How Total Wine & More uses employee engagement and video to fuse digital and store

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 19, 2018
Passionate customers are great, but they come with high expectations. Here's how Total Wine & More is pursuing digital bricks-and-clicks, with the help of employee engagement - and custom in-store video from Hughes.

Let me guess: if I told you that in-store video played a key role in a retailers' customer experience - and helped to drive in-store sales to boot - you'd tell me that I was nuts, or accuse me of being a marketer. But it gets more interesting.

In this use case from Total Wine & More, the in-store video also ties into their vigorous approach to employee engagement. At NRF 2018, aka "The Big Show," John Jordan, SVP/CCO at Total Wine & More, shared their story.

You could write a blues song about being a wine retailer. Digitalizing your business gets tricky when there are strict regulations on where you can ship, and who you can ship to. That's why Total Wine & More focuses on integrating "bricks and clicks." They've been doing in-store pick up for six years - an approach that has served their 185 locations well.

Employee experience is a culture thing

But as Jordan told me, for Total Wine & More, bricks-and-clicks begins with the employee experience. That was the message of his NRF talk:

The digital experience is equally important for employees as it is our customers.

Like most of us, Jordan has a love/hate thing with the term "omni-channel." It sounds tech-absurd, but there is substance there too:

I hate the word omni-channel because it's so overused, but it's certainly an omni-experience to make sure that your employees are getting the same message you are attempting to get across to your customers. You can do that very easily with digital.

So-called "customer experience" is only as strong as its weakest link. For retailers, that weakest link is almost always employee engagement/morale. I asked Jordan: is employee engagement a new point of emphasis?

No. Jordan credits the founders of Total Wine & More, Robert and David Trone, with instilling these tactics for the last twenty-five years. Before Jordan started at Total Wine in 2011, the company was already taking 60-100 staff members to the "Old World," Spain and France, on a rotating basis. Trips to California are a staple as well:

What we try to do in those trips is to get those employees to understand all the nuances of those vineyards, and actually talk to the wine producers.

Facts tell, stories sell

For Jordan, video isn't about marketing or archival footage. It's about storytelling that customers can relate to:

It's really the storytelling. The line I used in the session that I try to use as often as I can is facts tell, but stories sell. We truly believe that. The storytelling is where the ROI is. You want folks who can't go to Spain and France and be in the limestone cellar of a champagne maker and get a sense of what it's like.

Lack of employee know-how is a recipe for customer frustration. Total Wine & More employees go through 80 hours or training, covering not just wine, but beer and spirits. There's a big emphasis on certification: there are Cicerone certified staff in the beer areas of the stores. There are Total Wine professional certifications for the wine staff. Passionate employees are better employees:

We try our best to hire folks in the spirits area who have a passion for spirits. It's really the transfer of knowledge. Our biggest problem at Total Wine is that paradox of choice.

Solving the "paradox of choice" for customers

Jordan sees the same passion in Total Wine customers:

I talked to a few people after the session who were just happy because there's a Total Wine near them. They said it's like an adult candy store. You can literally see this when you walk into a store. People come in, and then they don't know where to go. We need to direct them.

Employees have a role to play here, but so does video:

That's really what we've done with the streaming video... We put videos specific to wine, spirits, and beer in their respective areas to try to get that customer who's more engaged with one product or another to see we're very genuine about how we represent the producers.

So how does that fit into their online presence?

It's true bricks-and-clicks, with in-store pick up.

In-store pickup has been a revenue mainstay. Upselling the pickups is the next phase:

The far majority of our e-commerce is in store pickup. Customers go online first, look a product list, order, and then pick it up live. It's that footfall that we create through the in-store pickup that's also very important, because we're able to leverage that for an additional sales opportunity.

That's where Jordan sees room for improvement:

We've certainly gotten better at adding that additional sale to those customers coming in. I would say it's in the 10% range. I think we can do even better than that.

As a big believe in NPS (Net Promoter Score), Jordan wants to raise the customer satisfaction along with the sales.

Up-selling the in-store pickups

To boost the upselling on pickups, Total Wine & More's newer stores have changed the design. They moved in-store pickup from the back of the store:

Now it's in an area that we can more easily sell from as opposed to the manager's bullpen, which is a bit tough.

You might think that in-store pickups would want to be in and out. But Jordan has found that if you surround them with interesting products, videos, and employee know-how, they'll stick around to talk to other enthusiasts.

The wrap - video to the future

Video plays a key role in the in-store experience now. "It keeps the themes cohesive," says Jordan. But it also gives customers a way to learn more when employees are tied up, which can happen in a traffic surge, particular on weekends. A store associate can give a customer a Chateau sample, and show them a video while they assist another. It's about avoiding the ultimate retail no-no: customer abandonment.

My previous career was call centers. In call centers, we have a concept of abandonment, and you definitely have abandoned customers in stores. You just don't know it because you're not logging all the customers who log in the door as you do a phone call.

For the video side, the partnership with Hughes is vital:

We wouldn't be able to do what we're doing without Hughes. I think we've had some innovations. Not sure if we were the first, but so we have 50 hours of proprietary video, average segment length of a minute. When we make the installation, which is on Mac Minis, Hughes actually loads all that video, physically, onto the hardware that is then shipped to the store. It's not easy, honestly, to load 50 hours worth of content on these Mac Minis.

When the stores open, Hughes has a video ready to go. A data tagging taxonomy within the Hughes system lines up videos by theme and, for example, excludes videos in states where they can't play (e.g. no spirit videos allowed in Virginia). A part-time developer controls the change in programming across the 180+ stores and 400+ TVs. The videos are segmented into different about fifteen playlists. Segments can be changed hourly, in line with store themes.

As Total Wine keeps adding new stores, video takes a more important role:

We still believe in bricks and mortar. We're going to keep adding stores, and keep adding TVs. Most new stores have upwards of six to eight televisions, as opposed to the older stores which only have maybe two or three.

Hughes has been a welcome change from their previous provider, where all videos had to be downloaded manually. Now, they can change on the fly. They might have short notice that a wine producer's going to make a store visit. With the Hughes system, they can quickly switch it up to feature that producer's content.

The connection between customers, video and employees ties back into employee video training as well. Culture fuels the store experience, but the tech plays into it nicely.

A grey colored placeholder image