A million bottles is a hell of a lot of wine. Worth a hell of a lot of money. You could stock a cellar that would weather a thousand no-deal Brexits. Civilisations have risen and fallen in the time it would take to drink all of that. And Majestic is giving it away.
Well, sort of. One can dream.
In reality the retailer – which is in the process of being sold to US private equity giant Fortress – has launched a new ‘wine fitting’ service in all 200 of its stores, and is offering existing customers a free bottle if they come in and try it out. Which is probably still worth a trip down to the high street.
A ‘fitting’ involves a blind tasting of eight wines, focusing on their ‘stylistic qualities’ rather than grape varietals. At the end, shoppers are given a personal ‘wine profile’, a comprehensive breakdown of their likes and dislikes. New customers can come in an be ‘fitted’ too, but they won’t get a freebie.
On the surface, giveaways are customer acquisition and lead generation 101: “Sign here for a free bag of crisps and we’ll spam you to oblivion with our tacky marketing emails” or “Have a cinema ticket on us and we’ll make you wish you’d never heard of our foul-tasting protein bar brand”.
But Majestic’s is interesting and gives us a look into the way its management are thinking as the sale looms. It looks like they’re finally trying to solve the biggest problem Majestic has faced over the past few years: quite frankly, the wine warehouse hasn’t had a clue what its customers actually want.
Under Naked Wines’ doctrine, bulk wine and tertiary brands reigned supreme. CEO Rowan Gormley thought implementing Naked’s buying and marketing strategies would take Majestic to a new audience and, with its vast swathe of own-label brands, compete less with the supermarkets.
The problem is this alienated a swathe of shoppers who loved Majestic for its ability to source interesting and upmarket wine from established brands and regions. Being bigger than most indies but smaller than the grocers gave it a unique position in terms of the parcels it could procure and shift (some branded suppliers, understandably, were miffed too).
Many in the trade are obviously keen for a return to Majestic’s prior strategy. But, as Majestic’s buying and merchandising director Rob Cooke (formerly Tesco’s booze boss) prepares a major range review, it’s more important than ever that Majestic roots out the truth. And to find the truth it needs to get to know those customers better. Now is not the time to look backwards.
If even half of its loyalists take Majestic up on a wine fitting, the data it provides will be priceless. Recommendations and marketing based on past purchases are old news. Plenty of brands do that, and plenty do it badly.
This, however, is about approaching Majestic’s most important range review in many years armed with as much usable insight as possible, constructing a framework of what shoppers might buy based on more than just what they have already bought.
It takes the best of what Majestic has learned from Naked in terms of the power of promotions and customer acquisition techniques and mixes it with Majestic’s historic strength: its people and its stores.
Coaxing people into stores to get ‘fitted’ should go some way to rebuilding faith among shoppers who, for the past year, have read few positive headlines about the brand, restoring morale and leaving Majestic with a veritable bible of customer data to guide Cooke’s review. The beauty of Majestic was always in the experience, the knowledge, the feeling that employees genuinely cared about the wines they sold you. This will be a nice reminder of those strengths.
Ultimately the answer to what Majestic shoppers actually want will be, almost inevitably, more complicated than ‘a return to form’ or ‘more premium brands’.
If management are serious about ushering in a new era for the retailer, they must be willing to break fresh ground. That they’re willing to sacrifice a million bottles of slosh to find the right direction of travel is a good omen indeed.
Daniel has written about food and drink for the majority of his career: prior to joining The Grocer in 2017, Daniel covered food and drink news on pub industry title The Morning Advertiser, and wrote features for VICE magazine.
Follow Daniel on Twitter: @WoolfsonDrinks