Internet-based wine sellers have prospered over the past 10 years, but none as much as Naked Wines. This wine merchant has deployed a very clever marketing approach: you aren’t buying wines as much as becoming a benefactor supporting promising winemakers. The marketing approach borders on brilliant and the wines are largely priced between $10-20, making them accessible to inexperienced wine shoppers. It’s website is quite sophisticated, offering customers an opportunity to post reviews and converse with the winemakers themselves. They even want you to follow other customers’ and their purchases. By the way, customers are referred to as “angels”. But do you have to go Naked to get good deals on wine? That’s what we sought to find out.
We were quite taken with the concept and signed up for membership in 2014. We’ve purchased over a dozen different wines and sampled close to 50 during the two “road shows” that Naked Wines holds for its members. Yes, we’ve made those sacrifices for our readers because……we are so committed to consumer education (and because we like wine). Customers are “members” and you contribute $40 per month towards supporting the winemakers and, by the way, also purchasing their wines. The company claims that because wine available through Naked Wines is pre-sold, the independent winemakers don’t have to spend much money on sales, marketing and distribution. How smart is that — cut out the middleman and deliver the savings to you! It has been referred to as the Netflix of wines and, due to its monthly fee, bypassing of traditional wine distribution channels and clever marketing, the comparison isn’t entirely off-base.
Be warned, though. Naked Wines has embraced the current marketing craze of creating interesting stories to hook their customers into making purchases. For just about every wine you buy, you’ll be presented carefully written “stories” about each of the winemakers. Naked Wines is committing to pulling your heartstrings as much as pleasing your taste buds. Frankly, we prefer when the wine does the walking and talking, but Naked Wines’ marketers have fully embraced the notion of “cause” marketing. They want you to care about the wines and the winemakers. Here are some of the other things we gleaned about Naked Wines’ offerings during our membership:
- Over the two years, we ordered 18 wines that ranged between $8 and $25. None of them stood out as remarkable values. We also sampled about 40 wines at the road show tastings. We found four wines that were notable, but they were priced at around the same price that we’d have (and had) spent for comparable wines. In short, we didn’t find that “cutting out the middleman” resulted in substantial savings.
- Ignore the “normal price” that they tout as if it were a list price. From the best that we can tell, they are simply making up the “savings” between the normal price and the angel price charged to its customers. Most of the wines we tasted were fairly priced…..but at the “normal price” these same wines would be horribly overpriced.
- None of the wines were tasted were bad. Similar to other wine clubs, the screening process that Naked Wines uses to build their inventory does substantially reduce the odds that you’ll get a dud wine.
- If customer service is important to you, then you’ll be pleased with Naked Wines. Each time we had to correct orders or track deliveries, the customer service staff were particularly responsive and customer friendly. They’ve subscribed to Amazon-style customer service and it serves them well. They still have some customer service glitches to work out though. Twice, we had wines that were delivered late or never materialized. Orders aren’t always fulfilled properly and their staff lacks experience. For example, we inquired into the availability of a out-of-stock wine and were told that we’d be informed if new stock came in. But it never did and, in all likelihood, never would.
- The particularly good wines sell out quickly. We found that the best wines that we sampled became out of stock quickly….too quickly, in fact. At one recent tasting, we found 8 wines that we thought were decent — they were all out of stock within 30 days or less. So if you find a wine that you really like, it is unlikely that it will be around for long.
- Get ready to be marketed to death. We received promotional emails from “Rowan”, the named founder of Naked Wines, every week and sometimes, it felt like every day. There’s a fine line between informing customers and overselling customers; Naked Wines crossed that line frequently. With Naked Wines’ recent purchase by British wine seller Majestic Wines (for over $100 million), you can be sure that the marketing will be ramped up. Naked Wines is now a pretty sizable business.
Overall, we greatly admire Naked Wines’ marketing approach to wine; they are innovative and deserve praise for that. The wines are consistently good, but not great. The values are OK, but not killer good. If you are an inexperienced wine buyer, you can do a lot worse than Naked Wines. However, if you are a pretty sophisticated wine drinker and you are looking for unusually good deals on unusually good wines, you’ll likely be disappointed in Naked Wines. We have some useful tips into find high-quality wines at great prices that don’t require you to go Naked.