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We’re talking to Freestyle customers about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their business and profits and to see what their view of the industry they’re is for the coming months and years. Navigating 2020 has certainly not been easy, but we think it helps to know…you’re not alone. We are in this together, and we believe we will survive. Join us today, as we chat with B-21 Fine Wine & Spirits.   

Justin Hammer is the COO & co-owner of B-21 Fine Wine & Spirits based in Tarpon Springs, FL. B-21. A longtime user of M.O.M and SiteLINK, he operates one retail location and a successful online store. You could be one of the thousands of consumers who has taken advantage of B-21’s extensive selection and great service during the pandemic. The increase in business (and challenges they’ve encountered) during the pandemic illustrate the success many eCommerce brands have enjoyed during the past few months.  

Justin graciously agreed to be our first guest to kick off our Three Questions series on the challenges eCommerce brands are facing in the uncertain times of COVID-19.

How has the Pandemic affected you?

Fortunately, we were well-positioned at the start of the pandemic and our category, wines and spirits, has proven to be popular. We recognized eight years ago that our business would move more heavily to eCommerce Sales and developed a program to ensure success. We retain our one physical store, but eCommerce fulfillment now makes up 85% of our revenue. This trend has of course accelerated the past four months. Our orders the past sixty days have rocketed past numbers traditionally seen in November and December, our peak season. 

One of the barriers to growth we realized early on was that wine deliveries require a signature at the time of delivery. To address this challenge, we developed a unique solution that allows us to ship a wine to over forty states with the choice of a nationwide network of 20,000+ pickup locations, ranging from FedEx/UPS stores to chains many people visit regularly like Walgreens and Kroger’s. At checkout, we offer customers the choice of the ten closest pickup locations where they can pick up at their convenience for no additional cost. This is just one example of a recent refinement introduced to make buying wine online easy for our customers, while keeping us in compliance with state laws.

What steps have you taken in the short and long term?

b21 hisotryWith so many customers new to shopping for wine online, we found that consumer education was a concern from the way they searched for product, navigated our expansive selection, and to when/how product is delivered. We have invested in new search features, expanded product listings and focused on making the experience unique and less intimidating for our new customers. Of course, shopping online for wine requires more planning than say for clothing – a shirt can be left at your door, but wine requires a signature and our customers need to either plan to be available at delivery, accept at work, or use a pickup location. And most importantly, if you want to enjoy a fine Cabernet with dinner tonight, you need to order a few days ahead. We find that once our customers understand the process, they love the service (we are transparent about the order cycle) and selection, so retention has been great.

We have at, peak times, invoked minimum order size and can do so on the fly. There has been an added focus on quickly identifying when order volumes are surging, and proactive communication. One thing we do have to keep an eye on is that wine requires specialized (and expensive) packaging to ship, which is available from a limited number of vendors. With the increase in volume, there have been some supply chain issues.

Business has been, so good that we added staff and went first to a seven day-a-week operation with two shifts, but we’ve been able to increase efficiency and are now down to six days a week. 

What is the outlook for your business?

Customer retention for the long term is our goal. We know that we offer:

  • more choice
  • access to the best vintners worldwide
  • better pricing
  • a best-in-class online shopping experience by recreating the traditional in-store experience, but with the vast conveniences of online

As an example, we photograph every product in-house and add descriptions with reviews from recognized experts, all to ensure the best possible experience for our customers. We may not be around the corner, but we can bring the world of fine wines to your door

We also have longer term plans to review additional warehouse locations where state law allows, and managing the complexity of state law is a full-time job. Email marketing improvements is another project for the future, as well as looking at technology to address order flow, improved search options and increasing volume capacity. We’ll continue to work closely with Freestyle on all of these projects.

We are excited about the future and our mission to introduce fine wine to more consumers.   

Thanks, B-21! We’re thrilled you could share what’s worked for you during the challenging 2020 COVID-19 pandemic months – and we’re honored to be a part of a flexible, scalable, trusted solution that is allowing you to be nimble enough to find success and a plan to move forward, despite these uncharted times!

Stay tuned for our next customer discussion! We can’t wait to share more stories with you!

Need help with your eCommerce order and inventory management software? Thinking you may be ready to upgrade your system to meet the demands of your growing business? Take our quiz to find out if you’re ready! 

Want to learn more about Freestyle? Reach out to find out how we’re helping eCommerce customers just like you weather this storm and come out stronger.