Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Determine if a Retail Wine Club is Reputable

Wine clubs are as varied as the wines they sell.  Some clubs are good, offering decent wines at affordable prices. Some wine clubs are outstanding, presenting you with great variety of wonderful wines, personal selection, wine education materials, and discounts. And then there are some that are unfortunately just a waste of patience, time, and money.

So how do you determine which clubs are legitimate and which are questionable?  It’s time for a little computer detective work.

To begin, never sign up for a wine club without first reading the fine print in the agreement, and make sure you understand it.  If not, call the company for an explanation.  If they will not give one, or did not explain it to your satisfaction, look for a club with better customer service.

Pay attention when wine clubs are offered by well-known companies like Delta, American Airlines, Best Buy, Williams- Sonoma, Good Sam, or the NRA. While joining these wine clubs may get you points, rewards, or a donation made to a cause you support, remember these companies are not involved in the wine industry. They are not selecting or providing the wines, nor are they handling the shipping, or dealing with any problems that occur. 

They have entered into an agreement with a third party wine club vendor to create a turn key wine club; a club which provides market-ready private label wine brands to be sold as a well-known company’s  “wine club.”  In return, the well-known company will get a percentage of the wine club sales their name is attached to. A third party vendor is the one responsible for selling the wine.

So, it makes sense that before joining a wine club, check out the wine club's web page for information about the club, who is managing it, and what is required to join and be a member.  If there is another vendor involved, this is where you can uncover who the actual third party wine seller is. 

If there is a third party vendor involved, it’s time to Google that seller's name. This is how you'll discover what their internet reputation is.  And you need to know because this is the company you will be sending your personal information and club forms to, where you're making your wine selection requests, indicating your club preferences, billing options, providing shipping information, and paying for the wines. And ultimately, this is the company you must deal with if there are any problems.

If you discover information that concerns you, take the next step and check the third party wine club seller's reputation with the Better Business Bureau  Also check to see if there any complaints registered with their home county BBB.  If so, proceed with caution. Few people will take the time to submit a BBB complaint unless they are very unhappy.  If you start reading pages of complaints, walk away.

The last step, if you’re finding some questionable comments and reviews, is to go to Ripoff Report and see if anything has been submitted. There are usually some rants here, but when you start finding report after report that says basically the same thing.... Enough said.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) issued new regulations for third party wine club vendors, known as TPP’s - Third Party Providers, in 2011.  TPP’s are relatively new to the wine industry, and the ABC felt that guidelines from the 20th Century did not encompass the complicated environment of selling wine on the internet today. Most TPP's are located in California because of the immense grape growing regions.

There are several web sites that review wine clubs.  But before taking what they say as absolute, be sure to find out how they go about the reviewing process.  Is the wine club vendor required to pay for it’s review, or send free samples to be reviewed, or advertise on the wine club reviewer's web site?  How do you find out? Check the bottom of the reviewer's web page for a link, usually under “About Us”, “How to Submit Your Wines”, or the simply stated “Compensation Disclosure.” 

If you find a wine club that sounds too good to be true – it just might be. Check it out. Remember, a wine club is only as good as the value, service, and enjoyment you receive. 

~ Joy