Bottoms up, Wine.Woot! The wine-selling business connected to Amazon.com Inc.’s Woot.com is gone, but its founders are raising money for a venture they hope will re-create the community of wine lovers and wine producers that grew up around Wine.Woot.
Amazon in late 2017 announced that it would shut down Wine.Woot, along with Amazon Wine marketplace in order to focus on selling wine via AmazonFresh, Prime Now and Whole Foods Markets, the grocery chain it purchased in 2017.
Wine.Woot, which hosted direct-from-producer wine offers, became part of Amazon when its parent, Woot.com, was acquired by the e-commerce giant in 2010. As of Jan. 1, Gourmet.Woot has replaced Wine.Woot. Gourmet.Woot sells spices, cheeses, oils, vinegar, sweets and cooking accessories.
In the wake of Wine.Woot’s demise, Matt Rutledge, founder of Woot.com and David Studdert, president of Wine Country Connect, launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new wine-selling venture called Casemates.com. The pair, who started Wine.Woot in 2006, plan to create Casemates in the mold of Wine.Woot.
“The opportunity is Amazon being forced to exit the producer-direct business. We think that’s great,” Rutledge says, because Amazon’s shift creates an opening for Casemates to connect with Wine.Woot community members.
“It’s a strong community and outlasted Amazon’s general ineptitude running Woot,” Rutledge says.
Rutledge says Casemates, like Wine.Woot, won’t be a retailer per se. The site will be a community that offers wine deals—from one winery at a time—on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. At each online “event,” Rutledge says, the wineries will be the sellers. Casemates will make money from “event fees,” rather than fees on individual transactions.
Casemates will include the kind of online forum familiar to Wine.Woot users—a place where users can review the wines sold on the site, share their wine knowledge and socialize. What’s new is a plan to include online tools to make it easy for users to connect and share orders of wine cases with fellow wine lovers who live nearby.
As of the afternoon of Jan. 8, the Casemates Kickstarter campaign had raised $115,609 from 1,737 backers. That far exceeded the $50,000 goal of the campaign, which ends at 11:20 p.m. Central on Thursday. Based on the strong response from backers, Rutledge says Casemates should launch in a few weeks.
The wine and spirits niche has the second-highest year-over-year growth rate among food merchants at 21.3% in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 1000—trailing only the grocery and fresh food retail segment at 37.5%—and has experienced consistent growth during the last several years. While consumers age 55 and older make up the largest chunk of wine and spirits shoppers with a 28.4% share, the niche has the highest average percentage of shoppers ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 of any food subcategory, at 22.0% and 24.0% respectively. Millennials make up the smallest portion of wine and spirits shoppers.
Sharing orders of whole cases of wine (12 bottles) will be more economical because shipping one wine bottle or a few bottles at a time is more expensive than shipping cases, the company says. By buying whole cases of a single variety of wine, consumers should be able to save 30% to 40% off per-bottle retail prices, Rutledge says. However, Casemates also plans to sell smaller lots and orders that contain multiple varieties of wine as well.
Rutledge says consumers who band together to order cases of wine will be responsible for deciding who takes delivery and how the individual bottles are delivered. A reputation rating system and community participation, he says, will help participants choose their transaction partners. Payments will be split between the respective credit cards of the people splitting the order, Rutledge says, but that functionality might not be available immediately.
“There may be a short period at launch later this month where this is still under construction,” Rutledge says. “We’re trying to rush to at least replace Wine.Woot functionality at launch.”
Also being recreated is the whimsical tone that Woot.com is known for: “We pioneered the winery-direct retail model for wine fans to buy online, from winemakers, with no middlemen,” the Kickstarter page says. “We created this method—we’re not even a store, the wine you’re buying is sold by the producing winery. So no one’s better positioned than we are to step in and rescue it from extinction like John Hammond with the velociraptors. We’re calling this new iteration Casemates.” (John Hammond is the character played by Richard Attenborough in the Jurassic Park movie franchise).
Rutledge left Amazon in 2012 and launched e-commerce incubator A Mediocre Corp. in 2014. Mediocre runs the daily-deal site Meh.com, which also launched using Kickstarter. Meh.com was among the retailers featured in Internet Retailer’s latest Hot 100 issue, published in December.