Cashing in

Imagine going into a shoe shop. Quite a nice shoe shop, full of fine Italian leather, honed into elegant footwear by an army of highly-skilled third-generation cobblers. As you can imagine, this is quite a refined place, where even the janitor is immaculately groomed and waistcoat-clad, the mirrors have been hand-burnished by a senior member of the royal family using a pair of cashmere socks and the most reasonably-priced shoes are not exactly cheap. The merest glance at a price tag would make the average Foot Locker punter run for the nearest exit, weeping.

But you like good shoes. You’ve been saving up. You deserve the best. So into the shop you go. Soon, you identify the pair you want. Once you try them on, your mind is made. These are some very well-bred loafers. You want them. You’re going to get them.

You go to the check-out. There’s a small voice in the back of your mind screaming “How much? On a pair of ruddy shoes?” You ignore the small voice. You want them. You deserve them.

You get to the front of the checkout. You hand over your shoes and your credit card. The slightly smarmy if finely-shod man at the till tells you that you haven’t met their required minimum spend and if you really want these extremely epensive shoes, you’ll need to get some more as well, and perhaps a highly questionable aerasol device promising enhanced waterproofing.

This is not how shops work. If they sell something, and you want it, and you can pay for it, you can have it. But some wine traders think this model isn’t good enough for them. No, in order to sort “their” kind of customer from common-or-garden three-for-a-tenner types, they’ve imposed a minimum spend. Recently I decided to buy a case of wine for £260, in bond – without, in other words, duty and VAT. This would be the second most expensive case I’ve ever bought, and about 50% more expensive than the third. After tax, the wine would cost over £28 a bottle. To my mind, it qualifies as a pretty major purchase. But I was told that I couldn’t have it, at least not unless I spent another £90 elsewhere to pass the £350 minimum spend that the merchants in question, Farr Vintners, insisted upon.

I emailed a sales assistant. I know you want me to spend £350, I said, but I’m most of the way there. How about a little flexibility?

Not a chance, he said. Outside the sale period, he explained, their minimum order is £500, so really I was very lucky to only have to spend £350.

Humbug, I said.

And they’re not alone. Bordeaux Index also have a £500 minimum. With Fine + Rare you have to spend a reltively demure £200. I’m sure there are other companies I don’t know about with similar regulations. But none of this makes any sense to me. I can’t imagine making a £500 wine purchase, and I’m a wine enthusiast with a decent household income.  Are they trying to force big spenders to spend bigger, or to scare away anyone without a banker’s bonus to blow on their daily drinking?

I am, frankly, bewildered. But I also genuinely quite want that £260 case of wine. Should I spend another £90 to secure it, or should I remain in a hefty funk and keep my wallet in my pocket?

What’s certain is that even if they get my cash, it’ll come with curses.


4 responses to “Cashing in

  1. Simon,
    I thought selling wine is a competitive business. It follows that one would want to sell as much as one can. Could it be that you get free delivery or some other kind of services with your purchase? In this case, I would imagine the shops want to recover their costs for those services. In any case, if they could survive on such a “customer selection” process, the almighty market has spoken.

    • Any retailer would want to sell as much as they can, but you can also make lots of money by selling higher quantities at relatively low prices. Lots of people spend £100 and more on a shop at Tesco, but they don’t turf you out if you only want a pint of milk. I just can’t understand why I wouldn’t be allowed to buy anything a retailer sells, no matter the price. Some wine e-tailers are so desperate for new customers that they offer anyone who signs up half-price cases and money-off vouchers, but others seem so keen to scare new custom away that they’ll happily make it as difficult as possible for a wavering, not-extremely-wealthy wine-lover to do any shopping at all. It puzzles me.

  2. Its about making money at the end of the day, it usually balances out whether you sell wine on a minimum spend or let customers buy how much they want….. its down to the seller to see what type of customers they want to….

  3. It is, indeed, all about profit. These guys run profitable businesses, so clearly their model works. But it isn’t very democratic, and I’d love to see the calculations which show that a £500 minimum spend is more successful at encouraging people to spend more than at convincing them not to spend at all.

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