ECA columnist and Retail Insider founder Glynn Davis meets Jay Wright, CEO of Virgin Wines…
Can you tell us a little about Virgin Wines?
We’re part of the Virgin family and one the UK’s largest online wine retailers, selling more than 100 million bottles of premium wine and winning multiple national awards. Since 2000, our mission has been to make people’s lives more enjoyable. We do this by working hand in hand with independent winemakers around the world, using ratings and reviews to develop more of what our customers love, as well as sourcing new and exciting wines to discover. We also have an excellent range of beers and spirits, which are sourced in the same way.
It’s a very competitive market so what would you say are your USPs?
Our business model is unique, and more than 90% of our wines by volume are created exclusively for Virgin Wines. We do this by combining sales data, customer feedback, conversations at our tasting events, and customer interactions with our personal wine advisors to ensure the wines we create are the wines our customers want. Our expert buying team then work closely with winemakers and vineyards around the world to ensure our exclusive collection delivers on these values. We recently became the first UK online wine retailer to be certified Carbon Neutral and continue to prioritise making our business as friendly to the planet as possible.
How important is the WineBank subscription scheme?
WineBank is our most popular subscription model, with over 130,000 happy members. Customers pay monthly deposits into their account and accrue 20% interest, paid by us. It’s beneficial to members as by putting away a little each month, and earning regular interest, they’ve got the funds set aside to top-up their wine rack when it’s looking a little empty. Other perks include free delivery on every wine order, member pricing on beers and spirits, and access to your very own personal wine advisor. Our aim with WineBank is to provide the best possible wine buying experience, which is intrinsically Virgin Wines. The WineBank offer is a crucial part of our customer acquisition strategy.
What type of customers do you attract and how do you attract them – such as strategic partnerships?
We want to attract all wine lovers, and they come in many forms. As long as they are looking for good wine to enjoy, we’re here for them. The biggest contributor to new customer acquisition is our strategic partnerships offer, where our team works with a wide variety of brands across the UK. These include Moonpig, Great Western Railway and Saga plc, among many others. We also attract new customers through a number of innovative digital and e-commerce strategies and a variety of channels. We have a physical presence at tasting events across the UK, which help us engage with a broad audience and entice new customers by giving them the opportunity to try our wines in person. Lastly, there’s the commercial arm of the business that works on a B2B basis, leveraging our unique wine and gifting propositions.
Can you share some key numbers – sales, customer numbers, products listed – and bestselling products?
In 2022, we had over 700 wines, 120 beers and 180 spirits listed on our site, with 180,000 active customers across our various membership schemes and £69 million of revenue. The bestselling products were the Blow Your Socks Off pre-mixed cases range, followed by several of our exclusive wine collections such as The Black Pig, made by our awesome team in Australia. We find that customers discover their favourites within our exclusive ranges and continue to shop with us as a result.
What have been the major challenges lately?
No retailer is immune to the current economic climate and the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on consumers. We’re very aware of the bigger picture and are doing our best to provide customers with the best wines at competitive prices.
What are the major opportunities for the business?
Virgin’s core focus across all brands is changing business for good. In tough times, we think it’s imperative that our customers know we care, and are doing our best across all areas. Our ESG policies are a cornerstone of the business. Having been the first online wine retailer to achieve Carbon Neutral status in 2022, we plan to continue our work in operating sustainably going forward. We see improving the impact our brand has on the world as a huge opportunity and it links nicely back to our purpose of making life more enjoyable.
Other focus areas are customer acquisition and the commercial arm of the business, and our extremely effective partnerships with major brands such as Moonpig and Saga. Collaborations like these are great opportunities for the business to reach new audiences and further build brand awareness, and we hope to embark on more in the future.
Have you considered opening any physical space or J-Vs with brick and mortar partners?
We don’t plan to open any physical stores and are focusing our efforts on continued growth in e-commerce. However, we do host multiple tasting events across the country each year, which is a great way to get see our customers and interact with them in person, and meet some new ones. With hundreds of bottles available at each event, customers get the chance to discover the breadth of our wine range, interact with our fantastic team and get a real feel for what Virgin Wines is about. People return to our events year after year.
What are the future plans, tech investments?
Looking ahead, we hope to continue to develop the brand and achieve our goal of being the UK’s favourite online wine retailer. We plan to continue to secure commercial partnerships and grow that arm of the business. We’ve also just invested in a new warehouse management system to improve efficiency and meet growing demand.