On DecanterChina.com Terry Xu explores the Chinese perspective on wine apps, many of which are relevant across the entire wine world.
Terry Xu is one of the prominent wine communicators in China. In his column this week on DecanterChina.com he explores the Chinese perspective on wine apps. Many of the issues the Chinese face are relevant across most world markets, including the market leaders and any possible gaps.
Do we really need a wine app?
I used to have over 10 different wine apps on my smart phone, until my phone broke last year. I reset the phone’s system, and after three months I was shocked to realise that I had survived without re-installing any wine-related apps.
As a fairly senior person working in the wine business, I should possibly feel deeply ashamed and sorry for this. But it made me think – do we really need wine apps on our phones?
In the country [China] with the highest number of smart phones and most mobile internet usage (over 600 million people use the internet on their phone), I feel bound to provide an answer to that question.
To begin with, I would categorise existing wine apps into three types based on their functions:
- Information provider
- Social communicator
- Product seller
Wine Searcher (WS)
This type of wine app offers basic wine information with local prices. The Wine Searcher app is arguably the most famous among them; its key function lies in price searching, supported by details of the wine and stockist options. The app combines a comprehensive wine database with global stockist pricing information, thereby offering an efficient solution to consumers’ price comparison needs. It has increasingly become a key reference point for wine pricing.
Wine Searcher was the wine app I used most before my phone broke, and I’m determined to re-download it after I finish writing this article. It is undoubtedly important – sales people in China would sometimes describe a wines price as ‘lower than the WS average’ to make a sale.
For consumers, WS offers the edge on pricing transparency. But it’s worth noting that prices on the WS are international retail prices, and therefore they don’t include the import tariffs and transport fees that occur when these wines enter China.
Another well-known wine app is Vivino. With this app you can scan a wine label to access basic information, as well as comments from other users. There are already several similar apps in existence in the Chinese market, including Dr. Wine, 9Kacha酒咔嚓 and Snapwine拍酒.
Their competitive edge lies in their impressive database and fast image recognition.
At present, I can’t think of a successful specialised app that really works for the community of wine lovers, although Vivino has started.
People usually get to know each other via something in common, and gradually expand their social circles from there. Therefore, the most efficient social experiences happen on a comparatively equal basis, and on a much wider ‘stage’ than a small personal circle.
The wine market is niche – for Chinese consumers to enjoy wine and blend into the wine community, they need some wine knowledge, and have to be willing to spend a certain amount of money. Not everyone is up for the challenge.
It’s almost impossible for a specialised wine app alone to ‘rejuvenate’ the wine community. Even for hyper social platforms such as WeChat, it’s difficult to form a community of wine lovers that’s large enough. For me, it’s a gap in the market, and a larger question of how can a specialised app make it work?
The last category of wine apps is simple—they help consumers to buy wines and solve their immediate needs.
This kind of app is mainly designed by online wine and spirits shops. They are created with the idea that Chinese wine lovers can access it whenever they need a bottle of wine, to quickly find the bottle they want and buy it immediately.
This type of app is more passive; they cannot easily encourage consumers to access it, unless they are in need of a bottle of wine. These apps lack a human element, which makes them unattractive when consumers need personalised and detailed recommendations.
Under the attack of mass online shops, it’s getting more and more difficult for specialised shopping apps to sustain their business.
As the bigger players are offering more wines to sell, more competitive prices and more efficient delivery options, I fear that the market for specialised wine apps may soon be absorbed by the bigger platforms.
Now, time to check your smart phone and see how many wine apps you have. Remember the last time when you accessed one? If not, possibly it’s time to delete them once and for all… although maybe not.
Terry (Wei) Xu is a wine expert in China and one of China’s most influential opinion leaders in wine. As a wine writer Wei has more than 250,000 followers on Wechat and Weibo. Wei is also the Chief Wine Consultant of yesmywine.com, the largest online wine retailer in China.