Published 6 October 2010
I’m a cross-breed: half wine obsessive, half geek. So my idea of heaven came true recently when I went up to Naked Wines’ offices to help them with their website optimization. Is their’s the best consumer-facing wine website in the UK? With its mixture of sensible pricing, direct relationships with winemakers, and a fantastic social networking platform, it is certainly up there.
Devised by former Virgin Wines chief, Rowan Gormley, Naked Wines was launched in December 2008. Privately funded (they raised some finance from a German family company for the initial start up and the staff all own shares in the company), and having a mutually beneficial relationship with Jamie Oliver Corp., it has gone from strength to strength, with over 70,000 customers to date. Although this is a small percentage of the wine business – in comparison, the giant that is Direct Wines (encompassing Virgin Wines, Laithwaites, Averys, The Sunday Times Wine Club and many others), claims to have around 700,000 customers per year (selling an annual 30 million bottles) – Naked Wines interact with their customers to give them a personal service.
My visit was all about seeing how users interact with Naked Wines’ website. Do customers act as the Naked Wine team expects them to? Do the users experience what was intended? For those of you not in web development, you probably think that this is easy: surely everyone follows the same patterns when they use the web? Find the “typical user” and just meet their needs. Well, I can tell you that every user if different and there is no such thing as a typical user. For instance, some users go straight to the ‘search’ box when they enter a site; others will move around the site using the navigational toolbars and links. Don’t worry, everyone thinks that how they use the web is the norm, and didn’t even know that there are “weirdos” out there using the web differently.
The starting point when running usability studies is that everyone’s site can be improved. Regardless of how long you lovingly pour energy into building a website, once you watch “real people” using it, you quickly find that it’s not being used as you expected. Surprisingly, millions of companies don’t bother running usability tests. They don’t seem to care how their site is used in the real world. They think that their site is perfect, or at least, acceptable for what they want. They are ignorant of the problems that their customers have to put up with just to use their site. Basic usability studies can be as simple as watching a few people using your site, but still many companies don’t bother. As Steve Krug (a usability guru) says “Doing this kind of testing is enormously valuable if you do it, and people don’t do it because they have the impression that it’s more complicated than it needs to be.”
Happily, and not surprisingly, Naked Wines does have a usability programme. They do care how their customers use their site. Naked does want to make sure that you can do what you want on their site and that their site is easy to use. They have a great business plan: they buy wines direct from the growers, sell them directly to the UK public, and don’t spend money on advertising – meaning that more of the money you spend is paying for wine, not spin. Their “Angel” programme gets customers to pay £20 per month which they can use to buy what they like, enabling Naked to help winemakers with cashflow ahead of each year’s harvest: in return, the Angel gets 33% cashback on certain wines. There’s even a refund policy if you decide you don’t want to buy wines afterall.
Does their site work? Yes. Is it perfect? Of course not. But, unlike nearly every other UK wine company, Naked is using new technologies such as social media to involve customers in what they do. And, they are finding out what works and what doesn’t. They are spending time listening to their customers. And when it isn’t working for their customers, they are fixing the problem. If you want a lesson in how social media can produce excellent customer service, just follow@nakedwines and see how they deal with unhappy customers. You can never please everyone all of the time, but you have a choice of using new technologies to help you convert more of them into happy customers, or you can stick your head in the sand.
Now go and order a case of wine and you’ll see what I mean…
P.S. Naked Wines has kindly offered friends of Bigpinots a £60 discount on their first order. Just click here.