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LWF: Why Wine-Searcher has gone mobile first, and why you should too

Published:  22 May, 2018

Optimise your site for both mobile and desktop browsing or risk getting nudged out by the competition was the advice at a seminar on selling wine online this morning.

With the number of mobile searches increasing worldwide and Google’s new mobile-first indexing system giving precedence to mobile versions of websites, Tuesday’s first talk at the London Wine Fair’s innovation zone focused on how to survive in an increasingly “mobile orientated world”.

Hints and tips came courtesy of David Allen MW, wine director at Wine-Searcher, which has made significant changes to its digital strategy after mobile searches on the platform surpassed desktop searches for the first time in 2017.

According to Wine-Searcher, 57% of the app’s 34 million users last year used their mobile phones to browse and discover products.

This is in comparison to 2012, when 61% used the Wine-Searcher desktop site and only 26% mobile.

Tablet usage had remained largely the same, around 10%.

“The digital landscape is changing, largely through the move to mobile,” Allen said. “Google says people are searching primarily on mobile which is why they’ve switched to mobile first indexing. We’ve seen that happening too. Our biggest market is China where WeChat is crucially important.

“Also adding to this is that mobile broadband has become twice as cheap in the past few years while fixed broadband has doubled in price. Mobile is evolving fast and as an industry we are slightly behind, which isn’t unusual in the wine trade.”

Wine-Searcher has now completed the overhaul of its separate mobile and desktop platforms by merging the two.

Making mobile functionality as good as desktop should equally be a priority for companies with an online presence, Allen said.

But he also stressed that digital strategies should reflect how consumers are using platforms in different ways.

“People are looking things up on their phones then buying through desktop, which isn’t unusual for major purchases,” Allen concluded.

As part of his seven steps to help users buy online, he also advocated making the wine buying process “as robust and simple as possible”.

Even if a site, like Wine-Searcher, doesn’t have a marketplace – Wine-Searcher doesn’t sell wine, only refers users to merchants – operators should offer a wish list or place for consumers to save their selected wines to then order over the phone.

These changes are now crucial, he said, in the context of mobile-orientated disrupters like Drizzly which is now operating in 70 US cities as the liquor equivalent of Amazon: “Drizzly operates primarily through the mobile app, and delivers to consumers within 20-40 minutes by working with local partners. By not being set up for mobile, wine businesses are allowing sites like Uber, Vivino and Deliveroo to gain traction.”

The mobile first strategy is the latest chapter in Wine-Searcher’s evolving business model, which was founded as one of the first .coms in 1999.

Now it is also focusing on developing its interactive elements with a newly launched wine-recommending chatbot and plans to improve the speed at which it can respond to consumer needs.

“We’ve moved away from being a price comparison tool to showing people the whole market. I could see within five or six year’s time being able to show real time inventory. That would involve collecting stock information from each location before linking it to our discover tool, which could be particularly effective. That also means moving towards a voice activated recognition engine. But we need extra infrastructure to make that work.”

Wine-Searcher is also developing its software to make it easier and quicker for consumers to search for wines using computer vision technology.

Until recently, the app’s image scanner only recognised the shape of the label.

But in recent months, the platform has added a more sophisticated text recognition function with plans to improve the scanner’s ability to pick out details like producer, region, grape variety and vintage and matching these details with search listings.