How might we increase liquor store sales and loyalty?
Helping novices feel more comfortable buying new kinds of alcohol with the Wine Sidekick.
WineKick was my first venture into the world of innovation and user experience design. I made a lot of mistakes and learned from those mistakes. WineKick helped me transition from an Air Force project manager to a user experience designer.
I became interested in wine and spent a few years of nights and weekends studying for the sommelier certification (my blog post about it is at the top of Google). My friends kept asking me the same kinds of wine questions and I saw an opportunity to productize my sommelier knowledge (and find a creative release from my job as a project manager).
I teamed up with two friends who were programmers and foodies. We looked through all of the existing wine apps, didn't see any that we liked, and decided to make our own. We planned to monetize the app by promoting sponsored wine brands (spoiler alert: nope). We wanted to make something that was:
- easy to understand for novices
- robust enough to provide detailed, educational advice
- visually beautiful
When we released version 1.0 for iPhone in June 2013, our friends (and many strangers) loved the app. It was beautiful, helpful, and full of rich detail for people who wanted to dive in. It rocketed to the top of the wine charts... and then tumbled into obscurity. There are hundreds of wine apps. Ours was better than nearly all of them, but we had no marketing budget and limited bandwidth for upgrades. To get the traffic needed to sell sponsorships, we would need a full-time marketing team.
And then we pivoted.
While there are hundreds of wine apps designed to help consumers, there were zero apps designed to help liquor stores. I interviewed the owners of a few liquor stores I visited often and explored making a kiosk to help customers. I signed up two store owners as paying customers and we converted the app to B2B.
The liquor store version of WineKick recommends categories and specific bottles of wine, beer, and liquor. It shows a bottle's picture, description, and location on a map of the store. Owners of neighboring liquor stores saw the kiosk and contacted me to sell them one, too. We had found an unserved market and I realized that I should have started with customer research rather than stumbling into it.
We have continued to upgrade WineKick and plan to release a "distributed kiosk" version. This will populate the mobile phone app with all of the store-specific bottle information. People will be able to get expert advice about specific bottles while in the store or while browsing from home.
I'm an innovation strategist and UX designer today because of WineKick. I learned how much I enjoy building, branding, and improving a helpful product. I learned that sketching wireframes in notebooks and asking people how they go shopping aren't signs of daydreaming or outlandish curiosity. I learned how to build websites, optimize for SEO, and bring in thousands of page views every few days (my posts on the Certified Sommelier exam, Comparison of Wine Certifications, and best wines to drink for beginners are all highly ranked in Google searches. I learned that I want to make a career of imagining and then creating the future.
I also learned that I do not like sales.
WineKick is currently used by liquor and grocery stores in Massachusetts and Texas.
Here are a few of the tools I have used to help build WineKick. I always prefer to start with paper and pencil. My preferred digital design tool is Sketch from Bohemian Coding. I've done limited styling with Xcode, HTML, and CSS, although you never hire me to be a front-end developer.