Hand-selling remains essential skill

23 July, 2010

Q I’m planning on thoroughly training my shop staff to help them really understand how to hand-sell wine to customers. But is there any evidence that consumers buy more if a wine is recommended by sales people???A Actually, UK consumers are less likely to be swayed by staff recommendations than in six other major countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and the US. Wine Intelligence quizzed regular wine drinkers in each of those markets about things that motivate them over wine choices.

In Finland, 64% of respondents said staff advice was important, in Canada, 47%, and in the US, 44% of wine drinkers clearly valued these recommendations. In the UK, the figure was just 21%.

But that does not mean staff training is a waste of your money – far from it. The survey focused on all regular wine drinkers, from those who buy a bottle of rosé once a month to connoisseurs who have accounts at upmarket merchants. Since supermarkets sell the majority of wine in this country, that’s naturally where most respondents shop, and in that retail environment it’s not common to get advice from a member of staff.

That also accounts for the list of buying cues in the UK being headed by “the promotional offer” – which 75% of respondents described as important.

Independents are clearly operating in a different part of the market, where hand-selling is an essential skill. Anyone in retail can benefit from some refresher training in sales technique – the most important thing is that your staff are given the opportunity to sample the wines you want them to enthuse about.

Q Is there a foolproof way to check whether a wine is genuine without actually opening the bottle???A Traditionally, fine wine dealers and auction houses have relied on human expertise to ascertain if stock is what it purports to be.

This involves checking the wine’s provenance, and sampling some of what’s being offered. This ought to protect them from being duped, but clearly the system is not foolproof.

Various “robot” devices have been trialled, which are designed to provide a more foolproof way of tasting wine. Again, it is necessary to uncork the bottle so they can get at the liquid.

The future of this technology would appear to be infrared. One Australian company, Jeffress Engineering, has introduced a device called Bevscan, which passes a beam of light through unopened bottles. It is building up a database of fine wines, each with its?own molecular “fingerprint”, which can be matched up against samples submitted for testing.

Don’t reckon on keeping a Bevscan under the counter, though: the device is likely to cost US$29,000 when it’s released later this year. So if you can’t find someone who’s got one, you may need to uncork those bottles after all.

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