By Amanda Garris
To buy, or not to buy? That is the question for the more than five million annual visitors to New York State's wineries.
Two studies in the current issue of the International Journal of Wine Business Research provide insights into how the tasting room experience affects customer purchases, and what wineries can do to create satisfied sippers.
"On average, nearly sixty percent of New York wine sales occur during visits to tasting rooms," said Miguel Gómez, the Ruth and William Morgan Assistant Professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. "For this reason, they play a strategic role in the overall business and marketing strategies of New York State wineries."
Despite their importance as a sales venue and the significant investments wineries make in their location and look, there has been little scientific scrutiny of methods for tasting room sales. According to Gómez, this in in part because it can be hard to take research from other types of food and sales venues and apply them to wine.
"Wine is a complex product for consumers, there are so many attributes, and customers don't always know their own preferences, especially tourists who may be casual wine drinkers," he said.
To pinpoint the aspects of a tasting room that drive customer satisfaction, Gómez and Marin Shapiro '12 collaborated with Finger Lakes wineries to conduct surveys in nine tasting rooms over a period of four months, tapping the experience of 450 visitors. Consumers rated 25 aspects of their experience, from the elbow room at the counter and the friendliness of staff to the prices and number of wines offered. When Gómez and Shapiro analyzed the data on satisfaction with regard to wine purchases, it was clear where managers should invest their efforts.
"You can make a customer happy or unhappy by the service you provide and the ambience you create," said Gomez. "Those factors were more important than quality or price of the wines as drivers of customer satisfaction."
Moreover, Gomez and Shapiro were able to quantify the effect of satisfaction on sales.
"If you can convert a satisfied customer to a very satisfied customer, they are likely to spend about $10 more and buy an additional bottle of wine in a given visit," said Gómez. "And to increase satisfaction, managers need staff who are friendly and patient, who will spend time talking with the visitors and have solid knowledge of the story behind the wines."
The second study, a collaboration with assistant professor of enology Anna Katharine Mansfield of Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, looked closely at the tasting sheets provided as wines are sampled. Specifically, they tested the effect of the presence and absence of adjectives describing the wines' taste and aroma in partner wineries, which alternated use of the two tasting sheets over the course of six weeks and tracked sales.
"Controlling for variables that affect sales, such as the day of the week or the weather, we found that for tasting rooms that provided descriptions like 'notes of peach or lychee,' sales were lower," said Mansfield. "The written descriptions may just be less important in tasting rooms than wine stores, since visitors are often allowed to sample several wines. They may even frustrate the novice wine tasters, by setting up sensory expectations that are not met."
The two studies reach similar conclusions about where wineries can focus their efforts.
"Relying on the tasting room staff as guides can create an intimate and more interactive experience for customers," said Mansfield.
The work was funded in part by a grant from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
- Gómez, Miguel and Marin Shapiro 2014. Customer satisfaction and Sales Performance in Wine Tasting Rooms. Intl. J. Wine Business Research 26:1 Abstract
- Thomas, L, M. Gomez, C. Gerling, and A. K. Mansfield. 2014 The Effect of Tasting Sheet Sensory Descriptors on Tasting Room Sales. Abstract
- Amanda Garris, Ph.D. '04, is the agricultural experiment stations communications officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.