‘Immersive experience’ is a hackneyed term, but it can be a reality if you are selling wine.
George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence and 1st Earl of Salisbury, is reputed to have drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, at least if you attach any credit to the version of history outlined in Shakespeare’s Richard III.
This must surely be the ultimate ‘immersive experience’ and is certainly a long way removed, other than wine being involved, from what Majestic Wine is trying to do with its new store in St John’s Wood in north London.
With over 1,000 SKUs (according to my colleague Luke Tugby) in a space measuring a little over 3,000 sq ft, this is a mammoth offer for wine-lovers – and from this perspective, perhaps it is ‘immersive’.
It is worthwhile considering what the term might mean, however. There is rather more to ‘immersive’ than just having everything – that’s what the web is about.
Experience and service
There are tastings. This is something that to date is not available electronically and is certainly where wine shops score.
Next up is staff recommendations. This can certainly be incorporated as part of a web-based offer, but are you going to trust some words about a wine that appear on a screen – how much veracity are you going to attach to this?
In-store recommendations next to specific bottles carry with them the possibility of being able to speak to the person who has said they are worth buying – again, a service the online stores are not really in a position to offer.
Full marks to Majestic and others therefore, such as the beautiful Berry Bros & Rudd in St James’s, where the best-selling wine is own-brand Ordinary Claret for £9.95, as recommended by the staff.
Buying the latter is an experience in itself as the ceiling has been fashioned from deconstructed Bordeaux wine barrels and instantly gives you the feeling that you’re in a wine merchant old-style.
Which also points to the other advantage that wine shops have over the web – the shops. The best wine stores are an extension of a wine cellar or maybe a vineyard, and even the supermarkets have proved pretty adept at fashioning something of the kind.
All of which means that an immersive experience doesn’t have to involve being plunged in it up to your neck, but doing things that can’t be done via a computer screen.
The in-store wine-buying experience is much more enjoyable than that had by the lonely toper sat in front of a laptop at home and hoping for the best.