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Launched this week, NakedWines is offering an online 'farmer's market' to connect small wine producers with customers looking for new wines.

The site was launched by Rowan Gormley, who was previously CEO of Virgin Wines. He has been talking to E-consultancy about the thinking behind Naked Wines...

Can you explain the concept behind Naked Wines?

The most interesting and exciting wines are made by small wine producers, who often care more about making good wine than marketing and selling it. However, economies of scale can mean that good wines from small producers tend to be very expensive.

What we are doing is setting up a kind of farmer’s market for these smaller winemakers. Customers can try the wine before they buy and even speak directly to the winemaker, which beats the usual tasting notes.

People will also be able to communicate with other customers through the site, to ask them if a particular wine they bought was as good as the description they see, and so on.

Customers are also important for helping us find the wines that we will sell on the site; if they find a good local wine when on holiday in Spain for example, they can recommend it to us and we will have our tasters check it and perhaps stok it in future.,

How does Naked Wines differ from other wine retailers?  

Our emphasis on small winemakers separates us from other online wine merchants. Others are part of huge organisations, and often the wines which are supposed to be different from the usual brands you see in supermarkets are from the same producers and collectives when you take a close look at the label.

How are you helping customers to discover wines?

We are offering customer ratings, and allowing customers to talk to each other about the wines they have bought. As Last.fm helps users discover music, we will be offering a recommendation engine which will find other users of the site with similar tastes in wine to yours.

Users need to complete a quick profile, then we will start to recommend wines as they browse, putting a tick next to the ones they may like. We’re looking to help people to discover wines, and to recommend wines they don’t normally drink but may like.

What we also do is cut out the middle men between the wine growers and the buying public. In the average bottle of wine sold, a lot of the price goes to cover marketing costs, as the traditional way for winemakers to get coverage is to increase marketing spend.

By connecting them directly to buyers the producers can spend more of their time doing what they are good at, while the price of the wine is lower for consumers.

How do customers become wine angels?

Some winemakers will offer this, and it’s a way to support winemakers and let them save money they would have to spend on marketing and selling the wine.  In return for prepaying a monthly fee to the winemakers,  customers can receive discounts and other perks. 

What are you doing about delivery? Any offers?

Delivery will be next day as standard and price at £4.99. Other wine sites are charging £6.99, and delivery takes longer, so this should help to bring in more impulse buyers for us. When customers have to wait up to a week for delivery they need to plan their  purchase more in advance.

Is the market for wine online still growing?

Yes, it grew by 24% last year, and I think there’s still room for growth. More people are moving away from supermarkets and looking for something more exciting than the branded wines which are so prevalent.  

Also, a new generation of customers is becoming accustomed to ordering wine by the case online, rather then using mail order.  It’s the same impulse that has people shopping for food in farmers markets; people get a feel for real products.
This is the key to us breaking into the market, many are bored with supermarket wine and would like to try something else, but need some help choosing what to buy.

Who designed the website?

The site was designed in-house – we have tried to get a farmer’s market feel to it, and  to encourage customers to look at the person producing the wine, so they can scroll through the site looking at the winemakers.

This way they can get the story of the winemakers and the feel of the place. We want people to be more adventurous when choosing wine.

What are the unique challenges of selling wine online?

Making it personal and bringing the wine to life is a challenge with selling wine online, compared to in a store.

Logistics is a big challenge, and it’s an area that is very important to get right for customer loyalty.  We are actually paying 50% more for delivery then we normally would have to, but we are able to offer next day delivery at £4.99, which is competitive compared with our rivals.

Does launching a business in this economic climate worry you?

It’s the right time to launch this type of business, at times like this, people are more likely to stay home and have a drink than go out. From buying expensive wines with fancy labels, people now want a combination of quality and value, which is what we are offering. 

Related articles:
Q&A: Richard Weaver of Majestic Wines
Q&A: Philip James, CEO of wine comparison site Snooth

Graham Charlton

Published 4 December, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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