October 18, 2011

The Slow and Sad Death of Mobile Wine Apps

Another whirlwind year and for a good part of 2011 we have been keenly watching the mobile space.  Last year we did our second report on wine iPhone apps and slogged our way through over 450. In the end saw no clear winner but a lot of apps had promise.  Now, eight months later we have a new iPhone 4S, and new OS for iPhone, and tons of innovation and upgrades from non-wine apps (Foursquare, Instagram, Google+, Twitter and many, many, more).  But in the wine space the upgrades have been far and few between and many of the apps still look like Version 1.0.  A few exceptions occurred (Drync added VinPass, Natalie Maclean did an incredible upgrade, and Cor.kz added some major features but still lags in UI) but most of the year we heard crickets from the majority of apps we analyzed.

We also saw a few new “promising apps” in 2011 (notably Vivino, Crushd and Tastejive) but as of yet, none have obtained any critical mass in users.  In fact, only 2-5 apps have any critical mass in users (100K+) and no single app has over 150K in ACTIVE users.

So what is wrong with the wine app world?

  • Using a wine app doesn’t fit into the normal workflow of everyday use.
  • The journaling apps don’t understand the spectrum of wine journaling (from very casual to oenophile).
  • Clean data sucks in the wine industry.  SUCKS.
  • The majority of wine journaling occurs in apps that people already use (Springpad, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Flickr, and even Foodspotting and Opentable).
  • 99% of the wine apps have no way for wineries to interact with consumers (either raw marketing or DTC efforts).  The two exceptions are Drync and HelloVino.  With no interactivity, they can not earn revenue from companies interested in leveraging their audiences.
  • Downloads are different than users.  Users are different than ACTIVE users.  ACTIVE users are a nebulous term and need deeper clarification.  Most apps don’t differentiate when telling their story which leads to disappointment from inflated expectations.
  • Wineries just don’t spend that much money on digital.  Period.  In 2007 the total spend for internet advertising by the wine industry was a measly $3 million.
  • There are only about 250K uber-oenophiles in the US who are the most prolific content generators and do the most detailed tasting notes. There are only approximately 1.7 million additional “aspiring-oenophiles” who journal brand, variety and region and only about 3.5 million additional consumers who mention wine on social networks.  That leaves approximately 58.5 million people who don’t use anything digital to talk about wine.  In a nutshell, the total addressable audience for digitally saavy wine lovers is approximately 6.5 million: only about 10% of the total US wine drinking population.
  • Reference apps are great but all of their content be already be found through a major search engine or just by asking your friends/followers/fans on a social network.

Small potential user base, a market that doesn’t spend much on digital much less mobile, and usage that is irregular. It makes things look bleak for the future of wine apps.  But there is hope . . . it is the notion of partnering or working with one of the more mainstream apps to mature the wine category.  Take for example if Natalie MaClean partnered with Flipboard?  Or maybe Corkbin/Vivino partnered with Instagram?  Or partnering with major wine retailers to be a value add to their large group of customers?

What would be the perfect app for the wine industry?  We are focused on one aspect of the industry that represents the highest value to all parts (consumer, trade, and winery): wine journaling.

The perfect journaling app:

  • Needs to understand the spectrum of wine journaling (from taking a picture to writing complex notes) and a very slick user interface to only surface what the user needs when they need it.
  • Needs to have ACCURATE wine data.
  • Needs to have a rewards system to encourage usage (aka gamification).
  • Needs to have a way for wineries to interact with its users.
  • Needs an API both in and out.
  • Needs to be social.
  • Needs to publish to other social networks as a core feature and not an afterthought.

But even the perfect app won’t be enough.  The power users only represent 2.75 million and the super power users only represent a subset of 250K (most of which are on Cellartracker + Cor.kz or Drync).  We want to believe differently but the reality is the the bells are ringing for the current apps – get better than “most promising” or R.I.P.

  • Paul, your second to last bullet about the number of oenophiles is the most salient point.  That and, in fact any photo or personal experience I have with folks taking tasting notes or journal-ing, I always see note pads, paper and pen.  Sometimes old technology is the best. 

    • To really see how people wine journal the best example is our sandbox experiment – wine snaps: http://cruvee.com/snap.  You can see the spectrum of casual journaling and really get a visual understanding of the diversity.  As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

  • I think there are still ideas that haven’t surfaced in the Mobile wine app arenas. If I had the money to invest in a certain idea I have, I would. Comes down to time, money and effort. All in short supply. ROI doesn’t have $’s or users to show for it, but perhaps a crossover food & wine app will be the one that really breaks through? Time will tell. Viva the holiday season and 2012!

