Q&A with Paul Mabray: Jumpstart your digital transformation

by | Nov 2, 2020 | Article

Paul Mabray has been banging the digital drum for many years, but has often been left frustrated by the unwillingness of some wine companies to take ecommerce seriously. Not anymore. Covid-19 has forced consumers and wine businesses online like never before. We speak to Paul about making the most of digital.


Q: Ecommerce is not a new concept, yet South Africa is currently experiencing a boom in online wine sales. Has Covid-19 reshaped the way consumers purchase wine?

Covid-19 was a catalyst for many tectonic business shifts, but especially for online sales and marketing across most industries. For wine, it was such a stark change because we’re an industry that has traditionally struggled with making the internet a priority.

Q: Is this upsurge in ecommerce attributed to wine businesses adapting to the Covid-19 crisis?

No question. But what’s interesting is while consumer behaviours have leapfrogged forward, the demand, the tech and the ability to deliver was always there. Now, we need to draft these new winds to greater success and sustainability. To be clear, ecommerce is just one pillar of a larger change for our industry: the acceleration into digital sales and marketing.

Q: What about those who fail to ‘get with the programme’? Are they in danger of getting left behind?

Absolutely. The world has already left us behind and that’s why we’re experiencing whiplash by the rapid changes to digital. The reality is these changes represent something larger: our ability to adapt to a changing landscape. And as in nature, those who do not adapt, go extinct. To quote my friend Brian Solis: “Darwinism is the phenomenon when technology and society evolve faster than an organisation can adapt.”

Q: What are the notable benefits and challenges of ecommerce for wine businesses?

The benefits include a more profitable, scalable and expansive channel that’s frequented by most consumers in our major markets. But with a new channel, especially one where we haven’t invested time or resources, we have a dearth of people, programmes and processes to power this channel. So, we’re starting at a deficit and it requires additional cash and increased attention to catch up.

Q: Any notable data findings with ecommerce that’s really stood out for you?

I think what’s amazing is the number of consumers who have purchased directly from wineries versus alcohol-beverage retailers where the selection, price, and often shipping are more appealing and competitive.

Q: Digital wine sales are often an easy sell for established wine brands. But what about emerging wine businesses who rely on putting ‘glasses in hands’ or telling their stories to sell wine?

Unfortunately, digital sales for established brands is also challenging because they struggle with channel conflict and value exchange for consumers who can buy the brands at local stores. If a wine has brand and taste awareness, it’s easier for a consumer to seek them out via the web. But the reality is that the internet is a great equaliser. The medium allows for small brands with strong messaging and marketing to compete toe-to-toe with larger brands. The age of DNVBs (Digital Native Vertical Brands) has proven this. Brands like All-Birds, Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Hint Water were all born on the internet to compete with giants. The problem with big and small brands is how do we inspire people with wine on the internet without tasting it? The good news is that the problem hasn’t been fully solved and therein lies the opportunity.

Q: Any best-practice tips for wine businesses looking to play in the ecommerce space?

The irony of digital and ecommerce is that the solutions for best practices are 100% human. Firstly, focus on value exchange with the customer that would make them buy your wine over someone else’s brand online. Secondly, put the customer first throughout the entire experience (marketing, messaging, shopping and service). Finally, invest in a culture and team that starts with digital first and invest in sales and marketing research and development. In essence, that’s a company that values the efficiency and efficacy of digital tools while maintaining a culture of adaption. That’s the DNA of success. Everything else is just tools and tactics.

About Paul Mabray

As CEO of Emetry, Paul Mabray is a powerful agent of change, and at the forefront of all major digital trends for the wine industry. He’s worked with wineshopper.com and wine.com when they entered the ecommerce space, and founded two companies that significantly changed the US wine landscape for digital. First by introducing winery ecommerce with Inertia Beverage Group (later winedirect.com) and introducing social customer relationship management with vintank.com. Paul is regarded as the wine industry’s foremost futurist and thought-leader. He is a confirmed guest speaker at the 2020 Wesgro Wine and Food Tourism Conference on 2 December, to be held at Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate in Hermanus.

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