The Future of Technology & the Wine Business

The wine buyer is evolving and wineries need to adopt technology that allows them to meet their customers needs. This guide explores buyer trends and how to use flexible technology to build your brand online and create virtual connections with your customers for years to come.

Chapter 1: Customer Experience Trends to Follow

Chapter 2: Technology Ecosystem of the Future

Chapter 3: The Hub and Spoke Model

Chapter 4: The Importance of Personalization and Automation

Chapter 5: How to Select DTC Systems

Get a personalized tour of the VineSpring platform and see how it could scale with your growing winery to keep up with technology advances and modern wine buying trends.


Chapter 1: Customer Experience Trends to Follow

We’ve talked about “customer experience” on our blog many times. The concept of “experience” isn’t new to us, or you, as marketers and service-industry folks. But, here are some recurring themes that we see crop up more and more in the evolution of customer experience.

The Demand for More Personalization

It’s likely that you’re drowning in customer data. The abundance of demographic, sales, fulfillment, behavior, and preference data available to businesses is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Businesses who figure out how to organize customer data into a single contact view are in a better position to create a great customer experience. However, with disparate systems collecting the data, it takes a lot of work to marry all of your insights back to a single customer.

Now is the time to tackle this challenge. As consumers become more and more familiar and comfortable with big brands’ highly-personalized marketing and sales approaches, they are going to expect the same from every brand that they interact with. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Google are defining customer expectations. They deliver consistent, personalized, and predictive service and products.

Collecting all of the information that you have on your customer in one central location can prepare you to provide personalized wine, packages, and offers.

The more that you can tailor your service, communications, allocations, and offers to the unique expectations and preferences of your customers, the more they will trust you and the stronger their loyalty will become.

A good first step to centralizing your data is to clean up the customer data you currently have. Make sure that you have accurate and complete contact and preference data for your customers. Then, take a look at all of the systems you use and consider how you can improve the connection between those systems to bring your data together.

Continued Evolution in Digital and Technology

Technology is ubiquitous in business at this point. It’s not going anywhere, and the investment in it is showing no signs of slowing down. Sometimes businesses approach technology adoption as if there’s an end-point. It’s helpful if you recognize that there’s no finish line. Software—its capabilities and how your company uses it—is forever evolving. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself investing time and money in technology this year, and the next year, and the next!

As you adopt new software systems and institute them at your winery, there are a couple of things that you should consider to get the most out of your investment of time and money.

FIRST—NO ONE SYSTEM SOLVES ALL BUSINESS PROBLEMS.

Each winery is different. Their tasting room, club configuration, allocation program, fulfillment process, accounting system, and compliance approach are all unique. The unique needs of this industry is likely why there are hundreds of software platforms that serve wineries.

The solution here is to find systems that work for your business and play nicely with other platforms. This can be accomplished by adopting software that has open APIs and webhooks that allow you to send information back and forth between platforms and use logic to trigger actions across systems.

SECOND—SOFTWARE SHOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER.

With systems that work for you, your business should have the ability to quickly leverage automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to handle several areas of your business. One of the members of our development team recently wrote an article on the topic of technology in the industry. There are a variety of ways that you can leverage the data you’re collecting and the systems you’ve implemented to support personalization, operations, sales, etc.

A few simple examples are:

  • Customizing product offers, allocations, and add-ons in your eCommerce experience

  • Automating email communications with your customers and leads

  • Using live chat and personalization on your website to handle reservations, common questions, and customization

If your software is working together, smartly, you will experience huge benefits like better data organization, more personalization, and ultimately more customer satisfaction and sales. Just know that these benefits don’t happen overnight and they aren’t easy to come by. Continue to invest in your technology and embrace the evolution.

Reach out to our team if you have and questions on personalization and the continued evolution in technology.

Chapter 2: Technology Ecosystem of the Future

Software is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Parts

Since the beginning of VineSpring’s history, we’ve stayed focused on our strengths, eCommerce, Clubs, and Allocations. We’ve been asked by clients and partners to build additional products—POS, email, tax tools, etc. But, we have continued to build in the area of our wheelhouse—being a powerful transactional platform.

There are entire businesses dedicated to email marketing, POS, and compliance who are focused solely on innovating and being the very best in their respective industries. They do one thing and do it well. We believe that once you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing well.

