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Interview, Part 2: Wine.com’s Rich Bergsund And Michael Osborn

November 29, 2017

In the second part of our interview with Wine.com, CEO Rich Bergsund and founder and vice president, merchandising Michael Osborn discuss a host of new customer-focused initiatives at the online retailer, as well as the company’s fresh marketing push.

SND: What features do your new website and app bring to the table?

Bergsund: As our assortment has grown, so has the potential for confusion. So, along with better organization and navigation, we created a new live chat resource, run by Mike’s wife, Gwendolyn Osborn. She has assembled a team of wine experts located primarily in New York and San Francisco to man the live chat. They’re non-commissioned, low-pressure, and just there to help with recommendations. We have suppliers ask all the time if this team can push their specific wine, but we have to say no. That’s not the purpose. The live chat team is being measured by their success in helping the customer find the right wine. The customer gives a thumbs-up or -down rating after each experience, and so far it’s 95% thumbs-up. On the app, you can now scan the label of a particular wine and bring up all the content we offer for the brand on the website—including vintage-specific content and the ability to buy with one click. You can also give the wine a rating through the app, and through those ratings we can recommend other wines you might like. We’ve also developed a pickup option in partnership with FedEx. From your Wine.com shopping cart you can now choose the nearest local pickup site, of which there are currently over 10,000—including thousands of Walgreens and FedEx Office locations, as well as other retailers like Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Fred Meyer and others.

SND: How are you looking to recruit new consumers?

Bergsund: On top of our newer features we’re adding more marketing. The lifetime value of our customers is growing over time, especially as more people join the $49 membership program. That enables us to do more advertising. We do mostly digital—search engine and email marketing, along with some social media. More recently we’ve added traditional forms like direct mail and TV. We’re doing TV ads in New York and San Francisco, targeting sports and news programs.

SND: How does your business break down in terms of domestic wines versus imports?

Osborn: Imports are about 51% of our business. Part of the folklore in the wine business is that New Yorkers buy imports, Californians buy California wine, Texans only buy domestic, and so on. It turns out that we’re 51% imports in all three of those states. Overall, of course, the market is about 70% or more domestic. But a lot of retailers stack the deck against choice, against selection. If a retailer is convinced that customers won’t buy South African wines, and doesn’t stock any, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our philosophy is to offer the most diverse selection we can—shoot the gatekeepers and let the consumers decide.

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