The global online wine market is worth around $5 billion and continues to grow by more than 30 percent each year.
In France alone, online sales reached 534 million euros ($712m) in 2012 and that's set to rise to 705m euros ($940m) in 2013, according to estimates from the Bordeaux Management School (BEM). Gregory Bressolles, professor of marketing at BEM, disclosed the figures during a seminar at Bordeaux-based wine fair Vinexpo.
Despite the fact that global online wine sales topped $5 billion in 2012, “that represents less than 5 percent of total wine sales worldwide,” said Bressolles, adding that it will continue to expand.
While Europeans purchased around 8 to 10 percent of their wine online, the figure is just 2 percent in the United States.
“The two percent figure in the U.S. is probably linked to legislative constraints,” Bressolles explained, referring to the country's three-tier wine distribution system.
However, he said the retail environment was very different in China, with more than one in four wine sales taking place on the internet, according to BEM's research: “It's 27 percent in China so the Chinese market is much more advanced in terms of the proportion of wine that's sold on line,” said Bressolles.
In contrast to BEM's figures, UBIFrance, the French agency for export promotion, released figures last month showing just 5 percent of all wine sold in China is purchased online.
These latest figures, published at Vinexpo on Monday, are in stark contrast to a claim by Vinexpo chief executive, Robert Beynat, at the 2009 edition of the fair that the web would "never be anything other than a marginal circuit for sales.”
“The internet is not the right medium for the sale of wines and spirits,” he said. “It is not a real alternative to traditional sales circuits and will never reach more than around 8 percent of the market.”
Who buys wine online?
The Bordeaux Management School surveyed 3,000 people in eight countries. Fifty seven percent of those interviewed had visited an online wine site, while 35 percent had made an online wine purchase.
The survey concludes that the typical online wine buyer is male, over 35 years old and relatively affluent. He is also technologically savvy, with 80 percent of online wine buyers owning a smartphone. Thirty percent of those surveyed said they searched for wine using a smartphone, although only 12 percent had purchased with a mobile device
The average purchase tends to be higher online compared to offline: nearly half of all online buyers spend 10–20 euros ($13.30–$16.60) per bottle, according to BEM's research. A study by online shopping site vente-privee.com supported this finding: its co-founder, Xavier Court, revealed at Vinexpo that the average bottle-spend of "cyberbuyers" was 14 euros ($18.65) higher than those who buy wine exclusively offline.
Both research projects showed that online wine buyers are more involved in wine than those who buy offline. The vente-privee study suggests that 46 percent of those purchasing online have wine reserves, compared to 23 percent of offline buyers. The Bordeaux Management School estimates that 60 percent of online wine buyers have a cellar, versus 45 percent of traditional shoppers.