The downside of shopping wine online


What kind of customer are you? Faithful to a retailer and hence having built up a healthy relationship where a mutual trust exists? Or are you constantly looking for good buys which results in buying from several different stores?

It’s 2013 and I dare saying that most of us today knows that it’s difficult finding a shop offering all the stuff you’re interested in. Hence we buy from several sources.  I do, although I have my favorites where I am a trusted customer. But most of all, we’re buying more and more online.

With online shopping a new world opens up and it is obvious that ethics amongst shop owners differs. The main dilemma as I see it, is the handling of defect wines. A majority handles it excellently, at least the ones I’ve had to contact when popping a bad bottle. Others don’t even respond when being informed about a cork tainted bottle, not even after repeated emails.

A mould stenching bottle of Cos d’Estournel, also on the inside. Would I have bought it if I could smell this had been cellared with bad company? Should the online shop have told me ahead? In the end, it’s all about ethics….

Naturally, all countries has their legislation but as in my case, buying from EU countries there is a set standard that should be implemented in the domestic ruling. Still, there are lots of unanswered questions such as:

  • Can an online shop demand you send back a defect wine? Who is to pay the costs for this?
  • A buyer can’t examine the bottles in advance; the ullage and indications on how it has been kept in general. How much information is an online store supposed to specify online – or should we just trust that a listed wine seems visually ok?
  • When is a wine a ‘caveat emptor’ – that is, the buyer’s risk? Should it be stated when presenting the wine online?
  • Should a customer accept a voucher or can he/she demand a reimbursement?

Customer or online retailer; what’s your take on theses issues? I know there are risks from both point of views but without a buyer, there is no shop.

  • Carlo

    This year we have had seventythree cork-complaints and cork-returns. If you double that up to take into account all the
    customers who do not bother to complain and even if you add a generous portion of borderline cork faults, it still gives a figure the handling of which should pose no economic problems for a wine merchant.

    At any rate it is my opinion that yes, a webshop can ask you to send back a faulty bottle but the customers should have no expensens other than the bother of being home when the bottle is collected, or of running to the PO to send it.

    Anything that falls out of the difinition “regular bottle” should be indicated and indeed underlined in the promo material.

    “Caveat emptor”: apart from wine auctions and the like, the
    senetnce does not belong to a sound wine trade.

    Voucher/rembursement: in cases when the cost of the freight might exceed the value of the wine, or when that particular wine is sold out both voucher and rembursement can be viable
    solutions to be proposed to (not imposed on) the customer.

    In fact answers to all your questions are provided by the current counsumer act in most of the European countries I know of. Let’s get on with some wine buying



    • Carlo, I have never bought anything from you but several of my friends has and hence I know you’re one of the good guys!

      The downside is that even if I as a consumer, has the law behind me, there will always be those out there who doesn’t give a d-mn because they know I will most likely never contact the responsible authorities to file a complaint. Especially when buying from a foreign country. Online shopping gives birth to scrupulous behavior, both at the selling and buying side. Mutual trust is hence essential and I have for sure learnt my lessons.

      I’m not going to mention any name now but I bought a case last summer from an online retailer in Germany. 2 bottles were badly corked and I reported that, first a few months ago and now again a month ago. They don’t even respond to my mails anymore. It’s not more than 25 euros but still, the behavior is not by the book.

      In another case it was not clear at all that a wine was sold caveat emptor. And when the bottle was corked of course, there i stood, with almost hundred euros wasted.

      Most retailers handle this excellently, but not all. And when it comes to defect bottles, again I have the respect for the fact a retailer would have me to resend a wine, if it is an expensive one.

      Very glad you responded because there is always two sides of the coin and both needs to be allowed to tell their story!

      All the best,


  • Carlo

    All considered I also feel that the “no questions asked” approach is more conducive to good business both in the short and in the long run. And it leaves the wine merchant with the upper hand. One good reason for asking the bottle back is to alert the producer, should the flaw repeat itself. Thres is a customary disclaimer ( 3%) that cork-sellers impose om buyers.
    Beyond that it is a matter of insurance, so even if it is not normal for the producer to refund flawed bottles, I have never experienced that a producer
    has denied to do so. Which means that the wine merchant has all the means
    of keeping af good customer satisfied. Then the point is “how do you identifty
    a good customer” ? easy: the good customer is the one, who partakes you of his/her encounters with the bottles you have sold to him/her. All claims are

    an occasion for dialogue. Not all dialogues end in sheer harmony, but at the least
    the merchant is given the chance for making the bad good. Bad customers are
    those who never react, just chuck the tainted bottle in the dustbin, think bad of you, give your wine bad publicity and you never see them again.

    • I always tries to identify the LOT number of the tainted bottle in case there might be a pattern with a whole part being bad – so that the retailer can help the producer to identify it.

      And as you say, mutual trust, between all involved, are the ideal. Cork producers, wine producers, retailers and end consumers. I know that the cork producers won’t always accept a claim and might refer to a contamination in the cellar of the producer (and I understand that reasoning in the short perspective) it is still in the end something that will be of negative character for them, when producers get tired and switches to an alternative closure.


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