As the founder of Vinbound Marketing, I talk with hundreds of wineries each year who are considering a new website. Some wineries are totally new to the wine world and clueless about the red tape and hoops to jump through to legally sell wine online. Others are well established but equally confused when it comes to choosing an ecommerce/wine club solution best suited for their business model. Here are some of the most critical questions to consider when starting a new winery website project.
The impact of your website can only go as far as the quality of your images. Just one professional video and several professional photographs are enough to take your website to the next level. Do not underinvest in this or try to take all of your website images on your iphone (we’ve seen this done too many times!)… hire a professional photographer to do your vineyard/winery/brand justice. It definitely won’t break the bank to hire someone for a half-day shoot in your vineyard and winery and to take some professional lifestyle / studio bottle shots.
If you are located on the US West Coast, see our list of recommended photographers and videographers.
Many new wineries are clueless about the legal requirement to procure Direct Shipping Permits for the states they want to legally ship to and to collect/report the appropriate amount of taxes for wine sold to those states. For the uninitiated, the romance of starting a wine brand often dissolves into panic as the enormity and cost of procuring direct shipping permits and reporting the relevant taxes becomes apparent.
This reality presents a couple different strategies for new wineries. The first strategy is to manually acquire Direct Shipping Permits for the states you want to sell to (wherever you realistically expect to market/sell wine to). Under this strategy you will turn on these states for shipping in your ecommerce solution and turn off all other states where you don’t have permits. Some ecommerce solutions (like Squarespace Commerce) will need you to manually enter in tax rates, while others (like Commerce7) come integrated with solutions like ShipCompliant and Avalara to automatically calculate your taxes without you needing to manually add in anything. At the end of the year you will need to send your collected taxes to the states where you hold a permit and sold legally.
Sidebar: You can access each state’s Direct Shipping Permit forms and the latest tax rates on the Wine Institute website here: https://wineinstitute.compliancerules.org/state-map/.
The second strategy for small producers is to consider VinoShipper, which will provide you with Direct Shipping Permits in bulk in just a couple weeks time and also will collect and report the taxes on your behalf. This is an excellent option for small brands eager to sell legally nationwide right out of the gate without the slow and costly process of manually acquiring permits state by state. VinoShipper doubles as an ecommerce/wine club solution that can plug into any website. The downside is higher margins on sales (up to 9% on your sales) to cover the costs of compliance— but we think this is well worth the cost of not having to procure/pay for your own permits as well as not having to deal with the tax nightmare at year end.
Before you ever get started, solidify your Direct to Consumer strategy. Where are you selling, how will you be legal, and are you prepared to report the taxes??
Here is another important question to help you decide which ecommerce platform to go with. Once an order comes through, how do you plan to ship out the wine? Are you printing your own labels and packing/shipping yourself? Or are you relying on a warehouse to fulfill for you? If you are outsourcing your fulfillment to a warehouse, you need to ask them what ecommerce systems they work with and if there are any specific ways your products/bundles need to be set up. Some fulfillment partners have very specific requirements for the way they want you to submit your order, to the point that certain ecommerce solutions will not be viable.
Be ready to clearly articulate to your designer/development company why you are launching this new website or why your website needs an upgrade. Clearly outline the goals of the winery website and ensure the agency you work with knows how to format the site to meet these goals. Don’t just choose a website developer because they are located in your hometown or have a pretty portfolio — make sure they understand the wine industry, have built several winery websites, and have access to clear data on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to user experience, wine ecommerce legalities and successful wine sales strategies.
Before choosing the website platform to build your website on (Squarespace vs Shopify vs WordPress vs etc), be sure to have a demo of the website backend to understand how easy it will be for you to edit the site moving forward. If you want to edit your website in-house (text, photos, events, etc), have your developer confirm that you can easily do this and give you a video demo of the backend editor.
In our experience, the easiest website platforms to edit in-house are Squarespace and Vinbound WordPress websites (thanks to the visual editor we use). Be careful with WordPress websites from other developers as some will build on code-heavy backends without visual editors, leaving you unable to make most edits.
This is CRITICAL. If you intend to have a wine club (and you should for recurring cash flow), make sure the ecommerce solution you choose can support a wine club with stored credit cards/ recurring payments and can be adjusted to your specific model. Can members log in and personalize their order? Can you change the shipping date easily? Is the same amount charged each month or a different amount? Choose a solution that fits exactly how you want this to work. In our experience, Commerce7 offers the most flexibility here.
Some of our clients are fine downloading monthly ecommerce sales reports and manually reconciling in accounting software. Others require direct integration into Quickbooks, etc and require elaborate sales reports. Before choosing a solution be sure to be specific about the must-haves when it comes to accounting software integration with your POS/ecommerce systems.
Some of our clients have time on their hands and are willing to learn a new system in order to edit and maintain their websites themselves. Of course, this is a rarity, and in most cases Vinbound hosts and manages websites on behalf of our clients as an ongoing marketing partner. Whether you work with us or another developer, be clear about your willingness to manage the website in-house moving forward and understand the costs of a retainer if you plan to outsource this. PS It often is much more cost effective to just go on a retainer than to manage your site in-house!
A professional website designer will ask you to provide a list (5-10 sites) of websites you are particularly fond of. These should be a combination of both winery websites as well as websites in similar demographic sectors (i.e. luxury brands, real estate, etc). Start by looking through your chosen designer’s portfolio and making a list of the sites you like the most and why (navigation, spacing, photography, copy, etc). Then expand further to non-wine websites to further identify the style and elements you are looking to adopt as your own. This is what we call Moodboarding and it is a critical step in ensuring Vinbound or whomever you work with has a clear idea of the style of website best suited to your brand.
Search Engine Optimization is all about ensuring people who are searching for a particular type of product are able to find it easily. At Vinbound, our job is to connect this searching group of consumers with the ideal winery or wine project they are looking for. To that end, consider the type of consumer you are going after. Is your brand super high end and exclusive? Does it skew hipster with avante garde labels and a laissez faire attitude? Your website needs to communicate who you are and who you are trying to bring into your tribe. If you are totally lost to this question, it’s best to put everything on hold and work with a brand strategist until you have clarity. You won’t make a dime in the wine industry until you know your story and the specific type of people you want in your following.
I invite you to submit your project inquiry to Vinbound Marketing on the below form. We will set up a call to discuss the above and determine the best path forward for your winery.
Brian Richardson, Vinbound Marketing
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