Understanding Wine Purchase Influences During a Pandemic

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GrapevineWe’re beginning to slide into pre-pandemic wine buying mode. No longer is our favorite libation solely a cell phone call away or a few clicks on a retail shop’s website. We can now visit our favorite brick and mortar shop to do what we enjoyed in the seemingly distant past of early March.

For the past five months I had been calling in my wine and spirits orders. At first, like any new experience (for me), the novelty was exhilarating.

“Hi, Graeme, I’d like to order my favorites that you’ve stored in your point-of-sale software. And I’d like to stop by your entrance in 10 minutes and have you place the order in my trunk.”

This worked very well for a few weeks, but then I realized how heavily I had previously relied on my wine merchant to recommend new wines. My latest favorites in his database changed every visit, as he recommended different wines from my previous favorites.

I began to fall into the drudgery of consuming the same wines each time I called or tapped in an order. I missed the repartee with my wine merchant, reading the back labels of bottles and generally forming a self-defined profile of my likes and dislikes.

I then realized there are a number of criteria I consider when selecting a wine, which an in-store experience can enhance – or confuse. These include labels, origin and price. But is this a haphazard, emotional decision-making process or an intellectual deduction based on an informed opinion, maybe even instinctive behavior?

I also realized that successful wine merchants are able to identify these traits in each customer and recommend wines that meet their profile. But what is the basis for identifying these traits? And do I even realize what they are without the benefit of my wine merchant’s database?

Am I alone in this dilemma? Apparently, this happens quite often. Often enough to inspire a research group to conduct a study on what factors influence consumers when they are faced with the multitude of choices encountered in a well-stocked wine shop. Which of the myriad of criteria is the most influential in a shopper’s purchase decision?

As a public service, I offer a study I came across recently on the internet. The American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) – yes, there is such a group – is a “non-profit, educational organization dedicated to encouraging and communicating economic research and analyses and exchanging ideas in wine economics.”

The testing encompassed a combination of empirical and psychological criteria. Isn’t that what economists do best? Their initial research with a study group concluded that wine choices were a function of perceived quality, which was typically based on the impression of a wine rather than an actual drinking experience. They then considered the pricing and the packaging of wine. They discerned that the following sub criteria on a label were key to a consumer’s decision-making process: a wine’s place of origin, the grape varietal and the brand name.

Of these three criteria – quality, price and packaging – they weighed the impact of each based on the input received from the study participants. They determined that each criterion is intertwined with the other.

For me, a non-alcoholic example of this quickly came to mind. When Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was an also-ran to the behemoth cell phones of the time. But the unique, revolutionary design and ergonomics gained a foothold, convincing consumers to purchase a product they didn’t realize they needed. Quality, pricing and packaging prevail for Apple and so too for select wine producers, according to the AAWE study.

After exhaustive research in first identifying the decision-making criteria of a typical consumer and then painstakingly researching, testing and evaluating those criteria, the AAWE concluded there is one overriding criteria, one that is far and away the most influential consideration for a consumer: price.

But you probably figured that out on your own. Ah, but what price to be paid for a quality wine? Check here next week.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and Program Director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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