The Wine Collective's mission to personalise customers' online purchasing process

The 80-person company has big aspirations to become the 'Amazon of the wine world'.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor
Image: The Wine Collective

Online wine merchant The Wine Collective (TWC) is on a mission to reform the way the wine industry sells to consumers.

Part of achieving that, according to TWC's CEO Lloyd Heinrich, would be to build an advanced personalisation engine to ensure that it's 400,000 customers are provided with customised wine recommendations each time they shop with TWC -- a process that currently happens manually.

"What we know from our 75 years history of working with customers in wine is people want to go on a wine journey … [and] we've been taking customers on that wine journey and helping them learn and grow their wine taste, profile, and understanding what they like and don't like," he said.

"But for 75 years, we've been doing that quite manually. We have personal wine advisors, so people who are like a personal sommelier who connects with individual customers, but largely that information is stored as part of that human to human connection."

"We know customers are going online and we've seen that trend grow. But we still want that same connection to be made by us understanding what you've viewed, what you've browsed, what you like, the wines you've tried, the ones you've rated ... what we aspire to do with that information is to turn your personal shopping experience into one that suits you."  

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"That means when you visit The Wine Collective website it looks completely different to when I arrive on The Wine Collective website; it's basically your own personal wine store."

Heinrich highlighted how product personalisation is "absolutely critical" when it comes to purchasing wine.

"If you came to our store, and I just put 10,000 products in front of you there are not many mortals on the earth who would know where to go. So, we're building the infrastructure to refine that, and to really take you on the journey of the wine world that is relevant to you," Heinrich said.

Getting the back end right

One major technology component that is underpinning the build of this engine is TWC's cloud-based infrastructure stack. 

However, the stack itself has not always functioned as seamlessly as it does today. Rather, it had been the opposite. Heinrich explained that when TWC was born in late 2017 from the merger of The Wine Society and the Online Liquor Group -- owner of Cracka Wines -- the process of marrying the systems of both companies was a challenge.

Heinrich said there were instances where customer orders were left unfulfilled because inventory was not updated in real time and other processes were not as "digitally focused as we would have liked them to be".

As a result, the 80-person company introduced Boomi as the middleware layer to overcome these issues.

"We had quite a complex mix of technologies in the stack and so, we really wanted to consolidate that stack to something that would be operational across the whole group of businesses," Heinrich said.

"Cracka was formed in the early days of e-commerce where we hadn't really got our heads around architectural designs of technical stacks. We threw a lot of stuff together to try and get to market really fast. Cracka had been formed with a bit of spaghetti infrastructure in place."

"The Wine Society, on the other hand, had moved too slowly … and was stuck with an enterprise architecture that was very cumbersome, clunky, and slow-moving."

"The integration of our Netsuite ERP with an off-the-shelf front-end -- being Shopify -- was where we saw the middle ground of being able to move quickly without losing architectural stability."

Connecting NetSuite with Shopify through Boomi has since helped TWC automate its back-end processes, which includes order management, warehousing, inventory and product data, and shipping, Heinrich said.

"Our journey has really been around developing that technical stack, which will enable us to incorporate third-party inventory into our system."

Aiming for the stars

Eventually, the wine merchant wants to build a marketplace that Heinrich dubbed would become the "Amazon of the wine world".

"We're looking forward to a marketplace build where we're probably the biggest marketplace that will give customers access to a huge range of products that they've never been able to access before," he said.

Heinrich envisions the marketplace would be a platform where independent wine producers worldwide could easily integrate and sell their wines.

"We really support the artisans of the wine world and there are literally tens of thousands globally who don't have representation in a major supermarket," he said.

"The modern consumer wants access to that stuff, and they will only get access to that stuff digitally because you can't have a shop with 100,000 products in it -- but you can have an online store with that product range."

He added how in the last two months -- where customer orders have tripled and inventory levels have more than doubled -- the need for a marketplace has become even more apparent. 

"We have a whole heap of partners who have lots of wine in their warehouses. Previously, they would select maybe half of the wines available and float those through to us for sale. The other half has largely been available on-premises, so restaurants and bars, but they're now all available to us online [due to COVID-19]," Heinrich said.

"We've had to move much more quickly on ramping up our capabilities on listing, sorting, and being able to take and fulfil orders. Our range and assortment have gone from 2,000 products up to 4,500 products in the last two months."

As part of next steps, the company plans to integrate its FromTheProducer website with TWC's in the next 12 months to further cement its plans to build the marketplace.

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