The Frustrations of Online Beer

It’s got a lot easier to order beer online than it was ten years ago, but it can still be a frustrating experience, and that’s a big problem for retailers.

Here’s why: Amazon have perfected a shopping ‘experience’ which means it is possible, acting on a whim, to find, buy and pay for a product before you have chance to reconsider the expenditure. Less-than-perfect online stores, on the other hand, give plenty of opportunity for it to dawn on us that we’re about to spend £70 on 25 bottles of beer and back out of the deal.

We can’t quite be bothered to give individual feedback to the various retailers we’ve used or tried to use this week (that would be unpaid consultancy) but here are some general gripes which apply to more than one.

1. Out of stock items in search results. When we search, we only want to see things that are available to buy right now — not what was in a week ago, or might be in again tomorrow, but now. If you must show it, grey it out, or put a big OUT OF STOCK flag across the thumbnail image. Definitely don’t make us click it and then display a tiny pop up window with the bad news. That’s like playing Minesweeper.

2. Making us guess how many are in stock. We try to add six bottles of one beer to the basket, you say, ‘We don’t have that quantity.’ We try five, you say, ‘We don’t have that quantity.’ Four? Three? See how this could get annoying?

3. Offering a bulk discount but not having enough in stock to fulfil it. When your stock control database shows fewer than twelve bottles in the warehouse, your website shouldn’t display the bulk discount message. Full stop.

4. Making it hard to find the products we want to give you money for. The search box needs to work properly, from every screen, and return relevant results. We shouldn’t have to click Store > Beer > Belgian Beer > Breweries > [Brewery name] > [Beer name] before we even see a BUY button, either.

5. Taking us back to the start every time we click BUY. When we add a beer to the shopping basket, we expect to carry on where we left off on page 14 of Norwegian IPAs; we don’t expect to be taken back to the home screen from where we have to navigate all over again. Imagine that in a bricks’n’mortar shop: add to basket, get dragged back to the front door, walk back to aisle, add to basket… you’d give up, right?

6. Showing us five beers at a time. Having to click through twenty screens to see all the British beer is frustrating. Give us the option to see more on screen at once, especially if your website loads pages sloooooooooooowly.

7. Error screens. We reached the checkout stage in one store and tried to purchase only to be show an error message and a page of back-end code. This was not only frustrating but also made us think twice about trusting them with our credit card details.

Every one of the items listed above has caused us to abandon orders in the past. You can probably assume that, for every person who writes a blog about it, there are, say, a hundred who don’t. They just go to Tesco instead.

In conclusion, you need to test your site until it breaks, then fix it; and you need to sit ordinary people down and watch them try to use your website to buy beer, without help or prompting, and see what annoys them, then fix that, too.

With thanks to the Beer Nut for pointing us to the video above.

11 replies on “The Frustrations of Online Beer”

you can add unclear p&p charges as beer is a heavily breakable product that requires a decent courier.

or you could just say sod it and go to Tesco and buy enough grog to kill and elephant for £20

^ This.

The shipping just makes it cost prohibitive as far as I’m concerned. I’ll forego the opportunity to drink fantastic, rare beers when I can pick up Jaipur, Kipling, Swan, Punk, Saint, Citra, Scarlet Macaw, Proper Job, Mad Goose, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Chimay, Duvel and a whole bunch of other decent stuff at the local Waitrose.

Also, I’m lucky enough to be able to drop in to Cotteridge Wines occasionally. Who, I might add, charge very reasonable prices.

When we lived in London, we rarely bought beer online, but it makes a lot more sense now we don’t have easy access to specialist shops or even most major supermarkets. (We’ve got Tesco and Morrison’s in Penzance, neither of which stocks a full range of beer.)

On price, we were impressed with Noble Green Wines, who offer a discount when you buy more than six bottles, and free delivery for orders over £75, meaning that some beers were cheaper than in Tesco. (Website was painful to use, though.)

I agree with all these points. If some is able to create a beautiful user experience matched with a good list of booze then they will see a lot of business from me.

At the moment, some have the stock, others have the prices, and no-one really has a *great* website. Beer Merchants, for us, has the best balance of value and selection.

One that annoys me is having to click on the beer to add to basket, put a buy button next to the beers on overview screen.

I think I’ve been to most websites you’ve mentioned, brewdog and ales by mail seem the best experience wise

There’s another thing about on-line beer shopping. I wouldn’t buy beer on-line in summer and I would discourage anyone from doing it (and if it was within my power, I would discourage brewers from selling online in summer, unless they can guarantee the beer will be shipped in refrigerated cars).

Another comment to make is one of shelf life. If you are running a store it makes sense to shift your short dated stock first. As a punter it makes sense to buy the longest dated stock. If you do a grocery shop online you can get the packet of food that goes off sooner than if you went to the store and put your hand to the back of the shelf. It is no different with independent specialist off licences.

You are better off making a trip out in the car and picking your products sight seen than buying sight unseen. Goes just as much for asking them to make up an order over the phone to be picked up than ordering online.

It sometimes requires a refusal to be embarrassed. Squeeze the fruit in the grocers, look at the bottles in the off licence. Don’t take the box of beer from the top of the pile, ask for the one at the bottom and if it is a problem explain that he can sell you the box of Weissbier with the shelf life into next year and make a sale or keep the one on the top of the pile dated next month. You can be cheeky enough to ask for a discount on the short dated box, with a “I suppose I could take it off your hands for a substantial discount”. Asking is different from getting, but asking politely is just trade. As a customer value your own wallet first. People that say they want to pay top dollar to support pubs/brewers/businesses are mugs. You will be better of paying the least possible for the best possible. You don’t work for low pay to support your employer, you ask for as much as you can get. Do the same when you spend it.

You’re right, that is an issue: we have had beers delivered very near their use by date in the past.

As for jumping in the car, we don’t have one, and I guess it’s because we factor in a certain amount of money every year for cabs and delivery charges (and save on repairs, petrol, insurance, tax) that we don’t object too much.

Off-topic I know but my annual summer visit to Dartmouth hoves into view and I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for anything interesting nearby ?

Sure you’ve explored it already, but Totnes has quite a few nice pubs, not to mention a ton of lovely listed buildings.

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