Whether you enjoy finding quality wine to invest in, or simply love sharing a reasonably priced bottle between friends, great wine brings great joy to many people’s lives.
Starting an online wine shop can be a fantastic way to bring wine to a huge audience. Doing this can be a great option if you’re a small wine shop that wants to reach more people, or even if you’re just getting started selling wine online.
From ensuring that you have the correct licenses to opening and marketing your store, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know about selling wine online. Here’s exactly what we’ll cover:
It isn’t the sexiest aspect of business, but having the right licenses for selling wine online is essential. Which licenses you will need to obtain depend on the state in which you operate.
Here are a few licenses and documents you commonly need:
Alcohol Dealer Registration
The first thing you need to do if you want to sell wine online (or anywhere else) is to register your business with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. You can do this by filling out the TTB 5630.5d – Alcohol Dealer Registration form.
This form provides the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau with key information pertaining to tax, as well as your dealer class and subclass.
State Winery Licence
If you’re producing your own wine, you’ll have to get your hands on a special license. The type and cost of licenses you’ll need will vary state by state, and may also differ if you’re only selling within the state in which you operate.
Local Authority Requirements
Each state has different rules and regulations, which you’ll need to abide by. You’ll also need approval to ship to any state you plan on selling your wine to.
You’ll require a shipping agreement with any couriers you decide to deal with. Make sure you understand any special requirements couriers might have regarding the shipment of alcohol.
Wine is a complex product. This means that there’s a huge number of specialist areas you may decide to focus on when selling wine online.
Finding your niche is crucial, as it allows you to:
- Continually develop your knowledge in your specialist areas
- Fully understand your target audience
- Create a brand that appeals specifically to your target audience
- Focus sales and marketing towards those who genuinely have an interest in the type of wine you’re going to be selling
The niches available are countless, but here are a few examples of areas you may choose to focus on:
- Grape varieties (e.g. Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay)
- Regional wines (e.g. California, Bordeaux, Sicily)
- Price (e.g. wines under $20, wines over $200)
- Customer motivation (e.g. casual drinkers, food pairing, investments)
Finding your niche may take some time and research. Before you start picking the wines you’ll be selling, it’s worth researching the industry to find out what’s popular, interviewing potential customers to understand their wants and motivations, and assessing what other wine sellers in the market are up to.
If you’re producing your own wine, you may want to skip this section, and head straight to creating a brand. If you’ll be externally sourcing the wine you’ll be selling, then read on!
Finding the right supplier for your stock can mean the difference between a huge amount of stress and a smoothly run, profitable business. So, when looking for a supplier, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the supplier reliable?
- What selection of wine do they offer?
- Which prices do they charge – and how much profit will I make?
- How quickly can they deliver stock?
- Do they offer their customers any additional support and advice?
- Are they easy to deal with?
Finding the answer to these questions isn’t always easy, and you might have to think outside the box at times.
One way to get these answers, for instance, is to approach another wine seller and ask them for their advice – just try to make sure this company won’t be in direct competition with you! Even if you offer to pay another wine seller for their advice, getting a good recommendation is sure to save you stress and money in the future.
Depending on where you’re based, a few suppliers you could explore working with include:
Unless you’re producing unique wine which customers can’t purchase anywhere else, your brand is going to be the most important differentiating factor when it comes to setting you apart from your competitors.
Although the term ‘brand’ is usually closely associated with your company logo and website, its reach is actually far more expansive than this. Your brand, essentially, is how your customers see you, and the accumulation of everything you do; from the colors you use in your marketing materials, to how you treat customers when they ask for advice.
When deciding on how you want to represent your brand, you’ll need to think about what your business stands for. For example, a business selling budget bottles will want to be seen differently from a business that sells rare, luxurious wine.
Start the process by outlining your brand values. A few examples of these include:
- We offer expert advice on pairing great wines with great food
- We deliver quality wine at an affordable price
- We are here to help our customers 24/7
- We uphold the values of a family business and always act with integrity
Once you decide on your values, these will feed into everything else that represents your brand – from the business name and logo, to the color of packaging you use to send your products.
There are two approaches you can take when creating an online store:
- Build a custom site yourself
- Use an ecommerce platform
Although custom builds can offer a higher level of flexibility, they are significantly more expensive and time-consuming than when you go down the route of an ecommerce platform. In addition, many ecommerce platforms allow you to customize your online store to such an extent that it’s unlikely you won’t be able to achieve the outcome you want.
