How to Navigate Your Wine Store: A Savvy Shopper’s Guide

AN EXCITING place filled with great finds or a labyrinth for non-oenophiles? A wine store can be both. Overwhelmed by options, one can easily get lost in the aisles. What if it turned out there’s a method to the merchandising? While the selection of bottles varies from store to store, merchants can be remarkably consistent in the way they arrange them.

After talking to wine shop owners around the country, I’ve created a map of a typical store. As pandemic precautions continue to make us keenly aware of how much time we spend in a store, shopping strategically can alleviate stress and might even lead to discovering great values.

If it’s summer, the rosé is reliably positioned right by the door, and if it’s fall, there’s likely to be a light red wine. In other words, the front of the shop is a seasonal spot. I asked Ali Besharat, associate professor of marketing at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, what he thought of these placements. “Matching season and customer is very important,” he said. “People want to make a minimal cognitive effort.” But the front of the store is also where staffers are likely to voice their vinous opinions with featured “staff picks” or “greatest hits.” These wines are often “value-priced,” noted Steve Flynn, owner of Amsterdam Wine Co. in New York City. Mr. Flynn places four wines in the front, designated as staff picks. Phil Bernstein, general manager of Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages in Washington, D.C., features staff picks priced at $15 a bottle up front, along with several of the store’s direct-import wines. At Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale, N.Y., staff picks are, likewise, positioned next to the door—directly across from the hand sanitizer, another consistent feature in most wine shops today.

Beyond offering hand sanitizer for customers’ use, retailers have made other Covid-19-related changes to stores, creating larger pathways between aisles and removing large displays of wine from the floor. But the biggest changes might be found near the cash register. Shoppers waiting to check out must now stand at least 6 feet apart, which often means longer lines and the opportunity for merchants to sell more wine or wine-related merchandise.

As at many stores, the offerings near the register are geared toward impulse buying. Within easy reach of the cashier’s line at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, N.J., customers find novelties such as wine in cans and accessories such as corkscrews, fun wine gadgets and cheese boards. The concept is similar in the four other Gary’s stores in New Jersey and Napa, according to proprietor Gary Fisch.Gina Trippi, co-proprietor of Metro Wines in Asheville, N.C., features wine in cans and wine in boxes near her cash register, as well as dog toys made from old T-shirts. (The dog-friendly proprietors feature photos of favorite canines all over their store.)

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