Wine E-Commerce: VineSpring Review
By Courtney Holmes
VineSpring has been around for only two and a half years and 130 wineries are already using their e-commerce platform. Chris Towt and his partner, Jamison Morrow, got together because Chris saw a need in the industry that his wife worked in. He connected with Jamison and the VineSping startup was born. I knew I needed to interview them for my next wine e-commere review because Paul Mabray, from Vintank, said they offered a good solution at a good price.
Cool Wine E-commerce Features:
Vinespring has a sophisticated inventory management system. It does have to be manually set up but once it is you will see that you can set different types of inventory: tasting room inventory, fulfillment inventory and/or distribution inventory. You can set thresholds for online orders so that you do not sell out completey - but it won't stop someone from ordering if, for example, the inventory threshold is set at 60 bottles of 2012 pinot noir, inventory is currently at 65 and an online order is placed for a case of 2012 pinot noir. The online order would still go through, but then no one else would be able to order that pinot online until inventory is replenished or the threshold lowered.
You can send highly customizable promotions through the included customer relation management (CRM) feature. For example, you should be able to set any parameter for the promotion. Chris showed me how you could send a promotion to anyone who has gone to your harvest party and offer them 15% discount on a vintage of wine. It would be great to see more wineries use VineSpring's promotional features to promote wine club retention. For example, send your wine club members of a 3+ year tenure the opportunity to buy a special library wine that you have in very limited production. Also let your newest wine club members know that the longer they stay a member the more privelages they get as a member. It is great to give more benefits to higher wine club levels, but keeping members is just as important - if not more important.
BTW - Vinespring can even give promotions based off of geolocation, much like FourSquare or Facebook check-ins. For example, you can send email promotions to customers who purchased more than $100 worth of wine in the last year who live within 50 miles of Los Angeles. This comes in super handy when you are throwing a wine dinner in LA and only want to invite top clients.
They have two cool login features that I think are unique. The first is that every email the customer gets includes a unique "token." That way they are auto-logged into your website if they click on a link from the email to your website.
Also, their new version, Vinespring 2.0, utilizes "Facebook Connect." So if someone doesn't want to keep a seperate login and password, or has simply forgotten their password, they can login to the winery's website using their Facebook credentials instead. Facebook Connect has saved me in many forgotten password moments!
The winery can get very specific on their shipping rates. I have heard mentioned that it is better to offer complimentary shipping or 1 cent shipping and just shift your online rates up by about 13% and eat the remaining 10% cost of shipping that you would pay to ship. The expectation is that you will make up the cost in the increase in online sales.
But if you don't want to go that route, you can set up very specific shipping fees based on weight or item amount.
If you are a workaholic or just a person that can't stay connected to your desktop, Vinespring's administrative side is responsive. That means that you can manage your winery on your smart phone or tablet. Ever get frustrated because you have to scroll awkwardly or because buttons don't work right when viewing a website on your mobile phone or tablet? That is because the site isn't responsive. Vinespring is responsive.
At Vinespring they are big on security. Even though credit cards are stored in their system, the customer still has to enter their credit card each time. Unless of course, you are processing a wine club shipment.
This may be my only qualm. I love Amazon's one-click ordering. And I think that wineries would be able to sell more DTC if they had one-click ordering.
What I Love about This Wine E-commerce Platform
I believe it was in Rework or 37Signals' blog, about 2 years ago, when I read about how their product management software, BaseCamp, was getting "revised." It was their approach to this development that really stuck in my mind. Instead of building on top of their current programming foundation, they decided to start from scratch. Buidling on top of a foundation can be really helpful, but has limitations, especially in software development. In fact, this is the limitation of many Microsoft based platforms. Company's buy the Microsoft infrastructure and then build on top of it to fit a niche, as many company's have done in the wine e-commerce sphere. Sometimes they have to use work arounds or are unable to make adaptions to the software to fit the needs of the customer.
In fact, this is why our process avoids web design templates for our clients. If we are limited by the template we often can't make accommodations to the designs that client requests. Luckily I learned that early on and was able to partner with an amazing programmer that can make all our client's dreams happen. But I digress.
Basecamp, Hemingway and Vinespring each have the same methodology. To get to the real good stuff they are rewriting everything. Hemingway would write the first draft of a short story and then throw it away. The published short story was really the second draft rewritten. I have followed Hemingway's methodology and have huge respect for Vinespring following Basecamp's. Vinespring is in their soft launch phase of their version 2.0 platform. The admin side of the tool is more intuitive and is really easy for programmers to integrate their web design into.
The price is one of the best out there, $150/month with just a $1000 activation fee and no commission fees for online transactions. This is half the price of some of the wine e-commerce platforms and it should also lower your website design programming fees because it is much less labor intensive to intergrate than it's competitors. Also, the e-commerce design is completely customizable - even for the most creative features. Huge plus for our winery website design services! We hate nothing more than creating a beautiful homepage and subpage design, than to have the site redirected to a generic looking wine list and wine product page.
Ideal Wineries for VineSpring E-commerce Platform
Chris says that the ideal wineries for his platform are wineries with a production of 10,000 cases per year or less. He said that this is because of the price. But I am not sure why it wouldn't be ideal for a higher volume producers. It might be because it doesn't have real time integration with fulfillment houses. But Chris and I spoke about this and Wine Direct is one of just a few fullfillment houses that pull products from the warehouse as soon as the order is placed. Many fulfillment houses pull products to ship in 4 - 6 hour intervals. So if the report is emailed to the fulfillment house each day at a select time, it shouldn't effect the delivery time too much. But if the winery integrates Vinespring with Ship Complaint, real time fulfillment can happen as well - with fulfillment houses that offer that service and work with Ship Compliant as well.
Another reason that higher volume wineries would want to upgrade to a platform like Vin65, the higher priced competitor, is because Vin65 is closer to having a more robust CRM feature. Vinespring can view email and website engagement per customer. Vin65, though, can track point of sale, social media and fulfillment engagement in addition to email and website engagement. Bigger producers have more staff to analyze this data, smaller producers just don't have the bandwidth to understand this data. But then again - we are a small company and we have a very robust CRM, but I love geeking out over that data! So I guess I would say that even a 10,000 case or less producer can get value out of Vin65 if they have a team member, to manage their marketing decisions, who really values that data.
But Vinespring is getting there. They are developing a cloudbased POS and may be developing partnerships with key fulfillment houses for real time fulfillment.
When choosing a wine e-commerce provider it is really important that you know what applications they integrate with and which ones they do not. Vinespring does not integrate with Point of Sales systems like VinNow. They don't integrate with any other email marketing software except MailChimp (the only email marketing software I recommend). They do integrate with Ship Compliant as I have already mentioned. And you must use authorize.net as your payment gateway (your online merchant security provider).