We understand that the pitch of the all-in-one is compelling. It can seem more convenient. But, in our experience, there are actually more benefits to using and pairing best-of-breed systems.

That’s why our approach is focused on enabling the hub-and-spoke model.

What Do You Mean By “Hub-and-Spoke Model?”

We’ve chosen to focus on the hub (the winery eCommerce engine) and develop spokes (APIs, webhooks) to enable our clients to leverage any mix of best-in-breed software tools and services to customize and personalize allocation offerings to realize your personal vision and method for serving customers. We even have a team of experts who can support you as you connect all of the spokes together.

 
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With this approach, leveraging webhooks and APIs—VineSpring is able to provide clients the flexibility they need to set their systems up however they want and reap long-term benefits from the community of companies innovating around them. VineSpring is the transactional platform that connects the spokes and enables that community of innovation.

The challenge we have when we go all-in on the hub-and-spoke approach is making sure that our clients understand APIs and webhooks.

What is an API?

In technical terms, API stands for Application Programming Interface. In non-technical terms, an API is a method that systems use to send and receive messages to one another. For the user, it means that actions in other systems can be completed from within their system.

For VineSpring, our API means that other software platforms, vendors, and developers, have the option to interact and integrate with VineSpring’s database of information and transactional capabilities.

 
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For example, VineSpring has an API and MailChimp has an API, which means that these two systems can send information back and forth to one another, such as email and wine club membership information about your customers.

Cool, right? Our systems can talk to one another...but APIs aren’t the only way to accomplish that. We have yet another way for our systems to talk to each other and that’s called webhooks.

What is a Webhook?

A webhook is a mechanism that sends data to another system when a specific event occurs. The system “listening” for that data can then do whatever it needs with the data when it receives it.  

For instance, if you are using VineSpring to manage your club and allocation members and, as soon as a new customer joins your allocations program, you want the data to be passed on to an external destination, like your CRM, you have a couple of options:

TWO OPTIONS THAT DON’T INVOLVE WEBHOOKS:

  • Manually download the list and upload it to your system. This is time-consuming and opens up the opportunity for human error.

  • Set up an API that would request data at set intervals. This certainly works, but might require more development effort than is actually necessary.

The webhook is the third, simpler, and real-time approach. With webhooks, systems can pass and receive data as soon as it’s collected. This means you can react to customer behavior and data changes more quickly.

But Wait, What’s the Difference Between an API and a Webhook?

Simply, APIs are powerful, but typically require a developer to set up. With a webhook, there’s no request required—it’s just a one-way communication path—the webhook just sends data when it’s available, and they don’t typically require a BS in Computer Science to create.

For example, you could use webhooks to send updates into your CRM system when new information is recorded for a client, such as a change in an email preference or a purchase in the tasting room. You could use APIs to build a fully-customized storefront for displaying your luxuriously personalized allocations and carrying the customer through check out.

See Vin’s VineSpring Wordpress plugin for an example of how wineries can use the open API platform to create systems that communicate with each other.

Using webhooks opens up a whole new world of possibilities, especially if you’re connecting multiple systems to establish a central source of truth on your customers.

This is the key to the hub-and-spoke model. If all of our systems talk to one another, and each of those systems is contributing their industry best to the overall experience, we don’t need to sacrifice or settle as a result of your choice of systems.

The hub-and-spoke removes the reliance on all-in-one systems and provides your business the power to control and configure your ideal customer experience.

Learn how the hub-and-spoke model could work specifically for your winery. Click below to schedule a demo.

Chapter 3: The Hub and Spoke Model

One characteristic of the wine industry is that that wineries talk the talk AND walk the walk when it comes to being customer-focused.

Customers are the center of your world and each of you has your own, special formula to make customers feel valued. Highly-allocated wineries seem to represent the pinnacle of this focus, custom-tailoring offerings down to individual customers’ buying profiles. The inputs? Data, data, more data, and a great deal of attention and effort. The result?  Off-the-charts customer loyalty.

Much of these custom-tailored allocation offerings are “artisanal”— each allocation meticulously hand-crafted based on data compiled from one or more sources, human filters applied to tweak and finalize, and finally, after one or more weeks of exhausting effort, you execute the offering.

These activities are a microcosm of themes we see across the wine industry and expose a need for a mix of systems and human activities to interconnect seamlessly, in a very customized and personalized manner, to ultimately deliver maximum value to customers (and back to the winery too, of course).

