A 21st century upgrade for China’s wine consumption

A 21st century upgrade  for China’s wine consumption

To many consumers, going to the store to buy wine often results in picking the same bland product every time – ‘it tasted good last week, it will taste good again’. Adding some adventure to the purchase process is not easy as fancy labels offer no guarantee that a great wine awaits under the cork. In China, Tmall has launched a wine store concept that offers a highly digitized experience with a greater chance of consumers buying new wines they truly appreciate.

In the ideal world, a sommelier would await you at the entrance of the store. An extensive selection and tasting process would take you from the valleys of Bordeaux to South Africa’s Stellenbosch region, Argentine’s Mendoza and Napa to Spain and Italy. You would be able to sample all wines and finally – after an hour or more – you would leave the store lightheaded and with the wines that are match your taste of fruit, wood and tannins.

Keep dreaming. Won’t happen, unless you are prepared to pay a fortune. Tmall, China’s B2C online marketplace, has launched a store concept that may enhance consumers’ wine selection and offer wine consumption in China a 21st century upgrade.

Facial-scanning for entry

In Tmall’s ‘Future Bar’, everything is different from the wine stores you may know. Enter the place and the storekeeper already knows who you are – and what you bought last time – as the store is fitted with facial-scanning for entry. Be prepared to meet a range of innovations, such as the robot waiter, RFID technology to enhance browsing, touchscreen displays for product research and a ‘Smart Wine Cooler’.

The idea is to make is to make a visit to the wine store more personal, more engaging and more convenient. According to Mike Hu, a senior director at Tmall, even in wine retail the wall between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores is coming down. On Alizira, Alibaba’s news channel, he says: “This kind of comprehensive shopping experience is what Chinese consumers have come to expect, so wine sellers need to adapt if they want to be successful here.”

Robot waiter

The robot waiter is the host of the place. At the Vinexpo wine trade fair where the ‘Future Bar’ was launched, attendees were greeted by the Tmall Robot Waiter, who asked, “Hey, don’t you want to have a drink?” –  in multiple languages. At the fair, the waiter actually served drinks. In a wine store, one can imagine the robot offering samples of this week’s special.

Tech is a big part of the new wine tasting experience. RFID technology is embedded in the foil wrapping that covers the cork. The idea is that, when a bottle is picked up from a shelf, the relevant product information is displayed on a nearby screen. The technology supports a new and fun way of wine browsing, but its gets even better. The particular wine that you took off the shelf ‘comes to life’ with the recommendations for food pairings that are displayed on the screen.

Research a chateau

In this new wine store, touchscreens allow visitors to research a wine’s home chateau and place orders through the brand’s Tmall flagship store. This novel approach to wine retail saves much-needed stock and shelf space for the shopkeeper, while providing greater selection for consumers visiting the shop and offering delivery direct to their homes.

There is more. Consumers that try Tmall’s Smart Wine Cooler scan a QR code to open the cooler door and pick the cooled wine they can take home and consume right away. Just pick your favorite chilled rosé, white, cava or prosecco. Just take it and close the door again to pay automatically. Or, as Tmall puts it on Alizila: “Close the door, the deal is done.”

Drive sales to new levels

Tmall sees a great future for this type of high-tech wine selection and buying experience that will appeal to younger consumers in China that are used to online shopping. To the global wine industry, Tmall’s ‘Future Bar’ may drive sales to new levels, as China is the wine consumption country of the future. As Alizila reports from Vinexpo data, Asia, overall, is driving global growth in the wine market. “And China is leading that trend. The country was the world’s third-largest importer in 2017 by value, at $16.41 billion, behind only the U.S. and U.K. By 2021, however, China will overtake the U.K. in the number-two spot with $22.97 billion—a near 40% jump.”

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