It’s a conundrum for any wine merchant, wine bar or restaurant business that is expanding well away from the initial sites and venues that helped make their name. How do you keep that culture and identity that made you popular in the first place? Well, here’s a new idea from Charlie Young and Brett Woonton, co-founders of Vinoteca, who have introduced a new mobile experience that allows you to “carry Brett and Charlie” around in your pocket, and ask them wine questions from your phone. It then uses breakthrough digital technology – dubbed as conversational commerce – to offer pre-recorded answers to cover the vast majority of questions that might come up. Make sense? Read on to find out more.
Vinoteca’s Charlie Young and Paul Candy of digital agency, In the Room, explain how its new digital Q&A service, based on voice-interaction, is going to work and even allows them to recommend you a personalised bottle of wine.
Paul Canty, chief operating officer and co-founder of In The Room.
In the Room is a self-dubbed “conversational media company” that allows brands to use voice recognition, artificial intelligence and video content to create personalised “engaging, authentic and interactive experiences for their customers”.
You are trying something a bit different at Vinoteca with your new interactive voice chat initiative – can you explain what you are doing?
We are always looking for new ways for customers to find out about Vinoteca and experience some of the knowledge and passion that underpins what they do. Vinoteca founders Brett and Charlie live and breathe wine, but they’re not always around to be able to answer questions and share the benefits of their knowledge with people. This technology means that they can always be available, 24/7. It’s as close to cloning them as we can get.
What technology are you using to make this happen?
We are attempting to pioneer conversational media. We’ve developed a platform which creates conversational experiences using a combination of voice technology, AI and authentic media. The process was really smooth, and we’re really excited to see it in action.
The best thing about it is that it is available via the website, and doesn’t need an app to download or login to access. Visitors can just click the button, enable the microphone and they’re in. Also, because it’s on the web, it works on mobile as well as laptops and desktop devices.
What is conversational commerce?
Conversational commerce is a general term for describing online commerce where different means of conversation are involved. Sales through messaging apps and chatbots all fall under the same banner. Conversational commerce is big business, and set to deliver an estimated $290bn of revenue by 2025, so businesses really need to consider how they engage with it and leverage this power for their brand.
One of the things that drew us to the type of experience delivered by In The Room was that it adds video content and voice interaction to transform conversational commerce into something much more compelling.
How does it work – people simply ask a question and the most suitable response is given?
Pretty much. We recorded over180 answers to a range of commonly asked questions. Visitors to the experience can ask Brett and Charlie questions using their voice, and the system works out which answer is the closest fit. If there isn’t an answer to the question, Brett or Charlie will tell you that an answer to the question wasn’t recorded, but you can ask something else. At the end of each answer, visitors can ask their own question, or if they’re not sure what to ask, three suggested questions appear on the screen for them to try.
How did you work out what answers to give and build your set of answers to without knowing the exact questions people might ask?
Great question. We developed a list of questions based on questions asked at Vinoteca. People want to know things about wine and the production of wine as well as good recommendations for meals and occasions. We’ve tried to cover as many of those as we can to give a nice all round experience that people can visit and revisit.
What sort of responses have been recorded and built into the programme?
There’s some really great content in the experience covering questions ranging from how wine is produced and where grapes are grown through to the best way to open a bottle of fizz and whether you should decant your wine. We’ve also included a range of recommendations, based on commonly asked questions in our wine shops, including wine pairings and wine suggestions for different occasions.
It took less than a day to record the answers, which we shot in the Vinoteca City restaurant, and the really useful thing is that we can also use the video we shot in our social media feeds too, which makes it really cost effective to produce, with very little left on the cutting room floor.
What do you hope to achieve with it and what measure will you use for success?
First and foremost, we want our customers to enjoy it and have a positive experience that connects them with Vinoteca. If it is rewarding for them and they feel like they’ve got something out of it, then that’s amazing. There are links to purchase recommendations in the experience, which are there to help people purchase if they want to. It would be great if people use it for that, but it’s not the primary goal.
Another thing that is really useful to us is finding out what people want to know. We can see what questions people have asked, so can get closer to our customers’ interests and needs, and potentially change what we’re doing to reflect that. It’s invaluable data. That said, we don’t track anyone’s personal details so all questions received are completely anonymous.
So it is designed so that the answers can lead to a direct purchase?
We have included links within the experience to facilitate a purchase if required. At the end of any wine recommendation made by Brett or Charlie, there is a link to that particular wine in the Vinoteca shop for people to click through to if they wish. Links through to purchase are designed to be an integrated part of the overall experience rather than the sole purpose.
Primarily we want people to come and ask questions, find out about wine and maybe even buy a bottle or two or visit one of the restaurants some time.
Charlie Young, co-founder, Vinoteca
How are you promoting the new initiative to customers?
As this is a new and, hopefully, easy way to get your wine questions answered, we wanted to provide this as an option anywhere that people usually purchase wine from us. So it sits embedded in the online shop part of the website, but also as a scannable QR code in the wine shops, and as a feature in our retail wine list. We’ll also be using some of the most interesting (and amusing) answers on our social media as snippets.
Do you hope it can attract new customers to Vinoteca?
We think that it will. For all the efforts of large numbers of people in the industry, wine knowledge is still often seen as something intimidating, and often exclusive. We see this as another way to break this down, by bringing an easy way to ask wine professionals any question you like about wine, from the comfort of your home (or wherever). Plus it’s using new tech, and is hopefully a bit of fun.
How is the business doing – you have had another busy year with openings?
Yes, we opened two sites this year, one in Borough Yards at the beginning of the year, and our first outside London, in July in Birmingham. That’s the first time we’ve opened two in a year, and it’s certainly kept us busy. We’re delighted with these new sites and hope that those local communities are as well. Now our task is to keep providing high standards and great value throughout these tougher times.
Have you noticed a change at all in people’s spending habits and what they are buying in light of cost of living issues?
Definitely, it’s reflected in every part of the business. Not just from our customers but also the supply side. Some of our ingredients have rocketed in price, and the cost of energy makes a big difference across hospitality venues. Our challenge is to make sure we continue to provide value, alongside an excellent experience.
What other new services and initiatives have you introduced and are looking to introduce in your venues?
A lot of what we’re doing is introducing a full lineup of events and tastings post-pandemic. So now all our sites have got a packed calendar up until Christmas and beyond. We just want to get people in the doors and show them how good wine can be great fun. Alongside that we’re trying to highlight some of the non-wine things we do, for example in Birmingham we have a schedule of events with a local brewery, we’re doing more with our food suppliers etc.
- If you want to give Vinoteca’s new voice interactive service a go then click here.