Majestic's news: two big developments
Today UK merchant Majestic announced that they are changing their mininum purchase policy, from 12 bottles to six bottles.
Since their beginnings in 1981, their business model has been to sell by the case. While this restricted their potential customer base, it meant that they could open premises in places where a normal retail wine shop selling by the bottle wouldn't be possible for licensing reasons. The one exception has been the Majestic shop attached to Vinopolis, near London Bridge station, where single bottle purchases are possible.
It turned out that people quite like to visit Majestic stores where they can park, fill up a box with 12 or more bottles, and then load them into their car. They now have 150 stores and are effectively a category buster: they have no competition for what they do.
It's unlikely that they'll lose money from this shift in policy. After all, they have trialled the 6 bottle minimum in a number of stores over the last few months, so they have a good idea of what will happen to sales.
But while many people have commented on the new 6 bottle minimum, perhaps more significant is their new venture, Wine Uncorked. This is a free in-store introduction to wine course, which will be led by Majestic store managers. I think it's a brilliant initiative, both for the consumers who take advantage of this opportunity, and also the managers who will presumably find running these courses a rewarding experience.
Wine trade commentators, who tend to be a bunch of doom-mongers, are using this Majestic news to predict the end of independents/Oddbins/Wine Rack, but I think they are being overly pessimisstic.
Majestic's initiative might encourage people who aren't really into wine to become hobbyists - the sort of involved wine consumers who then in turn begin shopping at high-end independent wine merchants. While Majestic have recently branched out into fine wine selling, involved consumers are a promiscuous bunch who will buy wine in all sorts of different places, and are unlikely to restrict their purchasing to just one retail outlet.