Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

The B2C shift: Driving it home

Published:  24 April, 2020

The coronavirus (Covid-19) has opened up a new world of B2C engagement for businesses offering a lifeline to consumers stuck inside their homes, as Jo Gilbert reports. 

There might be no other time in living memory when the phrase “necessity is the mother” has had so much relevance. Over the past few weeks we have seen businesses do the impossible – swivelling a full 180° on strategies in order to survive. Many of these about-turns have come via cellar and shop doors à la Devon’s Sharpham with its ‘wine and cheese drive thru’. Park up and the goods will be plonked into the car boot. Customer service has never been so good.

And therein lies the heart of what we have seen emerge recently: a chance for companies to redefine what going the extra mile means for their customers, and what roles they can – and want to – play in their lives.

This is particularly true of the surge in online engagement, which has seen a massive levelling up as many B2B companies become B2C often overnight, and suddenly find themselves with a captive audience stuck indoors.

Online sales of beer, wine and spirits surged 67% in the week to 21 March – the week the government officially shut down the UK’s bars and restaurants (Nielsen). But the biggest opportunity for businesses during this time of lockdown is arguably what they can offer beyond sales, by helping consumers to remain connected even when social distancing.

As Rosh Singh, MD at tech-led creative agency UNIT9, which has worked with the likes of Diageo, says: “There is only so much Netflix a human being can watch. Consumers will be looking for entertainment. Alcohol is synonymous with leisure and entertainment time, and there is huge brand equity available for businesses that can provide an entertaining, educational or reassuring platform at this point.”

Clearly, this is a time for businesses to reorient their strategies, and they have risen to the challenge.

Cue the global rise of virtual bars and happy hours hosted on video-chat platforms such as Zoom, Houseparty and Google Hangouts, and larger-scale events such as “cloud raves” pulling in millions of Chinese people as they tune in from the comfort of their homes.

Out-of-work bartenders are also moving online via the rise of virtual tip-jars, leveraging the power of social media to offer engaging and educational content in return for online tips.

The off-trade and producers too have become fully fledged content creators via virtual tastings, podcasts, cocktail-making masterclasses and interactive Q&A sessions with winemakers.




In the UK, as we shift overnight from hand-to-hand to screen-to-screen contact, we have seen many businesses either migrate to or accelerate their B2C and online business models.

This is the case for Hertfordshire-based indie Tring Winery, which had been open for less than two months when the virus descended. It has moved its tastings online, with wines being repackaged into individual samples, which are shipped out ahead of the tasting.

Borough Wines has brought forward plans to launch Radio Vine – a digital platform for wine lovers featuring its Somm Select tasting sessions – while also taking its innovative keg refill offer online too.

Some are going one step further, not just holding tastings, but encouraging customers to take part in the production process at home.

In between “being busy trying to not go bankrupt”, Warwick Smith, founder of urban winery Renegade, said he has been organising his 2019 Sparkling Grenache for customers to riddle and disgorge at home, with live Instagram disgorging events being held over the weekend, and a cut of sales going to Hospitality Action.

At a time like this, it would take the coldest of hearts not to feel the cockles warming at the sheer amount of support for the industry, by the industry.

At Harpers, we’ve been inundated with initiatives from businesses that are not only trying to keep themselves alive but others too, and we’ve tried our level best to circulate these among the trade, offering as they do a groundswell of support for such stellar funds as Hospitality Action and newly rebranded The Drinks Trust.

There is a sell-by to the lockdown. Whenever that might be, merchants, bars and restaurants will reopen doors. But when doors do reopen, the superhuman efforts that have been made to keep businesses alive and staff and customers safe will have a lasting impact, whether that’s around flexible working – easing the risk to the health of not just the individual, but the planet – or how we engage with the consumer, online, packaging, delivery or otherwise.

Michael Baum, Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned owner of Burgundy’s Château de Pommard, imagines this longer-term shift: “I foresee a more consumer-focused model that capitalises on the opportunities of digital technologies and which will bring a welcome future for the traditional wine industry.

“It has been stagnant for 100 years, trapped in the same multi-tiered distribution systems which are being exposed through the outbreak of Covid-19 and frankly benefit the middlemen much more than the producer or the consumer.

“Covid-19 is the impetus needed to shift the wine industry into a new future where it can thrive in a world of increased volatility, demand fluctuation, climate change consciousness, and yet desire for consumers to engage in new experiences”.



The best of the rest

A snapshot of the many, many businesses out there using technology to boost engagement, build community and stay connected.

Diogenes the Dog, boutique wine bar in Elephant & Castle, is offering a home delivery ‘sommelier service’ for those staying indoors. 

The Duppy Share has launched Home Rum, a self-isolation kit for rum lovers with 100% profits going to crisis charity Hospitality Action.

#TheVirtualHappyHour is inviting people to come together, virtually, for a round of drinks while in isolation. When glasses are empty, everyone in the group donates the price of their drink to their bar of choice.

Armit Wines is offering customers the chance to explore different grape varieties from around the world with its At-Home Masterclass. Participants purchase the six wines (with discount), wait for delivery and log on to take part.

Elliot Awin, partner at Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies has teamed up with indies, winemakers and influencers to host a weekly series of Isolation Zone Tastings over Instagram Live.

WSET School London is urging students to sign up for its new ‘At home with wine’ e-guide offering six e-lessons, straight into their inbox.

Last but not least, Corney & Barrow is launching a weekly online Zoom tasting while creating video content featuring staff sharing their thoughts and stories on new vintages.