  • $3 million in online advertising spending in 2007? That’s the saddest thing I’ve read all year! Then again, that was 4 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

    To me, the “ideal” wine app needs to have the option to quite simply “check-in” to a wine, and share to social media accounts. It needs to be easy, and it needs to be quick. But then, it should also have the ability to, upload tasting notes, add custom photos, rate, export to a shopping list, show local availability from a retail or possibly even restaurant perspective (an enormous task by itself), as well as allowing interaction from the winery.

    For this reason, I think a platform such as FourSquare needs to get on-board, and have the option to tag a wine/beer, whilst you’re also at a restaurant/bar. I just don’t see anyone being able to put up the funding, and/or being able to get retailers/restaurants all on the same page. For that reason, I don’t envisage a credible wine app being produced for a long time.

    • I agree about Foursquare and I think they are doing great things that will help this happen through their API’s.  In regards to the advertising spend – even if it increased 20% year over year it is still a fractional spend compared to other industries.  Proof of that is the resources in the industry to manage digital:

      Only 30-40 full time employees solely responsible for e-commerce.
      Only 20-30 full time social media managers.
      Only 2-4 directors that manage digital strategy for wineries.

      Vs. there are almost 7000 wineries in the US and over 150K labels approved to be sold.

      If we wonder why there is little success in digital for wineries to me it is very clear, because very few are investing in the space.

  • You’ve given coherent thought to a subject that I’ve dismissed from its beginnings. While we came to the same conclusion, I admire your ability to summarize why there is a tiny market for wine apps. My entire thought process boiled down to “conversation about wine is sexy, databases are not.”  PS: Love the idea of gaming, I am a believer that the world’s problems will be solved by gamers, so why not wine? Although I would like to see the game as more than a rewards system, but actually fun and educational.

  • You’ve given coherent thought to a subject that I’ve dismissed from its beginnings. While we came to the same conclusion, I admire your ability to summarize why there is a tiny market for wine apps. My entire thought process boiled down to “conversation about wine is sexy, databases are not.”  PS: Love the idea of gaming, I am a believer that the world’s problems
    will be solved by gamers, so why not wine? Although I would like to see
    the game as more than a rewards system, but actually fun and

  • For ANY app there has to be a compelling reason to stick with it. I’ve become pretty skeptical about most everything in the last few years for this reason (Foursquare included, just for an example). Most of these apps are interesting for a few minutes, and then zzzzz…. Not to mention the oft ignored fact that you have to shut off the humans you are with to interact with many of these apps – ultimately a rude thing to do.

    Also, while I agree the need for clean data has importance (and something you are trying to achieve at VinTank), you either need to come up with a compelling overriding reason for wineries to update their data at a central point (something even I never seem to get around to), or you have to be insanely smart at scouring the internet and *creating* a set of best guess data that is usually correct. Maybe there’s the secret sauce.

    On the other hand, do we REALLY need clean data? Maybe we trapped in the old world where which bank of a river a wine was grown on mattered. Maybe all they really need to have the same experience is enough info to have a chance to ask for the same thing….

    And: “Needs to have a way for wineries to interact with its users”… Seriously? I’m supposed to find time to interact with 400+ apps? Oh, Lordy.

    Perhaps the wine biz needs to take a close hard look at what is really working and really has staying power in the broad SM world. People love photos. What would an Instagram for wine look like? I really like what I see when I (rarely) check in to your /snap page. I think you may be on to something. What would get me to check it more often?

    • El Jefe,
      It is your comments that sadden me the most.  I agree that most apps lose their luster quickly but the ones that somehow ingrain themselves in our daily workflow are the winners.  Also more and more the mobile phone is becoming the center for us to relate with social networks and the internet.  The new gateway to interacting with products, people, and information now lives in your pocket.  We can’t ignore their relevance.

      With all due respect to one of the people I think is a leader in wine and digital, the data gap is due to winery’s lack of understanding, laziness or lack of accountability to their customers.  Other industries with rich data understand they need to both normalize it and syndicate it (take a look at any consumer electronic good on any manufactuers site and then look on Amazon et al).  We took on the burden for thee reasons: we need to match data anyways for social media monitoring, we are huge believers in open source information, and we believe this is one of the greatest friction points for wine succeeding online.  Our FREE sandbox service (http://tmrwengine.com/our-sandbox/data-syndication/) allows a winery to put data in one place and send it to over 300 different properties and to a free Facebook app that lists the wines on your Facebook fan page (to be upgraded in 2 days to Social-candy.com’s new much better service).  Over 200 of these outlets are wine e-tailers. 

