How much of a role will technology play in the shops of the future? What do consumers want and how can drinks retailers deliver? Lucy Britner reports

At the London Wine Fair in June, Drinks Retailing hosted a panel discussion about the future of drinks shopping. Experts on the panel were: Stephen Finch, founder of Vagabond; Anne Jones, drinks experience & event development at Waitrose; and Herchelle Perez Terrado, founder of consultancy Drinks Partnership. 

The trio talked about technology, changing consumer habits and the retailing experience of tomorrow. The talk started with a look at how Covid continues to shape our behaviour and the road to a truly omnichannel drinks shopping experience, as physical and digital overlap. 

The lasting influence of the pandemic 

“What we have seen is retailers stepping up to create authentic connections through webinars and connecting with people on different social media platforms,” says Terrado. “I think the most important thing is how retailers can drive that forward, how they can connect with the consumer through those technologies and, again, create those better experiences on a more one-to-one level. I think the challenge will always be in creating authentic connections.” 

Jones adds that the pandemic has taught retailers that “digital is not enough”. She believes the challenge is linking digital and people, as customers look for those authentic connections. 

“They want credibility and there comes a point when you’re interacting with digital and it isn’t personal enough, it doesn’t give you the belief. Wine is a product that requires some degree of connection. It’s a discretionary product and when we were in that very digital first phase of lockdown, we saw customers just retreating to what they were familiar with. There was much less experimentation.” 


Finch, who has been an early adopter of app-enabled wine shopping at Vagabond, believes we are still on a journey when it comes to embracing technology and creating a truly omnichannel retail experience. He says wine has much in common with music and video content. 

“Spotify and Netflix have a massive inventory of titles and there are a lot of data points for each one – it’s really hard for the average person to make sense of all that stuff. And most people don’t actually know much about wine. 

“They tend to refer to heuristics like ‘I’ve had this one before’ or ‘I know Bordeaux’. So, being able to leverage technology to enhance that real world experience is going to be the key going forward.” 

Finch says the ambition at Vagabond is to be like Spotify, in terms of the level of personalisation consumers can expect from the app. 

“I’ll very happily give Spotify all of my data because in return it introduces me to songs I wouldn’t have come across alone. It’s a good relationship. 

“We’re very much hoping to be quick and nimble enough to make personalisation happen first,” he adds of his own app. The panellists agreed that smaller businesses may be quicker to adapt and often the problem with larger businesses is that their digital and physical operations are separate business units. 

Finch also says it’s important to know how to integrate data – and that often companies have multiple systems that aren’t unified. 

“We actually have a lead technology developer,” he says – not a role he imagined filling when he started the business. Terrado also advises interrogating data sets to get the most out of them in terms of spotting new trends. 

All things to all people? 

In terms of being truly omnichannel, Jones says the question is: “How can we bring consumers on the journey? 

“Whether they are shopping locally, looking for sustainable solutions, buying bulk for a party – how can this be integrated?” she asks. “Particularly if a brand is in a local wine shop, in a bar and in a supermarket – how can you work with a customer through that whole journey for all of their occasions and not just be stuck in each of those silos?” 

Omnichannel’s success relies to a certain extent on how much data consumers are willing to share. And with recent reports about “the great unsubscribe”, how can retailers get the right information? Finch says Vagabond is mindful that, while some people are happy to just sign up, others require some incentives. “Then for them to stay, they have to legitimately see value,” he explains. 

Meanwhile, Jones says that hitting unsubscribe is data in itself. “It’s telling you that those customers don’t want the service you’ve just offered them or the communication that you’ve offered them, which can help you refine your offering.” 

Drinks retailing in 2033 

Looking forward, panellists ended the discussion by imagining the drinks shopping experience in 10 years’ time. 

“Thinking as a customer, I want a hybrid of Apple, Spotify and vacation,” says Finch. “It needs to be easy and fun – almost an extension of my identity.” 

Jones says she hopes to see a hybrid shopping experience where a customer can walk into a bar or shop and be connected both digitally and with an actual person. However, she warns that 10 years may not be long enough in practical terms. 

For Terrado, the need for speed and convenience will play a big part in the shops of the future, although so will people, as she highlights the ongoing need for an authentic connection.