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.

Not remotely trendy

Moor beers, from their website

The County Stores in Taunton is one of those shops which seems to have been there forever — the kind of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miss Marple filling a wicker basket with shortbread and packets of powdered egg. Like much in Somerset, it is resolutely conservative and old-fashioned, but there is a point where that instinct overlaps with a fashionable interest in small, local producers.

The result? Shelves stacked with beers from almost all of Somerset’s small breweries. Quantock, Cheddar Ales and — perhaps most excitingly — Moor are all represented in a selection which, perhaps unwittingly, echoes what you might see in a much trendier specialist off-licence.

If you’re passing through Somerset and want to stock your fridge with local beer, head here but, also, if you’re anywhere else in the country, keep an eye on your local family-run department store or farm shop — you never know what might lurk within, beyond the cardigans, balls of wool and miniature porcelain cottages.