      But if saving time and administrative costs by putting information 1 time to get 300+ forms filled out is not enough here are some stats:

      Our early measurements indicate that wineries that fill out this data increase online sales by 1.8% and increase online chatter by 14% on average.  This number will only increase as we add sites and platforms and as platforms and sites learn how to acquire clean data.

      As it relates to interacting, I am definitely not suggesting you converse with 400 apps.  The key is a few select apps with 150K+ of ACTIVE users.  Imagine the ability to advertise to their users in an easy and effective way or interact with everyone that has rated tempranillo, etc.  That is completely missing from all journaling apps even the king of platforms, CellarTracker.com.  This type of functionality would be a boon for small and medium wineries.

      Ok, when are we having that glass of wine together to chat more?

      • I didn’t mean to make you sad 😉 Your effort with the Platform Formerly Known As Cruvee is the best of the bunch. And I do get the value, but it should give you pause when even someone like me who (at least thinks he) gets it, doesn’t stay on top of it. It’s not laziness, it’s triage (though perhaps I should be spending the time I am ranting here with you on updating my stuff…) 5000 case wineries can barely afford the staff they have, much less a full time ecom/SM manager (for Twisted Oak, that would be me, as well as full time CEO, full time TR manager, and part time sales force.) 

        I’d love to know more in depth about your 1.8% sales and 14% chatter numbers. Seeing the cause-effect linkage would be compelling as heck.

        One of us will have to drive two hours to make that glass of wine happen 😉 I know I’ll be passing through again in December, but probably sooner.

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  • Lewis Perdue

    Brilliant! True. Sad … and an enormous opportunity.

  • If I am having a glass of wine, I don’t want to have to enter all the details into multiple wine apps just to make sure everyone knows what I’m drinking. If I buy a bottle and want to recommend it, same thing applies. I think the market got oversaturated and overhyped with regards to wine apps. Casual wine lovers like me saw tons of apps to download, each one requiring slightly different data parameters and broadcasting to different social circles..It got to be too time consuming to deal with all of that, so we stopped using the apps. Sure they were shiny and fun for a few minutes, as all new things are, but in the end, drinking wine is a social exercise, not a social gaming exercise. I believe there’s still something to be said for face to face interaction and what better way to do that by having a glass of wine with someone and looking at them, instead of down at your smartphone’s screen?

  • Donn Rut

    I have a view that is pessimistic about mobile/social and wine, in a word:  Fragmentation.  This love of ours is massively fragmented.

    1.  Each vintage a wine might be better or worse.
    2.  There are 100s of thousand of different wines, maybe 100s of thousands of wineries.
    3.  The supply is fragmented.  This store has some, this one doesn’t.  This store used to carry it, now it doesn’t.  This store has the Cabernet but not the Meritage.
    4.  Locations:  availability of any specific wine I like is fragmented.  Many stores, many cities, etc.
    5.  Winery offerings change too.  Last year, my favorite winery made 8000 cases of “joe”.  This year, they didn’t make that wine.
    6.  Tastes are fragmented.  Do the 2 or 3 best wine friends of yours all like exactly the same wines?

    So what BENEFIT is there to spending time texting, messaging, tweeting, faceing, etc. VERSUS making 1 or 2 phone calls?  It may be fun for a while.  But not any advantage over simply calling the one or 2 people you know who might like the wine you are drinking.

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  • Ross

    Great article and some interesting comments!

    Perhaps the issue is that we haven’t yet hit on a formula that works with wine consumers. I’m currently looking into developing a Wine App for Irish & UK consumers and am very interested in the article!

    For me, what everyone should remember is not the 2.75m power users, but the ~60m people in the US who do talk about wine, and the large number of those who already own smartphones and who use those smartphones as part of their everyday lives! The key has to be to develop a Wine App that resonates with that audience. That is the audience that retailers & wineries surely want to access; to drive behaviours, comments and ultimately, sales!

    So if journalling/sharing apps aren’t the answer, I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on what the average person would want from a wine app that does integrate into their everyday lives.

