A series: Selling wine in New Zealand – Part 4

A series of interviews and articles with a theme of buying and selling wine here in NZ. Part 4: The Online Retail specialist. Interview: Holly Brendling (Marketing & Business development), www.BlackMarket.co.nz.

How did Black Market come about – what’s the background to it being founded? Black Market was founded in 2000 by our director, Richard Knight. The business began as a way of offering a small group of wine enthusiasts special deals on wine from cancelled export orders and excess stock from wineries, as well as a desire to create a centralised platform for purchasing high quality wine at a less inflated retail price. It started as a fax-based business, where Richard would fax out special offers to members of his Black Market wine enthusiast group, they would return fax their orders, and the wine would then be shipped to their door. Eventually this grew to a retail website, and we have been developing and continue to develop it into a hub for wine enthusiasts that want high quality and exclusive wines at exceptional prices.

Without giving away all your secrets… what is the model for blackmarket.co.nz? Our business model is simple, Black Market receives order details and immediately distributes them to the suppliers. The whole transaction occurs simply between the customer and the supplier. Upon accepting the customer’s order and payment the supplier then couriers the product to its customer.

Where blackmarket.co.nz is not the actual supplier then it is paid a commission by each supplier based on the amount of product sold by the supplier via its advertisements on www.blackmarket.co.nz. Black Market does not operate any physical retail or wholesale outlets.

What makes you unique? Black Market is 100% New Zealand owned and operated by a group of wine enthusiasts passionate about making great wine accessible to all. We are unique because we work for our members, we negotiate the best prices on behalf of them, and invite them to share their thoughts with us through our community-based website elements, particularly member written reviews.

Do you offer special deals only to members, like a Closed User Group? What’s the benefit to joining up? Our dominant form of communication with our members is our regular ‘Blackmail’ e-alert, where users can see the latest and greatest in terms of deals we have to offer them, new vintage releases, award-winning wine, promotional pricing etc. The benefit to joining is simple – be the first to know. It’s no secret that Black Market wines are popular and can sell out quickly, therefore the best way to ensure you are the first to access these deals are to be signed up to our Blackmail e-alerts.

How do you get someone to try a wine they’re not familiar with? That’s a great question. We find that generally, people are more inclined to try an unfamiliar wine if it has been highly awarded, or comes recommended by Black Market members in the member reviews. Because these reviews are solely by customers, members tend to trust the opinions of their fellows and are therefore more likely to be a bit more adventurous based on those.

Black Market also taste every wine submitted for presence on the site to ensure its quality and value for money. During our tasting sessions we come across some pretty spectacular wines that customers are less likely to be familiar with, and we are happy to promote these through our e-alerts and social media channels, which our members also see as a valuable indication of whether they should consider purchasing or not.

Do people browse and jump on something that catches their eye – like wandering down a supermarket aisle? Are there tricks to getting a sale, like in a physical store? Or do people buy whatever you put in the mailer? Each Black Market member operates on a different purchase journey with us. Given that we have quite a comprehensive portfolio of wine, some members prefer to use the e-alerts we send out as a way of limiting their options to only the most popular wines, or the best deal for that week/month. Some members browse the site based on varietal, viewing the options for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay for instance, and can arrange the site to suit their preference, be it popularity, price, or newest release. Other members have their favourite wines and simply repurchase these on a regular basis. We also have customers that phone in to chat to one of our staff for a recommendation or suggestion, which we are always happy to assist with.

How do you choose what to mail out – do you have multiple lists filled with specific preferences? The Blackmail e-alerts are our way of communicating the best deals we have on offer for our members. They are run by our director, Richard, who has been sending them for twenty years and has quite the knack for picking great wines to feature. We then send these to members based on their preferences, so that the deals they see are relevant to them. Presence in Blackmail e-alerts cannot be bought, and is dictated by our personal recommendations to our members. 