Watch the Allocations: Best Practices for a Successful Release Webinar.

Each Winery Has Customized Needs

Is it practical to think that a single system can optimally deliver on all of those highly-customized needs? No. Each function is essentially a business in and of itself, with its own roadmap, thirst for innovation, and ongoing resource needs (people, time, and money).

To learn more about VineSpring’s “hub-and-spoke” model and the standards in which we evaluate potential software partners, enroll in Choosing Your DTC Vendors.

The next time you’re hand-crafting your spring allocation, on your third week of pouring over thousand-line spreadsheets of customer purchase history, adding a few bottles of Chardonnay here and removing a bottle of Pinot there, getting ready to mail-merge away…

Consider this possible reality:

  • A continuous flow of customer and order data from your winery eCommerce platform into a CRM system (helping you interact with customers on an ongoing basis)...

  • The CRM system’s sophisticated algorithms guiding you towards auto-crafting optimized allocations...

  • The ability to collect and send those allocations with a single click into the eCommerce engine in order to be automatically emailed, executed, charged, checked for compliance, and shipped.

  • Finally, in the end, the ability to access associated purchase data and have it sent seamlessly back into your CRM and accounting systems (pause to take a deep breath).

Just imagine how a workflow like this could save you time, optimize revenue, and preserve your sanity all while still delighting your customer in the most bespoke manner? This is the future we’re working toward and we want you there with us.

Chapter 4: The Importance of Personalization and Automation

Consumers spent billions on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) wine shipments in 2018, and according to the Silicon Valley Bank Report, DTC sales make up 61 percent of the average family winery’s revenue today. And you can bet the wineries with the largest chunk of those online sales know a thing or two about eCommerce personalization and automation.

If you’re not familiar with these two powerful marketing tools, you should be. It’s no longer enough to simply make your wine or beer available online. In order to attract and retain customers, you’ve got to make every shopper feel like you know them.

Thankfully, with a few simple tweaks to your eCommerce site, you can serve up an online shopping experience practically tailor-made to your customer’s needs—and streamline your winery’s marketing efforts in the process.

Before we dive into how these tools can help you increase profits, let’s cover the basics.

PERSONALIZATION

The practice of creating personal interactions and experiences on your eCommerce site through individualized offers, product recommendations, and other content based on your website visitors’ previous actions, demographics, and other personal data.

AUtomation

The combination of software and processes that help eCommerce businesses simplify workflows and eliminate repetitive tasks to deliver personalization.

In short, personalization ensures your messages are relevant to your customers, while automation helps you deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time. Your eCommerce site needs both in order to deliver an outstanding customer experience.

The Benefits of Personalization

winery DTC personalization

These days, customers expect personalization when they shop online. Smart Insights, a publisher and learning platform for digital marketers, revealed some statistics that prove this point.

Now that you know how much your customers will appreciate personalization on your website—and how much more they’ll be likely to spend—you need to understand your customers so you can deliver a more personalized experience.

The Beauty of Automation Technology

Marketing automation helps you stay connected with your target audience—and find more people just like them so you can grow your sales online. Once you’ve flagged a customer in your software, you can set and (almost) forget your marketing campaigns to target people based on their behavior, preferences and previous sales.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF AUTOMATED EMAILS YOU CAN SCHEDULE TO BE SENT:

  • Welcome new wine club subscribers to the program

  • Reach out to people who abandon online shopping carts

  • Win back lapsed customers with special offers

  • Share blog updates from your RSS feed

  • Remind wine club members to resubscribe

  • Send birthday messages to customers

As you can see, automation helps eliminate repetitive marketing tasks, freeing up your staff to focus on other aspects of running your winery.

What You Need for Automation

To automate emails like the ones mentioned above, you’ll need Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software from a vendor such as HubSpot, Salesforce, or MailChimp. These programs automatically track the interactions you have with your customers and potential customers.

To take full advantage of your CRM’s capabilities, you’ll also need to connect your eCommerce, social media, and other online systems through Automatic Programming Interfaces (APIs) and webhooks. These allow your systems to automatically “talk to each other” and retrieve the information they need to automate tasks.

APIs, for example, can automatically grab twitter mentions of your business and post them on your blog. And webhooks can automatically credit a customer’s account with a discount promotion once they’ve purchased a certain number of bottles.