    My two cents is that the App must:
    (i) make choosing the right bottle for the right occasion easier
    (ii) help people articulate what they are tasting so that they can enjoy it and talk about it with greater comfort

    Would love to your thoughts!


  • Barrykinman

    Why doesn’t it work? Get off your friggin phone and try and buy wine. Sensory perception is required for a wine experience.

    • Barry, I don’t think anyone is saying anything about not tasting wine.  The question is what mobile apps help you in the experience, in choosing the wine, or recording your experience.

  • Allow me to discuss this from the consumer end to put the exclamation point on Paul’s post.

    Here are Palate Press we were considering a new project, the “Palate Calibration Project.” I was very excited about it. The idea was to have every reviewer interested in participating, blogger, magazine writer, newspaper columnist, everybody, review the same widely available moderately priced wines at the same time. We would post everybody’s review of “2007 Costco/Top-Shelf-Grocery Cabernet” in one story, with links to their individual websites. We would do that for half a dozen different wines. Consumers could then buy the same wines, taste them, and find the reviewer(s) whose palate matched theirs. It might be somebody well known to all, a Joe Roberts perhaps, or it might be a blogger with a following of 7, with a perfectly matching palate. Bloggers would get loyal readers. Consumers would get customized advice.

    I talked about this idea with a friend. He is a wine lover. He buys high end wine. He goes to wine tastings and wine dinners. I thought he would be excited. This is what he said. “Why would I do that, David? I’m not going to spend hours on the internet trying to figure out what to buy. When I want wine I go to the wine store. If it’s 92 points and $30, I buy it. That’s good enough for me and I’m rarely disappointed. I don’t want to turn it into a project, something I have to work at. I just want to drink it.”

    This is a guy, mind you, who probably spends $5-10K a year on wine, perhaps more. He doesn’t want to work at it. He just wants to drink it.

    Do you think he’s going to start using a wine app?

    Perhaps the next generation, the under 30s, who seem to think nothing exists if it’s not on their phone, will do so. That is certainly the best target. So here’s my suggestion if you want to build a wine app. Don’t build one for the existing drinkers, the denizens of CellarTracker. It already does everything better than anything you can produce, and even if it doesn’t, it does it well enough and has a data base and following you can’t match. Build one for the new drinkers, make it an essential part of their experience from their first glass.

    BTW, we still might do the Palate Calibration Project, so if you’re interested, or if you have any comments, I’d love to hear about it. Just dm me on Twitter. Thanks.

    • There’s a whole lot of “right on” in here. These are not the wine apps (food pairing!) you’re looking for. The real killer app will be more like Instagram and less like Photoshop.

      (BTW I love the calibration project idea. But you will have to do it for every major varietal/blend to make it work. Just because we like the same Cab doesn’t mean we’ll like the same Petite Sirah.)

      • Bingo….and thus, unworkable!

        • Perhaps. But doing it anyway could be fun and quite possibly illuminating.

    • Just chiming in, I love the idea of the Palate Calibration Project. I suspect many of my similar-age wine geek buddies do too.

    • Lewis Perdue

      we tried the calibration concept with SavvyTaste and found the issues … and the solutions both non-linear and somewhat more complicated than El Jefe mentioned in his comment. As tech support would say, “we’re aware of the problem and we’re working on it.”

  • WineApp

    > Clean data sucks in the wine industry.  SUCKS

    I’ve tried most (if not all) of the available API’s and none of them provide the clean data demanded by a 1st class App. I’d love to get my hands on cellar tracker data but so far no go.

  • Peter

    I think this conclusion is too general and somewhat premature. Custom branded winery apps are an effective way to provide information to the DTT and DTC channels complementing and replacing conventional POS materials.

    • Peter – the use of single winery apps is even far less than general apps.  However, you are right, it can serve a function to service consumers and the trade that have a high affinity for that brand.

  • HawkBritt

    Can you please cite your sources for the stats listed?

    • Two sources – VinTank’s Social Connect which is the base for most of our math.  VinTank research and white papers.

      • HawkBritt

        What is the base sample size? Do you have any 3rd party research to further support your points? I’m also curious how you define “journaling.”

        I think some of your first points are spot on; however, when it comes you what you’ve deemed as the potential market or “aspiring-oenophiles,” it seems like you are measuring the wrong data to formulate your assumptions. That is, why are you measuring social media posts about wine (which already seems like something a current oenophile might do) when you are trying to forecast something in the mobile space? You would have to jump to pretty large conclusions in order to say that people actively posting in social media are directly related to those who are active mobile users. Different mindset, different context, different need states. Before you jump to glittering generalities about the potential market for wine apps using your own data, I would question whether that is the data you should be looking at in the first place. 

