During the lockdowns both businesses and consumers have had to take the plunge and dive online into a more digital world. Many vineyard businesses have found this to be a harmonious and rewarding transition and are achieving good direct to consumer sales, but some may not have fared so well. Vineyard asks what is an effective website and why is it a must for a successful wine business going forward?   

A website is often the first exposure that a consumer has to your products and brand, if it doesn’t quickly provide what they are looking for then potential customers are likely to look elsewhere. So, it is vital that your website presents well, provides answers, meets the needs of the person visiting and communicates your brand and products.

Ned Awty grew up at Oatley Vineyard in Somerset, and after 20 years in corporate R&D and marketing he has now set up his own strategy and marketing consultancy. “With so much access to information it is vital to understand who your target customers are and what they are looking for, if you want them to engage. Simplicity of message is key, and creating something simple that communicates your products, your brand and your values is more difficult that it sounds. The first question I ask is always ‘why?’ – Usually the next four questions are also ‘why?’ This helps to distil the essence of why anyone should buy your brand and products and helps form the structure of a communication plan to engage with potential customers.

“If increasing direct to consumer sales is your goal then the website needs to form part of a holistic strategy that integrates with your other marketing touchpoints and sales channels. Perhaps you use Instagram and have a good following, in which case the website will probably be the sales portal that sits behind your social media, so the website should be designed to make buying wine as easy as possible. Or maybe your sales channels are already well developed and the website is about communicating your brand values and image, this will look very different to a sales platform. Or maybe you need to do both, which is why your communication plan and simple, relevant messaging is so important,” Ned said.

Elisabeth Else, e-commerce website specialist, explains that: “Direct to consumer sales are very important, but you still want local restaurants serving your wines to generate fresh new local interest. We’ve worked with one producer who said: ‘I’ve planted all the land I can, so the only way to increase profit is to sell more direct to consumer.’ Their results are phenomenal.

“A good Wine Club is so important, as it can provide an income that can be forecasted. I think that many producers will have seen a growth in online revenue due to Covid-19, regardless of how poor their website is. Many people simply don’t realise how much better they could be doing with a more up-to-date website and a smarter growth strategy.” 

Nick Wenman, Albury Organic Vineyard, in Surrey and WineGB director explains that: “A good website for direct-to-consumer sales is important for commercial sustainability, especially during these challenging times. Maximising direct-to-consumer sales can double the gross margin, especially for small producers, like us, the difference between making a profit and not making a profit. Our website has been crucial during lockdown. Our trade sales to local pubs and restaurants have suffered but our online sales increased 186% from January to December 2020. The aim now is to retain these sales and also to bring back sales at the vineyard and via the trade, as soon as we can.”

 Jonica Fox, of Fox & Fox, East Sussex, explains that: “For us the main purpose of the website is to promote sales, whether via our site, our via our stockists. If a customer wants to buy wine, they can do so, quickly and easily. We have a chat box on the website, so that we can answer any customer queries. The other function of our website is to build customer confidence and awareness of our brand. It is designed to allow visitors to find out more about our vineyard story and our wines, if they want to. Our social media strategy, which we do in-house, supports the website but it is rather like mainstream advertising and to quote Lord Leverhulme ‘50% works and 50% is wasted, but we don’t know which half!’” 

Professional or DIY? 

Having spent a lot of money establishing a vineyard, it’s understandable that new producers don’t feel they have much left over for a website. However, Elisabeth Else explains that: “There are three things you need to be successful; grow good grapes, make good wine and sell it. The website is an essential tool in the selling armoury.

“If you are thinking about building a website yourself, there are two things you need to think about. Is it a good use of your time? You need to be honest as it’s very easy to undervalue time when you work for yourself. The second question is whether you are going to want the upheaval of changing everything once you are already transacting, this is obviously a much bigger thing to do than starting down the right path.

“To be quite honest, if people really don’t have the money, it’s a perfectly reasonable idea to build themselves a site and replace it when they can. What I don’t understand is people spending a fortune on sites that don’t deliver sales. The question that should be asked is not the cost, but the time to repay that cost. One vineyard client reported 350% uplift in sales in the run up to Christmas with their new website; while some of that is due to the trading conditions, it’s still a great performance and it won’t take them long to generate significant return on the website investment.” 

In Jonica’s view, it is important to “decide how much time you are able to commit to updating a website, especially if it includes e-commerce and blogs. Keeping the website updated is a discipline, you have to make sure it looks good and functions well – and importantly it delivers what is promised. Our orders are delivered by courier within a couple of days – and we don’t charge for delivery, the price on the website is the price paid.”

The software

Elisabeth recommends: “Really decent e-commerce software; we are now working almost exclusively with Commerce7, a tool developed in Canada specifically for wine producers and widely used in other wine regions. Not only does Commerce7 handle online selling, and tour and tasting bookings, it also has what I believe is the most sophisticated Wine Club management system available. The clever thing is not just having the individual components, but the fact that they are all in the same place means that you have a CRM – a single source of information on customer behaviour and spending that doesn’t rely on merging spreadsheets or anything like that. The options it gives for growing and retaining customers are phenomenal.” 

The legal environment can change, so it is important to keep up-to-date and ensure that the regulations are adhered to. Along with the general legal requirements for a website, any collection of data must comply with GDPR and data consent must be obtained before contacting customers. Elisabeth Else also advises to: “Check legal requirements around secure checkout and age validation.” Simon Woodhead added: “We will need to make some changes to our website to incorporate two stage verification for payments in order to make it legally compliant by the end of this year.” 

Top tips

“Work with someone who understands selling online, design isn’t everything and sometimes ‘showy’ design actually frustrates sales. That beautiful video that looks amazing the first time someone comes to your website is just annoying the second or third time and obviously it’s those repeat visitors who make you money. Good photography is absolutely essential and needs to be included in your budget,” commented Elisabeth Else. 

Nick Wenman’s tip is: “Make it easy for the consumer to buy in just a few clicks – think how easy it is to shop on Amazon. Make it easy for them to sign up to newsletters. Collect these emails and use a system such as MailChimp to send promotions or special offers that direct people to the website. Also direct people to the website via social media.”

Measuring success

According to Elisabeth Else: “It’s actually quite simple, the revenue from a website is equal to the number of visitors multiplied by the conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who actually buy) and by the average order value. Someone with a successful website will be continuously improving each of those three components.”