As technology continues to transform how people shop, wineries that use personalization—and its time-saving partner automation—will come out ahead. Creating a customized customer experience will not only increase retention and drives new sales, but it will also ensure your winery has an infrastructure in place to simplify managing the future growth of your business.

Get more out of every interaction with personalization and automation. Schedule a demo to learn more.

Chapter 5: How to Select DTC Systems

So how do you select the right systems to connect via a hub-and-spoke model in order to improve the customer experience? Well, first consider, that your DTC systems should help you stay organized, cut down on repetitive tasks, and free you up to do what you’re best at—make delicious wine.

If You Try to Do Everything, You'll Accomplish Nothing

You have options when it comes to your eCommerce provider. From hub-and-spoke to all-in-one solutions, there are a variety of platforms out there and many promise to solve all of your problems.

That’s not VineSpring’s promise. In reality, it’s impossible to do everything and do it well. As you know by now, we focus on our strengths; winery eCommerce and club management. We then leverage the best solutions that exist to provide our clients with access to world-class email, point-of-sale (POS), accounting, and compliance.

Leveraging the Power of Experts

There are plenty of software platforms that exist that are excellent in the areas we’re not. Instead of trying to create our own email solution from scratch, we’ve chosen to integrate with MailChimp, a worldwide respected leader in email marketing. We leave POS up to Square, another widely used solution whose sole focus is to make the purchasing process as simple as possible for both the consumer and the seller. And, we integrate with Quickbooks for easy bookkeeping and connect with compliance partners to enable our clients to work with the compliance provider that makes the most sense for their business.

We are constantly assessing complementary systems to ensure that we’re integrating with the right software and the right partners to best serve our clients.

All-in-one solutions may appear more straightforward. You only have one vendor to work with, right? But in our experience, we’ve found it’s best to build a platform with expert solutions to work for your winery. Best-in-class solutions know all there is to know about a single problem and solution and are constantly working to solve that problem.

To get a visual of the DTC options available, check out Paul Mabray’s Wine DTC Matrix.

Combining the Best to Simplify Your Business

As wine eCommerce experts, the VineSpring team is not only technically savvy but includes winemakers and former tasting room managers. We know your pain first-hand, and the realities and demands of the beverage alcohol business.

The DTC channel is a huge revenue-driver for wineries. But, it’s also complex and evolving. Our sole purpose is to make our customers lives less complicated by providing tools that make DTC eCommerce simple and making club management straightforward and fun. You’ve worked hard to build relationships in the tasting room, and our job is to provide a system that enables you to nurture those relationships beyond the walls of your winery to grow your business.

Beyond eCommerce and club management, we work to offer our customers the very best suite of solutions for their business.

Qualities to Look For

Here are a few of the qualities we look for when choosing solutions to integrate with:

EASE OF USE

Our clients don’t have time to learn complicated software applications. Their goal is to sell more wine and we want to put the pieces in place to make that easier. When choosing who to integrate with and recommend to our clients, we look for solutions that are intuitive and easy to learn.

INNOVATION

A bonus to using best-in-class solutions is that they have dedicated teams solely focused on making their product better and constantly innovating. Your business and the industry are rapidly changing and you need technology that can keep up. When you integrate with our recommended systems, you aren’t just getting what they have to offer today; you also get to take advantage of future updates and features.

TRUST

VineSpring partners are trusted. Every solution that we integrate with is widely used by both major corporations and smaller local businesses. They are industry leaders and award winners that have sustainable business models, which means they will be around for a while.

ACCESSIBILITY

The barriers to entry for our integration partners is low. With minimal (and sometimes free) price tags and dedicated support, you should have no problem getting started.

To learn more about our DTC vendor selection standards, enroll in the Guide to Choosing DTC Vendors.

What’s the Catch With Best-In-Class Solutions?

You may be thinking, “Okay, I see the upside of the best-in-class solution approach, but it seems like a lot of work to manage more than one vendor.” You’re right. It can be a lot of work. That’s why the criteria we shared above is so important.

By integrating with the easiest to use, most innovative, and trusted systems, connecting and adopting them is much easier than you might expect. We believe it’s worth it to have the best. It creates a better experience for you, your team, and your customers.


Would you like a one-on-one tour to learn how VineSpring could work for your business?