You see them all the time don’t you – half price wine offers (well, not at Wines of Interest actually – unless you’re a member of the Sampling Club). Was £9.99 now £4.98 and so on. Let’s be absolutely clear about this – there are only three mechanisms that enable retailers to sell wine at half price:
1. Someone, somewhere, makes a loss. It might be the producer, or the importer, or even the retailer, but at least one of them will be losing money on the deal if they are genuinely selling at half price. Margins in the wine trade - coupled with the taxes that still have to be paid - mean that this must be the case.
2. Nobody is making a loss, which means? Yep, you’ve guessed it, the price was vastly over-inflated (doubled dare I suggest?) to start with.
3. Can’t think of a third. Sorry. Answers on a postcard please.
So, putting your Sherlock Holmes hat on for a moment, which of the above do you think is most likely to apply where you regularly (or even constantly) see wine offered at half price?
Doubling the price to start with is not against the law of course, but it does seem to be a widespread practice in some establishments. It depends on one crucial factor to succeed though. It depends on the customer not being able to tell that the wine advertised as a £10 bottle, yet being sold for just a fiver is, in fact, a £5 bottle in the first place (d’uh)!
If you’d like evidence of this, next time you are tempted by one of these half price offers, buy a bottle and then go to a specialist merchant and confess everything. Ask them to sell you a bottle of genuine £10 wine which you could compare with your supposedly £10 bottle purchased at half price. Take them home and taste them side by side.
Actually (Sherlock Holmes hat back on please) you may already know what you’ll discover – that there is a difference in quality which is easy to spot. It may not equate to the different prices you paid for the two bottles of course (much of this depends on you actually) but there will be a difference. Guaranteed.
But let’s be honest, unless you’ve taken the trouble to conduct this experiment (and we have, several times, with the same result) you will only ever end up drinking the half price bottle on its own. You might never have the chance to taste it alongside both a bottle that’s not reduced and another that’s genuinely worth the original advertised price. And that’s why the half price merchants persist of course. They know that from the moment you put the half price bottle in your basket you are already in “swipe me, what a bargain” mode. When you pull the cork you will be patting yourself on the back so hard that you will remember only that you paid just a fiver for the bottle. That the retailer was claiming it to be worth £10 will have completely slipped your mind. You will probably also have forgotten that the only reason you picked it up in the first place was because it was on offer. Even if the wine itself is horrid, you will still be able to console yourself with the knowledge that at least you weren’t daft enough to have paid full whack for it eh?
So, have you been conned then? After all, you’ve paid £5 for a bottle that’s worth £5 haven’t you, so where’s the problem? Well, there may not be a problem, but if the reason behind the purchase was your perception that the bottle was worth £10 then, at best, you have surely been misled.
So consider this then, if you were looking for a second-hand car in the back of the local paper and found just the make, just the model and just the specification you were looking for, with acceptable mileage on the clock but the price just seemed a bit too low, what would your first thought be? …… Exactly! So why, when we find the same set of circumstances when buying wine, namely a deal that looks too good to be true, why do we respond so differently?
We know that any genuine price reduction also comes (or should come) with a story. There is always a reason why this offer is on, and thoughtful customers should not be afraid to ask why a particular line is reduced. Thoughtful retailers will always be pleased to explain.