I see a lot of your wines on offer showing Gold medals and review points – do you use the same medals, and reviewers? We like to add accolades to our wines where we believe they will encourage customers to consider purchasing a wine that we know to be exceptional quality. 

As with stickers on wine bottles in a supermarket or liquor store, we understand that basic psychology dictates that a customer considers an award a good indication of quality. We are therefore happy to use these hard-earned accolades to represent wines we are truly proud to sell. We use the reviews of reputable critics, which in combination with our member reviews and ratings, we believe gives a pretty well-rounded description of what a wine is like.

Is it a situation where you give every wine to Sam, and if he reviews it at over 90 points… you promote it? If we think a Sam Kim review is in line with our personal beliefs on a wine, we are happy to include it in our listing and promotional material. Our aim is always to communicate to the customer as much about the wine as we can to assist them with their decision making, no matter how positively or negatively the information is skewed. We have used Sam Kim reviews in our listings for years, and find them to be a valuable addition to the description for each wine.

You also encourage members to submit votes and reviews? Definitely – I believe this to be the best element of the site. Our members love wine, are passionate about it, and at Black Market they have the platform to tell others what they loved, or perhaps didn’t love so much, about each of our products. We encourage honest reviews, and consider each review when considering other wines from the same winery or range that we add to the site. We truly listen to what our members have to say, and appreciate the time they take to tell us what they think of our products.

What trends have you noticed – or are predicting? What do think is next for New Zealand wines? We recently ran a survey for Rosé drinkers called The Black Market Rosé Survey. Over 500 respondents told us what their preferences were for Rosé wine, and we gained a comprehensive insight into our members’ Rosé preferences. It was revealed that while forty-nine percent of respondents drink Rosé frequently in summer, only eight percent drink Rosé frequently in autumn and winter. Price is the top priority when it comes purchasing Rosé, whilst country of origin and varietal are the second and third most important factors, respectively, on which wine respondents choose to purchase. The average price respondents indicated that they would be happy to pay for a bottle of Rosé from a retailer was twenty dollars.

In terms of what’s next for New Zealand wine, we believe that local winemakers will continue to develop and refine the unique aspects that accompany each individual terrior where the grapes are grown. Our different wine region are already quite recognisable relative to the style of wine they produce, and this is what makes people love a wine from a particular region. When these regional characteristics soar, of which New Zealand has such a rich variety, a very special wine is to be had.

Are you behind New Zealand wine, or is just about selling whatever the market wants? We are wholeheartedly behind New Zealand wine. Many of the local suppliers and wineries that we work with come to us directly and run tasting sessions with us, take us through their production processes, invite us to visit them on site and view their vineyards and warehouses, and like to retain a close relationship to us as their retailer. We see their passion, their world renowned product, their ingenuity and courage, and we are proud to promote them. Besides, it’s not a tough job when New Zealand wine is undeniably some of the best available on the market.

What’s the strangest order you’ve ever had? We don’t have many particularly strange orders, but we are always prepared to do what we can to assist with any customer requests, be they strange or not. 

What product has sold the best – wish you had 10,000 cases of? It’s tough to pick a product that has sold the best, as there are many different popular wines based on trends, deals, recommendations, awards etc. Some stand out products in terms of best-sellers would be our exclusive mixed cases of French and Spanish wine, our Central Otago Pinot Noir, and our range of NZ Sauvignon Blanc that are particularly good value for money. 

Any personal favourites? I have loads! Kelly Washington wines are particularly special to me, my favourite being the 2017 Southern Valleys Sauvignon Blanc, organically grown in Marlborough. If you would normally shy away from a Sav due to its more tart and overly acidic characters, I highly recommend giving this wine a go. It is beautifully delicate, more herbal than fruity, and has just a lick of oak presence that warms the whole glass. It’s stunning. If I am drinking red, I love the 2018 Eight Ranges ‘Trail Rider’ Central Otago Pinot Noir. It is really just everything great that a Central Otago Pinot should be, and I consider it wonderful value for money.

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