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Published:  06 March, 2014

The growth of flash-sales sites looks set to hit online wine retailers as French giant prepares for its UK wine launch.

Planning up to eight sales a month, the site, which already has 650,000 members in the UK, is kicking off wine sales which will offer regular discounts of around 40%.

In the past few months it has conducted three wine test sales in the UK, selling 20,000 bottles at a time. The flash sales last for between three and five days, and last year the firm sold 3.3 million bottles of wine throughout Europe, worth €36 million, which was an increase of 20% on 2012.

Xavier Court, associate co-founder, told Harpers: "The UK is not a huge market for us but it will become one of our largest markets. It's very important for us. It shows very big potential."

It has formed strategic partnerships with major wine brands across Europe including Chapoutier, Albert Bichot and Lurton, and sells wine mainly from France, Spain and Italy. It also sells a small portion of German wines as well as some from the New World.

"A lot of brands are asking us to sell their wines in the UK," said Court.

"It's an opportunity for wine companies to present their wines to the British people and for people to taste them. [Using] is like a communications programme - getting the image out, tasting, selling and presenting the brand to a large audience."

Customers do not have to buy a minimum quantity of wine, but can buy one, three or six bottles at a time. The average purchase is 12 bottles. Court said: "We don't want to be too pushy." operates its own 10,000 m sq dedicated wine warehouse in Beaune in Burgundy, and all of its orders, including to the UK, will be channelled through here. It has a team of 10 wine buyers across Europe, and in the UK it is aiming to work, at least initially, with more well-known brands to build its following before offering more niche brands.

Court said the company had taken its time to launch wine sales in the UK because of legal restrictions governing online sales, and had wanted to wait until the membership was big enough to warrant wine sales. It believes it now has the critical mass required.

It also took a long time to convince wine companies, most of whom already have UK distribution, that they were not bastardising the sales of their distributors. "It takes time to reassure the distributors that this will be good for them," Court said, adding that customers, after trying wines from, then seek them out in the wider market.

It will offer a minimum of 30% off regular full prices, but in most cases the discount is 40%. The site operates by reserving large quantities before opening the sale, then placing the order afterwards, meaning it does not hold stock. The main drawback of this approach is the long lead time - it takes 18 days on average for customers to receive their orders.

The company has 1,800 employees in eight European countries, and last year generated a turnover of €1.6 billion, up 23% on the previous year. In 2011, it launched in the US in partnership with American Express.