Wine journalists descended on the bijou Companie des Vins Surnaturels in London's Covent Garden last week to hear how online retailer Vente-Privee plans to sell €2m of wine in its first year in the UK.
Specialising in flash sales, with limited offers on everything from fashion to travel, Vente-Privee has featured wine and spirits on its sites in other European countries since 2006, selling 3.3m bottles in 2013 alone.
Co-founder Xavier Court was bullish about the prospects of the newly-launched UK arm, estimating that wine sales would hit €2m in the first year. ‘We don’t mind if it’s less; if it’s more, great,’ he told journalists.
This optimism doesn’t seem misplaced in the context of Vente-Privee’s growth since it launched in 2001. In 2013, the business turned over €1.6bn (€36m on wine), 20% up on the year before. It has 18m registered members, 11m of whom made a purchase during 2013.
Its UK plan is to offer eight flash sales on wine each month, each lasting up to five days. UK duty tax means that the average discount on the retail price is lower than in some other markets, at around 30–40%.
If buyers like the wine, they must hunt for more via the website of the producer or their agent buy it at the usual price.
Good discounts can be had, and on good names. Wines from regular Decanter World Wine Awards winner Albert Bichot were on sale at the time of writing, while other wineries signed up include Châteaux Giscours and Haut-Brion, and Michel Chapoutier.
The attraction to the wineries, beyond the sales, is exposure to a massive online audience. The flipside for the buyer is the long lead time for delivery – three weeks, because Vente-Privee holds no stock – and the delivery charge, which can be higher than through traditional UK merchants.
Court believes that the future of commerce lies in a mix of online and offline channels.
Without doubt there are bargains to be had here for the impulse buyer and, given the success of Groupon, Living Social and all the other flash sale sites whose emails clog up millions of inboxes every morning, Vente-Privee will probably continue on its upward trajectory.
Amy Wislocki is Decanter managing editor
Written by Amy Wislocki