Other benefits of choosing to build your online store with an ecommerce website builder include:
- Simple setup, with a clear process for doing everything from choosing a domain and website hosting to uploading products and taking payments
- Automatic updates to bring your website in line with best practices
- Website support that usually comes included in the price
- A clear pricing system, so you can control your outgoings
- Additional tools for marketing your business
Here are some platforms we recommend:
Wix offers a super-simple way to build an online wine shop with customizable themes and built-in functionality for marketing, such as Mailchimp. Wix is an ideal option if you want to keep the construction of your online store simple.
Shopify is the market leader when it comes to creating online stores – and for good reason! Using this platform will give you everything you need to get started on your wine selling journey, at an affordable price. Shopify is also a good option if you want to create a more advanced ecommerce store.
Square Online is a super easy-to-use ecommerce platform, and – starting at just $12 – it’s super affordable, too. Although design flexibility is a little limited, Square Online keeps things simple, and it’s quick to set up and get selling through.
Unlike traditional wine stores where customers can come in, inspect bottles and ask questions, with online wine sales, your customers will rely heavily on the product information you include to make a buying decision.
This is why it’s crucial to provide compelling images and product descriptions with each of the wines you’re showcasing.
Although taste is arguably the most important factor when a customer buys wine, bottle aesthetics also play a role. This is especially true when wine buyers are looking for a wine that will look great in their collection, or start a conversation at a dinner party.
Ensure that you take product images that give a true sense of the style of the bottle. Using a plain background and plenty of white space will help define key features. To add inspiration, you may also want to include product images in settings for context, such as bottles standing on a table next to some delicious-looking food.
The product description should be used to help customers understand how the wine will taste. This can be achieved through the inclusion of tasting notes, although you can also use the product description to offer advice, such as how to pair the wine with food.
Pricing your wine correctly will play a big role in the success of your business. This is especially true if you’re buying wine from a distributor which also sells wine to other competing stores.
However, you don’t always have to be the cheapest on the market. If you create an inspiring brand and offer unbeatable customer service, you’ll often be able to charge more for the same wine as a competitor, and still make sales.
Research the market and price your wines competitively, taking into account all the additional value you bring to the customer.
As wine bottles can be both fragile and heavy, it’s crucial to properly consider how you’re going to package and ship your wine to your customers. Failure to package wine properly will lead to broken bottles, burnt bridges, and a large cost to both your business and customer base.
You can buy boxes that are specifically made for shipping wine bottles to keep them safe. You may also label the box as containing fragile items to ensure that your courier handles them with care.
When considering your shipping needs, you should research which courier companies service your area and will ship wine. Some couriers may have specific rules that you need to follow when shipping wine, so it’s worth exploring the guidelines provided by couriers such as UPS and FedEx, to ensure that you can meet their requirements.
Creating social media accounts and publishing quality content on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram is a great, free way to promote your online wine store. The type of content you post will depend on your brand, your values, and what your audience reacts well to.
For example, if you value giving great advice on pairing wine with food, you may publish short videos giving examples of the wines you have on offer, and the types of food they taste best with.
Try and use social media to focus on bringing value to your audience, rather than just trying to sell. That being said, you should endeavour to make it easy for people to find your online shop and buy from you when they engage with your content.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about being proactive in what you do to rank highly in search engine results. When you achieve this, you’ll see a growth in traffic to your website, giving you more exposure, and allowing you to sell more wine.
There are loads of tactics and techniques for boosting your SEO. But if you don’t want to get too technical, follow these principles:
- Post high-quality, helpful content
- Regularly post new content and update content on your website
- Ensure your site is simple to use and loads quickly
If you want a super quick boost in high-value traffic to your website, you may decide to invest in paid advertising. There are lots of forms of paid online ads, but the two most popular are social media ads and search engine ads.
Social media ads let you target people based on factors such as their location and interests, and ensure that ads for your products will appear on your ideal customer’s social media feeds. Search engine ads let you target people who search for specific terms such as ‘wine store Pensacola’, ensuring that your website displays at the top of their search results.
Email marketing is a great way to keep your business at the top of your customers’ minds. Create an email list and send out regular updates, covering everything from deals and offers to fun facts about wine.
This guide should have provided you with all the tools you need to start your wine business and get selling online. Use the checklist below to ensure you have everything you need covered:
How to Sell Wine Online: Check List
- Do you have the licenses needed to sell wine online?
- Which niche will you target?
- Who will supply you with wine to sell?
- What will your brand look and feel like?
- Which ecommerce platform will you use?
- How will you showcase your wine?
- How much will you charge for your wine?
- How will you package and ship your wine?
- How will you market your business?