Saturday, February 20, 2010

Great Moments in Retail 1.03

Cell phones. They drive me nuts.

I understand when I'm helping customers who get an important call, business or personal. I step aside and give them space to conduct their business. They apologize and we resume. Sometimes customers get calls and say they're busy and ask if they can call back. Sometimes.

Usually they just wander around and it goes like this:

A customer walks in the store talking on the phone, looks around and heads for the wines. Still talking. Wanders down the Chardonnay aisle, looks around. Walks toward the wall of Cabernet. Stops, still talking, looks to right and glances to the left. Turns around and walks through South America, talking all the while. And frequently, just keeps on walking and talking, right on out of the store.
"Goodbye!" I think. "Maybe, just maybe I could  have helped you find something? Oh, thanks for coming in!"
Sometimes you overhear snippets of conversation and you know the customer is talking to a friend about wine. They look at this and they look at that. Their friend is telling them to look for a certain wine, who knows what? Who knows if the customer is even in the right aisle? I hover nearby, waiting for an opportunity to penetrate this cone of technological isolation. PEOPLE, WAKE UP! I know my inventory, I can satisfy your oenological need!

Last Friday a customer was standing in the middle of the Southern Rhone and looking from label to label all the while talking on his phone. I was watching, waiting, feeling like a vulture when I was interrupted by a phone call. It was a J***, a longtime customer who is an avid devotee of Rhone wines.
"A friend of mine is back in your Rhone section and I was trying to help him find Domaine Fondreche, could you go back and help him."

"Of course. I was watching him look at the wines, but I couldn't help him because he was talking on his cell phone!"
The irony was devastating. I walked back with a smile on my face and interrupted with confidence. "I can help you!" He was looking for something rich, dark and velvety for a Valentine's Day dinner. Fondreche is an amazing producer of intense wines from Cotes du Ventoux. J*** knows his wines and has bought many a case. 

The customer bought a couple bottles of the Domaine Fondreche 2007 Cuvee Persia which is 90% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all barrel aged. The wine offers dark floral aromas followed by intense black and red berries with notions of darkness swirling beneath the fruit. The finish is long with integrated tannins and hints of minerality. (Yes, it got the requisite 93 points the in The Wine Advocate for them that don't believe...) He also bought a bottle of the 2007 Cuvee Nadal which is half Grenache and tends toward brighter red fruits. The Nadal is a more traditional Rhone red and while it doesn't offer the hedonistic decadence of the Persia, it's an outstanding wine (91 points). Both wines are great values and sell in the mid -twenties.

Cell phones, though are just the beginning of retail technology. 

Smart phones can read barcodes and tell you about the products. For example, sells an app that can read the barcode on a bottle of beer and not only tell you about the brewery, and the style, flavor and bitterness of the beer, but can tell you the nearest store or pub that sells the beer. I saw their logo on bars and deli's all over New York City a couple of weeks ago.

Ole Imports, a new innovative importer of Spanish wines puts a telephone number with a code on each bottle so you can call the number and hear information about the wine. That's in addition to the unusual amount of information about the variety and growing region they put on the back label. Which is  an extremely useful alternative to the usual  drivel about the romanticism of the wine and the vineyard.

But these information aids are what you need to shop in a grocery or discount store.

Surely the best alternative is a well-stocked  wine store staffed with customer oriented 'flavor junkies' who know their stuff and are filled with evangelical fervor to fill the world with great wine.

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