If you collect Whisky (or any other dram) you will probably spend a lot of time chasing your favourite tipple for a good price or trying to find that elusive limited release that only had a run of 162 bottles (thank you Serge for letting me know the 94 points you gave it whist telling me I won’t find it anyway).
Spending some time online certainly satisfies a true collector’s obsession and – at times – one even gets lucky and the effort pays off. The hunt is a part of being a whisky lover that I wouldn’t like to miss; whilst my favourite part is certainly ‘doing it in the flesh’ on distillery tours, special tasting events, or simply at your local bar, one has to admit that the online chase also has its charms. For someone such as me who is living in a fairly remote area of the world, online retailers are a true blessing as they allow me to access and select from the wide world of whisky wherever my favourite tipple may be located. Despite all the greatness of online liquor retailing, there are also some really annoying aspects to it. The list below tackles some of the more common issues and risks.
No-No Nr. 1 -> The ‘Sold out’ issue
The single most annoying thing one encounters when chasing whisky online has to be the most common one at the same time: Online retailers who keep listing their ‘Sold out’ stock among their available stock. You may argue that it’s not really a problem and the retailer probably just wants to highlight their skill of sourcing special bottles they manage to get in the past. In my view it’s just showing-off. Unless there is a realistic chance that a bottle becomes available again in the foreseeable future, I have no interest to see what was previously there while scanning through current stock. I’m more than happy to look that up in a dedicated ‘past stock’ section, but there is nothing more annoying than to make a great catch only to find out a few clicks later that the bottle is long gone.
Some retailers at least grey out products that aren’t available anymore (on the summary page), or they list the sold-out ones at the bottom. Many though toy with your heart by raising hope only to shatter it once you try to click the ‘order now’ button. The most artful of them all is La Maison du Whisky with their cheeky ‘definitively unavailable’ descriptor, which makes you feel a little less (or is it more…?) stupid for even trying. The ‘Sold out’ issue becomes particular annoying when retailers keep listing the original prices alongside drams that sold out 3 years ago. Karuizawa for ‘148 Euros’ anyone? …. AWAITING SHIPMENT!
In the end of the day, there is a straightforward solution to the entire problem: simply allow your clients to filter it out ‘sold out’ stock by clicking a box. See, problem solved - Muchas Gracias!
NoNo Nr. 2 -> No (smart) sorting options
No-No number two expands right on that ‘filter’ option mentioned earlier: Retailers who do not let you sort through their offerings by using smart filters and different ways of displaying their products. Who hasn’t spent hours going through a highly promising list of goodies whilst being held back at the same time by a lack of control on how to access information? In some instances it is the 12 items per page limit, in other instances it is the endless toilet paper roll of information sorted by who-knows-what.
The solution is simple again: allow customers to determine the amount of items displayed (or at least give options) and allow to sort (up or down) by product name, price, or rating.
No-No Nr. 3 -> Pre-order/Backorder timing
At No-No number three we have the instance where retailers are a bit too keen to sell you their products even if they do not have proper control when it is (back) in. This is different to the problem mentioned at the start. Here, there is a realistic chance that the product listed will become available in the near future. It is probably already ordered or maybe even on its way to the retailer. Still, in some instances that may not quite be the case as orders get delayed, previous supply chains get disrupted or other circumstances complicate the situations. This issue wouldn't be much of a problem if it weren’t for retailers who already collect your money to then tease you with unrealistic delivery dates. Very naughty!
A way around this is to rather put clients on a waiting list (first in- first served) with a preferred option to purchase once the product has arrived.
No-No Nr. 4 -> Not exactly as described
Next up in our No-No list is the issue retailer who incorrectly or insufficiently label what they are selling. In most instances this is less of a vicious deception than a sloppy oversight. Still, it proves to be problematic – in particular if you are after a specific release (e.g. from a particular cask or batch) and what the postman delivers is ever so slightly different from what you ordered. Retailers who commit this mistake likely have to take back the product if you insist. Nevertheless, the hustle of arguing for a refund and posting back the ‘wrong delivery’ is annoying (not to mention the disappointment about the fact that the ‘amazing find’ turns out to be its ‘not so amazing’ sibling)
No-No Nr. 5 -> Inflated delivery costs
Most online retailers and suppliers actually behave pretty well in this regard. It is a competitive market and customers realise pretty quickly if they are ripped off at their ‘special offer’ suddenly turns out to be more expensive than elsewhere due to inflated ‘package and handling’ fees. Most retailers are transparent and upfront about their delivery costs (with a dedicated section/mention on their websites); many even offer free delivery when the purchase amount goes above a certain threshold. Problems typically arise for international shipping and when purchasing directly off a distillery (no competition there). 30$/Euros delivery cost for a single bottle delivered locally is just not fair if the postal service costs one third of that – NO SENOR!
