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 thoughts on “The Frustrations of Online Beer”

  1. 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

    1. ^ 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.

      1. 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.)

    1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 ?

    1. 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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