Wine Kiosks Alienating Wine Buyers. Oops!

Pennsylvania liquor stores have tried to be cutting edge. They are among the many wine merchants nationwide that are experimenting with self-serve wine kiosks. But Keystone State wine buyers are apparently rebelling, raising the possibility that the designers of wine kiosks may not have thought long enough about the wine-buying process.

Earlier this year, Amazon's Kindle learned a similar lesson, when it had assumed that Kindles would be a smash hit with college students weary of carrying 100 pounds of textbooks on their backs. Seems that the lack of an ability to scribble notes in the margins was a surprise deal-killer.

With the wine kiosks, the apparently overlooked fact is the experience of wine buying, which means looking at labels, examining the cork through the glass bottle's neck and possibly reading the description and winery codes. By reducing the experience to selecting a wine by name, the whole point of the wine-shopping experience is missed.

It's akin to Amazon's early discovery that bookstore shoppers like to browse. That knowledge made its expanded look-inside-the-book feature a killer capability. It's all about understanding what makes shoppers shop. If they wanted a mechanical instant experience, E-Commerce and Mobile Commerce are quite capable of delivering that. In-store needs to be much more.

Well-designed and well-thought-out kiosks can extend that experience and really pull customers in. And pull in the customers who are most desired, meaning the volume buyers. For a wine store, that means catering to the serious wine buyers--or at least understanding them. Done properly, the features that would entice those volume buyers shouldn't discourage casual buyers.

In a nicely done piece by Retail Customer Experience, the story questioned the strategy of the wine kiosk makers.

"So if you had a bunch of grocery stores, and those grocery stores sold wine, but you didn't really want people to buy any wine, what would you do?" the story asked. "You might force people to peer through the front door of this cabinet to try to read the name of the wine they think they might want to buy, and force them to remember it until they walk down to the end of the cabinet where they are forced to swipe their credit card in order to buy the bottle. That is, if they don't have to stand on line waiting to use the machine, which is, of course, the only way to buy a bottle of wine."

The story also expressed concern about the kiosk's capability to detect whether the customer is already drunk before selling him or her alcohol.

"I think that's incredibly restrictive," Retail Customer Experience quoted Neal Ward, sommelier at The English Grill in Louisville, Ky., a AAA Four Diamond restaurant with a wine cellar that is considered to be one of the best in the Midwest. "You have to prove that you're not drinking in order to buy a bottle of wine? Come on, that smacks of Big Brother. I don't see where forcing a person to take a breathalyzer test serves any good purpose other than to frustrate the consumer."