Having never needed to wear glasses, I've recently found my eyesight struggling to focus when reading and typing. This, apparently, is normal for lots of men approaching forty years old.

I'd rather pretend that neither of those things is happening, but decided I should go for an eye test anyway. As somebody with precisely zero prior experience of this sector, I was entirely reliant on other people's knowledge and recommendations to find out what I needed - and as such, it was a similar scenario to that faced by hundreds of people buying wine every day.

It gave me a fresh perspective on how to provide a positive retail experience, which I think might be useful for the wine trade to consider.

  • Firstly, I asked around. My wife had recently gone to Specsavers and recommended them. I was tempted by my local independent opticians, but they were too much of an unknown quantity
  • Secondly, researching online. Specsavers allowed me to book an appointment online, provided store information (opening hours, location, services provided) and furthermore, I was able to find a free eye test voucher within two or three clicks.
  • Thirdly, confirmation. I received an email within 24 hours, although it requested that I call the store, and when I did so on a Tuesday morning at 9 am, I was kept on hold for five minutes before I gave up. I replied to the email (which came from a monitored inbox, as far as I could tell) but got no response. After a good start, this was pretty poor customer service. However, I tried calling again two days later and got through immediately to a very polite and helpful staff member who was able to book me in for the following day.
  • Fourthly, the in-store experience. I was greeted within a minute of entering the branch, and invited to sit down. The staff were busy but attentive and friendly. And I'm sure it is no coincidence that they all wear glasses.
  • Fifthly, service level. My appointment started promptly, everything was explained to me, I was made comfortable and the staff made sure of what I wanted.

From then on - the eye test, the prescription, choosing the frames - the experience starts diverging from wine retail. But the principles that gave me such a positive experience (with the slight blip of the lost email and unanswered first phone call) could be applied to wine retail as they could to anything:

  • Personal recommendations are paramount - turning customers into ambassadors is one of the most powerful ways to grow
  • Good online presence is vital to reassure and inform potential customers
  • Being contactable beyond your website (that is, by email or phone or social media) is your chance to make a good first impression in person
  • Friendly, useful, well-trained staff is of course fundamental to successful retail
  • Delivering on your promise is the final part of the process: ensuring you give the customer what they need, not what you want to sell.

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