Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wine and Your PDA: A Price Revolution?

Have you ever been in a restaurant and looked up a wine's retail price on your PDA before deciding which bottle you'll be having with dinner? Dan Berger saw a diner do just that, according to an interesting article that appeared in last week's Napa Valley Register. (photo from Ian Britton's FreeFoto.com)

I've never done this, nor have I ever seen it done, but I can imagine that it is going to happen with greater frequency now that everyone's running out and getting each new Apple contraption available. The question is, will restaurant markups shrink now that consumers can easily check on how much the wine would cost around the corner at Joe's Wine Shop? And will they choose differently based on consumer reviews on sites like CellarTracker and Snooth?

And what about Joe's Wine Shop? Now that buyers can stand in the aisle and check to see if they can find the wine at Joe's for less somewhere else (read: giant chain store), will we end up with greater homogeneity in wine prices? More importantly, will we end up with fewer small retailers, since they will find it more difficult to compete with the box and chain stores?

I'd like to hear what people think about this trend. Do you routinely use your PDA or phone to check wine prices when you're out in restaurants or stores? If not, would you like to someday be able to do just that? What do you think the upside and the downside of this is for winemakers, retailers, and consumers?


Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago I had a treo, and I used it all the time at restaurants. When one waiter brought us the wrong vintage of a wine, saying the one on the list was sold out, I looked up the two different vintages on wine-searcher and found that the replacement vintage was going for about 1/3 the price, retail, of the one on the list. So I refused the bottle. I didn't know that much about wine at the time, but I did understand some basic mathematics.

Since then, I've downgraded to a far less breakable phone with zero features beyond, um, ability to make phone calls. But I know enough about wine, from both a price and a qualitative perspective, that I'm not sure I'd jump to my PDA even if I had one.

Also, now that I'm in the wine biz I find myself bringing my own bottles rather than pay the hefty mark-ups at restaurants.

Richard Auffrey said...

I don't use a PDA but I will often check a restaurant's wine list online (if available) to check their prices. Plus, I know enough wine prices that I can get a good idea of the average markup on a restaurant wine list.

Sonadora said...

I have managed to make it through life so far without a crackberry. I start my new job Nov. 13 and will be issued one there though....Matt has had one for years, but I strongly discourage him from taking it out with us. I've also never seen anyone checking wine prices in a restaurant! Like Richard, I try to look at wine menus ahead of time to get a general sense of what I'm in for though.

RougeAndBlanc said...

PDA with product review/pricing software installed (or web enabled cellphone) definetely helps consumer in making more educated or rational purchase decisions. This user experience is not restricted to wine only. I am sure we all do our homework one way or the other before making purchase decisions, especially on big ticket items.

My personal experience: Last year
I was at Astor Wine in NYC trying to buy some wines for a July 4th BBQ and bumped into another customer who was looking up Parker Review on his PDA while browsing the store. We eventually made conversations and he showed me his toy. Ultimately I benefited from that experience by picking up a couple high QPR wines for the occassion (with the help of the software)

I still don't own a web enable phone, but being a biased consumer who also work in the web business, I definetely feel positive about using web enable mobile device in peforming shopping tasks.

However, small shops (even wine shops) may not be stuck with the short end of the stick 'if' they carry niche products. Big stores (such as Costco) carries a lot a products, but not the all products they carry are on my shopping list though. So price comparison is one thing, but where we ending up buying the product is another issue (especially if we factor in the shipping cost when the cost is higher than local sales tax).

Velvet Fog said...

I expect to pay a little more for wine at a restaurant. After all you are paying for the experience. I agree that small wine shops will hopefully continue by offering service as well as wine you can't get at giant stores. I have a nice relationship with the guy at one such small store and he will get me anything I ask him for.

Dr. Debs said...

Speaking as someone who frequently wrecks their phones and PDAs, I've gone Jill's route lately and simply stuck to the cheapest phone Verizon offers! And I also use the Richard and Sonadora "check ahead" method with restaurant lists. R&B and Velvet Fog bring up interesting points about the smaller retailers, and I wonder if PDAs in the wine store might not be a good thing for them. Sure, you might decide to buy the more widely-available wine at BevMo where it's $2 cheaper, but the PDA support may actually encourage you to try out some of the more unusual bottlings that small retailers stock. Hadn't thought of that! Thanks, everybody, for the great comments.

Orion Slayer said...

Great topic!

I don't know that I'd save any money on a bottle of wine if I had to use a web enabled phone because the cost of the service would be prohibitive. Even if I could afford the service, the wine selection at most restaurants I frequent are limited anyway.

I think the smaller stores can offer something the big chains can't: wine expertise. I may be able to buy a bottle of wine for a cheaper price at the big box place, but if I don't know anything about Italian wines, the chances are the workers at the big chain stores don't know much either. If I go to the smaller stores that specialize in Italian wine, I'm more likely to get good help.

Anonymous said...

I don't do this with wine but I do it all the time with home audio/video products. JR.com has low shipping costs and no taxes (because I'm in CA) so I cross check prices all the time with my phone (Nokia e61). But not on wine.

BTW: It WON'T cause homogeneity in wine selection across smaller retailers because larger stores typically buy through distribution (really the only way they can logistically get the wine to all their internal disti centers for shipment to stores). So what that means is that smaller, corner shops will be competing the same way they always do - knowledgeable staff and a selection of wines you don't get through Disti (i.e. you won't be seeing it at Safeway or BevMo anytime soon). Also, small "undiscovered" wines typically have small productions and if they're in demand they're highly allocated (see Navarro, whom I think you wrote up recently).

(BTW - Disti typically requires a high number of cases per year so thats another stumbling block for smaller producers)

wmc43 said...

Hmmm, just last week I found myself browsing Cost Plus red wine sale and came across a few I hadn't tried before and knew not of. So, even though I hate the damn Q (don't buy one, I'm on my 3rd on Motorola's warranty!), I found myself logging to cellar tracker to see what fellow winos thought. It resulted in a few "I think not"s and at least one purchase I would have passed up. As I was the only one in he store at the time,standing in the aisle waiting and trying to decipher the screen without my reading glasses wasn't a problem, but if it was busy I would have had to find a corner, as in my pre-EVDO region it takes a while. Sadly, I'll probably do it in the future, rather than risk buying a dog.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of cell phones in restaurants so pulling out a PDA to check out wine reviews would definitely not be cool in my book.

I have gotten into the habit of taking a look at a restaurant's wine list before going out to dinner. I usually just check the wine list against CellarTracker to get an idea of what matches up with my tastes and what's a huge ripoff.

I also like taking pictures of wine prices in grocery stores (and sometimes wine shops). Whole Foods usually has some interesting wines but they're so much more expensive than everywhere else that I like to do some research and shop around before buying. There's no way I would remember what I'd seen without my camera phone.

If I have a really fabulous wine at a restaurant I jot it down on the back of my receipt. Really, there's no point in remembering what you can write down or take a picture of.

Dr. Debs said...

I'm not a big fan of phones in restaurants, either--but I like the idea of clicking pictures in stores to remember particular wines. But then, you have to be close to the store in question and be able to make a return trip. I've never enabled the web on my cell phone--fear of logging onto CellarTracker like William.