In recent years, the options for digital commerce have boomed, splintered, and merged – the entire landscape can easily seem a blur. There are the handful of wine-specific platforms, the cross-category behemoths like Shopify and BigCommerce, and the quasi-custom options of Salesforce and Magento (now Adobe Commerce). On the surface, many offer similar functionality, and can seem interchangeable. So to understand the differences between them, comparing feature sets may actually not be as useful as understanding how – and for what – they are optimized.

On the one hand, there are ready-to-use platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce that are general in approach, and massive in scale. They have literally made their businesses off of frictionless transactions. But optimizing for lightning-fast product scrolls and checkouts also means deprioritizing the nuances of brand that you might not want to sacrifice.

On the other hand, there are bespoke solutions – gone are the days of building custom from scratch. Custom today typically means “customizing” a vast modular system like Salesforce Commerce Cloud or Magento. You can (theoretically) build the exact experience you may want – but it often takes an inordinate amount of time and money. Digital commerce best practices and consumer expectations change so rapidly these days, by the time you’re ready to launch, what you’ve built may already be outdated.

With so many options, which platforms will allow your wine brand to shine, grow, and evolve?

The answer depends wholly on whether you want to focus on creating a customer-centric experience or a transactional one.

It’s really that simple.

One artfully translates the nuances of your wine brand and facilitates the complexities inherent in wine commerce. The other offers an undeniably smooth and speedy checkout experience right out of the box.

You have a choice — the question is, how do you want to represent your brand?

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Managing all the moving parts of a hub-and-spoke system can take up so much bandwidth you might begin to feel like more of a tech company than a wine company.

What we mean by a customer-centric vs. transaction-centric commerce platform

When you consider selling your wine online, you have to think about what you want your customer experience to be like. Do you encourage visitors to explore, even if that might mean a detour from shopping? Or do you get them to products and check-out as quickly as possible, securing a sale, but perhaps not letting them learn about you, or you about them in the process?

This is the fundamental difference between a customer-centric and transaction-centric commerce platform.

When you put your customer first, you’re treating them as a relationship, not just a transaction. You want to learn about them just as much as you want them to learn about you. That often means collecting some information and insight on the way to check-out. And if they don’t even get to check-out, well that’s ok. You’re playing the long-game, focused on their return and retention, not just a one-off transaction. When you put the transaction first, it’s all about the path of least resistance. Products to cart, cart to check-out. Shopping so fast and frictionless, a customer can barely remember it.

This is not to say a customer-centric experience is littered with friction; it’s not. It’s just that there’s so much more you’re wanting from the client than their money: their loyalty, their affinity for your brand. You want them to be part of your community. All of that requires more than a fast-lane checkout experience.

On your website, there are ample opportunities to enhance your customer’s experience at every turn — from the moment they land on your homepage to when they click to finalize their payment after purchasing a case.

A stimulating, customer-centric buying experience isn’t a single moment in time. Rather, it’s several distinctive moments woven together to create one resonant experience.

So, do you want your customers to find compelling content and aesthetics? Stirring images, intriguing bits of education, and emotionally crafted storytelling?

Or do you want them to experience something less imaginative, but fast and easy?

Perhaps you just want to sell your wine first and focus on your customer relationship second. And that is ok. It’s important that you know the difference between the two before you settle on what kind of platform that aligns with your needs.

While the digital landscape is inherently iterative, it doesn’t mean all commerce platforms can evolve with your brand the way you’ll need it to.

How your wine brand’s ecommerce platform can put the customer first

How can a customer have an experience on your website that surprises and delights them? One that’s reflective of your brand’s essence, feeding them information they didn’t know they needed — and leaving them wanting more?

It’s a compelling and attainable objective to strive for. One that requires strategy, institutional knowledge, and sensitivity to the distinctive world of wine.

Of course investing in the right ecommerce platform to enhance your customer’s experience means having a good design — something that flows, compels, and provides a holistic experience. But it also means taking weight off of you.

