps as similar to when Amazon and other online retailers were on the rise.
When it comes to buying wine, there may be some showrooming, but consumers are also focused on educating themselves, Osborn says.
Seven different wine apps use information from Wine.com, and Osborn says the apps see a lot of activity at mealtimes, suggesting consumers are using them at restaurants.
Another factor that complicates buying wine or other forms of alcohol online: Doing so isn’t legal in every state: www.wineinstitute.org/initiatives/stateshippinglaws.
That has prompted some groups, like Free the Grapes!, to push for removing those restrictions.
Originally, prohibitive laws threatened to keep online wine sellers like Wine.com from ever getting off the ground, Osborn says.
The apps could be a good thing for relatively unknown wineries, Bierman says. What Etsy has done for smaller craft vendors, the apps might do for smaller wineries.