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To succeed online takes hard work, time and money independents are warned

Published:  06 March, 2015

Driving online sales may be a priority for independent wine merchants, but to do it successfully requires a lot of hard work, takes up a great deal of time and crucially costs a lot of money.

These were the stark warnings laid out to retailers at this week's March for the Independents conference held by Harpers by a panel of online experts that included Ruth Yates of Corks Out, Chris Poad of Amazon and Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, owner of French winery Domaine of the Bee.

But get it right and it can become a vital and growing source of revenue and profit.

"It is a never-ending battle online. It is a shop that never closes. You have to be on it 24/7 because people are shopping online 24/7," said Yates at Corks Out, who admitted it has only been in the past two years that she has turned a profit online after eight years and five different websites.

Howard-Sneyd agreed that going online is not just about building an effective website. "There is this mentality that if you build it, they will come. But you do and no one notices."

Ruth YatesRuth Yates

To manage and run her website and social media channels, Yates has hired two full-time and one part-time staff members. She said: "Google is something you have to feed all the time and SEO management is critical. You are out there competing against the Naked Wines and the Amazons."

Yates estimated the cost of getting her website right was the same as opening a new store.

Justin Howard-SneydJustin Howard-Sneyd

Howard-Sneyd urged independents to "play to your 'localness'. To build an online community you need to participate and be active in your community. This can help build online traffic," he said.

The key to online success, stressed Poad, was to get the basics right. "That is where Amazon focuses 90% of its time," he explained. "It is critical to watch inventory management. You have to offer different delivery options as people can't always be at home. Prices have to be competitive and you need a wide product selection."

Chris Poad Chris Poad

If you mess up any one of these elements, then there is always another website only a click away, added Poad.

Despite all the work, being online is critical to both Yates' and Howard-Sneyd's businesses. "It allows me to be in areas that I don't have a physical location. For example, 85% of my online business is in London," said Yates. "It is a lot of work, but it is also 16% of our business now."