        • Journaling is any attempt to record their wine experience.  Yes we are using social (both web and mobile) to draw our conclusions.  We are also using our research from our iphone app review.  The reality is that the general tools are demonstrative of the behavior of digitally savvy wine consumers and can be abstracted to these generalities.  No one has ever looked at a data set as large as Social Connect (250 million conversations, 7 million consumers) so I feel very confident in the statements.  I understand you have an app and want to see a different result.  Perhaps you have different usage reports you can share.

  • I hope you don’t mind if I vent here. I thought I had written the “perfect app” for Oregon wine enthusiasts: Full of accurate information, written by a real person and Oregon wine expert, with recommendations, wine-geek details, embedded videos, maps, tons of photos, wit, flair, requests for feedback from users, etc. Then Apple buried it. Here’s the sob story I just sent out to the wineries of Oregon… 
    Dear Oregon Wineries,Three months ago, I began to write an e-mail that would proudly introduce my new iPhone app, “Oregon Uncorked,” to you and thank you for your participation. At that time, I was running a test version of the app on my phone, and I felt that it was nearly flawless.However, for the past three months, I have been mired in a minor Kafka-esque nightmare. I will not bore you with the precise details. Suffice it to say that Apple changed its rules regarding how apps are to be released by certain developers. Because I worked with a well-known travel-guide app publisher (which seemed to be a marketing advantage when I signed on with them), “Oregon Uncorked” has been buried by Apple. I have not received a single cent for the six months I spent working on this project.If you have an iPhone or iPad and wish to download the app, you can. It’s just too deeply buried for any unsuspecting wine lover or Oregon visitor to find. Here’s how to get it:1) Make sure you are in a place with a good wireless connection.2) Go to the iTunes store and search for “Oregon Uncorked” or “Oregon Wine.” You will see a globe logo with the words “Sutro World.” Download this and, if you are working from your computer, synch your phone. 3) Open the “Sutro World” app from your iPhone or iPad. At some point, it will try to do you the favor of automatically downloading a giant San Francisco app. Don’t let it do this. Click on the “x” to make it stop.4) “Sutro World” is, in essence, a mini app store. You should be able to navigate to a listing of all geographies. Touch “North America” once and let go. Wait a second, and nearly 200 “North America” apps will appear. Scroll down to “Oregon Uncorked,” touch it, then hit the “$2.99” button to download. Then let your phone sit near your wireless connection for the ridiculously long time it takes to download the app.You can see why I have been hesitant to announce the release of the app. I am completely heartbroken that my hard work has been buried in a catacomb, where no one will find it. But I felt that I owed it to you, the winery owners and employees who so kindly sent me their information and photos, to let you know what had happened.Thanks for your time.Best,Katherine Cole                                                           Katherine Colewww.katherinecole.comtwitter: @kcoleuncorkedauthor, Voodoo Vintnerswine columnist, The Oregonian + MIX

    •  Fast-forward 8 months, and the process has become much more streamlined. I downloaded your app just this morning, Katherine, after reading today’s article in the LA Times. Searching for it was seamless, and it downloaded/installed quickly. What’s more is: on first glance, I like the app – especially its search tools, interactivity and contact info.

      To Paul Mabray’s point, though: I wonder if wine apps last October were simply ahead of their time. Have the stats improved across the mobile wine base 8 months later?

  • Thank you for all of the data, Paul.  I’m still looking for a killer wine app for myself, with some that are very close, such as Hello Vino (Disclaimer: I am an influencer for their app) and as you mentioned, Natalie’s awesome new update.  As we discussed at WBC11 however, I think the market might be too fractured to have one single killer wine app.  Perhaps one app with a default of simplistic settings for the above-average consumer and then a bunch of settings would open up a lot more usability and interactivity/connectivity?  Cheers!

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  • Roger

    Maybe you could try WineStein Pro. It’s pretty much alive and kicking and getting better with each update. Until now it has had over 200.000 downloads of which a lot are still active users.

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  • nick

    did anybody find an apps which pairs with a correspondent website? i have just changed my iphone and my memorable wines app did not transfer my wine list onto the new phone! do not know how to fix this but more importantly would like to avoid in future! thks in adv if you can help

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