The reality is, today’s ubiquitous off-the-shelf commerce solutions are undoubtedly intriguing because almost everything is already figured out for you. Complete and ready to go, right out of the gate. Or so it seems.

What isn’t immediately apparent is that to comply with the legal requirements that come with selling wine online, you’re looking at Frankensteining your site with add-ons, plug-ins, and widgets. Then, you’re either stuck maintaining all of that yourself or hiring a third party to do it for you. And that could be someone who is not familiar with the nuances of the industry like you need them to be.

The more resources you spend trying to get your off-the-shelf solution up to par with the compliance requirements, the fewer you have to feed into nurturing your customers. Managing all the moving parts of a hub-and-spoke system can take up so much bandwidth you might begin to feel like more of a tech company than a wine company.

We’re unabashedly obsessive about the customer experience at Offset. We have a team with wide-ranging expertise in the wine space – and we’ve learned from experience that having everything under one roof, from branding to commerce strategies to site design – is the best way to ensure a great customer experience. With their brand and commerce under our mindful care, our clients can pour more passion into their area of expertise: their craft and their customers.

Want your wine’s brand to evolve? your choice of commerce platform matters.

The wine industry has evolved over many centuries. Change is in our nature. It’s safe to assume that at some point your wine brand will want to evolve, too. And while the digital landscape is inherently iterative, it doesn’t mean all commerce platforms can evolve with your brand the way you’ll need it to.

In this way, your choice in a platform has wide-reaching implications. If you decide to invest in an off-the-shelf platform today, what happens in a few years when you want to add a wine club, and your platform can’t accommodate the features you need? We’ll tell you: A lot of time spent with an outside developer and learning way more about the tech side of ecommerce systems than you ever wanted to know.

Not only can choosing the wrong ecommerce platform hinder your brand’s future growth, it can be a complete time and money suck because of its inherent limitations.

For example, say you want to layer open-cart products into your allocation model?. Our commerce platform seamlessly supports multiple sales models, with your customers, inventory, and accounting all in place. And if you have an off-site event, you can simply take the mobile POS app with you without paying a third party like Square to facilitate your transactions. It allows you to quickly and efficiently process in-person orders, keep track of customer information, reference product information, and manage your tasting appointments.

Perhaps your evolution will be less technical in nature, like a rebrand. Will your off-the-shelf platform be able to artfully translate your new bespoke design the right way? Unfortunately, you can’t count on it.

Offset supports changes within your wine brand

The truth is, there is no off-the-shelf commerce solution that will provide the kind of underpinning you will need. It won’t be able to grow with you, change with you, or nourish your changing needs — because it’s simply not designed to. It’s designed to give your customers a quick buying experience with as little friction as possible. That’s it.

But a customizable, design-driven commerce solution like Offset Commerce is designed precisely to evolve with wine brands. It was built to grow as your wine brand grows with customizable functionality and integrations. Offset won’t balk at you launching a wine club tailored to your unique needs or hosting an allocation event.

Your website isn’t merely for commerce, it’s for your story, and our platform offers a user-friendly content management system to support it. It’s the only CMS of its kind with specific features only oenophiles would think to include like wine category additions, trade files, and wine details.

Want to take a different approach to your sales strategy but you’re not sure how that fits into your existing system? The team and tech behind Offset Commerce are ready to adapt, integrating the necessary channels to support your goals without requiring you to take time away from what really matters — focusing on your customers.

We often refer to ourselves as partners to our clients. We’ve never aspired to be faceless software, even if that means greater scalability. Working hands-on with our clients, offering a level of support, collaboration, flexibility, and adaptability that simply doesn’t work with the stock commerce providers’ business models. It doesn’t make us a fit for everyone, and we’re fine with that. For customer-centric, brand-sensitive wineries and retailers, we believe our approach is the best path to growth and sustained success.