No-No Nr. 6 -> Fakes
Fakes are a particular problem that luckily only affects a very small portion of (often very high cost) drams. Spotting a fake online is nearly impossible (although there are some indicators of what to look out for). Offers that are simply too good to be true, or sources that are not clearly identified should provide warning signs to collectors who – often driven by their passion – may let down their guard temporarily if an offer is too tempting to resist. A number of whisky aficionados have already written about this extensively and I won’t repeat their comments here.
Good news for most of us: Chances are low we order a 25-year-old Macallan from an Italian seller as our day to day tipple, and we may also resist that 800$ 1974 Ardbeg. In case of doubt, it always pays off to do a quick google if the particular dram in question has had any counterfeits popping up in recent times.
No-No Nr. 7 -> Unrealistic tasting notes / ratings
One minor No-No that may catch out the online-hunter novice occurs when online retailers talk up the quality of the dram they are selling. No matter if it’s about the rarity of the dram, or its characteristics, customers always ought to check twice what they are buying and not rely on the retailer’s online assessment alone. There are truly dedicated retailers out there who make an effort to provide honest reviews. Bear in mind that in the end of the day, it is their business to sell any bottle they have in stock, no matter how good or bad it is. Also: tastes are different and not everyone would agree with how a particular seller rates their drams. The best protection for any buyer is to know their stuff and ideally even know the exact tipple they buy. Other than that, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick scan of reviews of a particular dram e.g. on whiskybase to get a better idea of what others are saying.
No-No Nr. 8 -> Last minute ‘no-deal’
Ahh, what a nuisance. This truly leads to ‘toying with your heart’ moments! Picture yourself finding this great reseller that has a phenomenal selection of drams you are after. You are the kid in the candy shop and pile up the goods in the basket (sounds familiar?). You then go to checkout and spend about 15 minutes to do all the ‘register your account here’ steps (entering your contact details, payment details etc.). So far so good! The address field lists your country and state of delivery, your payment details get registered and accepted and you are only one click away to seal the deal (having spent nearly one hour to get the order ready)! And then….NIET! NADA! F&CK OFF!
“Your address is incorrect or we do not ship to your destination, please revise your details and try again….“Pain! Pure pain!
This typically happens if you order from US retailer and I have to admit (some)one should know better than to try again (and again and again). If a retailer’s drop-down menu at checkout lists your country and even your state for delivery, that doesn’t mean they are willing/able to ship there. Some of us learn this the hard way and it doesn’t help that many online retailers do not specifically state their delivery conditions at an easily accessible spot on their website. Not much one can do about this other than to keep on trying.
No-No Nr. 9 -> Box missing
This is an odd one, but it has caught me out on a few very expensive bottles: retailer who – for whatever reason – do not ship a specific bottle in the box/enclosure it originated from the distillery.
In most instances, this isn’t a real problem. Who cares if your box has the original label on it as long as the bottle and the whisky in it are ‘original’? There are some instances though where the lack of the original box can seriously devaluate a purchase. Think about rare releases that you’d like to keep and potentially re-sell at a later stage. For these bottles collectors will most likely insist on the complete packaging. They may even get suspicious if some of it is missing (think fakes…). One should not automatically assume that a bottle comes with its original packaging if only the bottle is displayed on the retailer’s website. It’s always good to double-check with the retailer to ensure the original package is include and und pristine condition.
No-No Nr. 10 -> Follow up Spam
The last point in this list is about a No-No that occurs after you already received your order: Regular follow-up emails from retailers with updates I simply don’t need. Yes, I understand you offer a six-pack of Budweiser at a special price and that Pinot seems like a good deal, yet I don’t really drink either of those. It seems I was too quick in purchasing my Whisky and forgot to un-click that box just before payment. If you at least made an effort of getting to know me and my drinking habits, you may end up sending through offers that may actually interest me. Instead, I’m more likely going to take my email off your newsletter distributor (that – if you allow me to). Speaking of: please DEKANTA, stop molesting me on all my email addresses and my Facebook with your overpriced Japanese drams – I unsubscribed from you a long time ago!