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Roberson talks supercharging online sales as UK e-commerce soars to 10 year high

Published:  14 May, 2020

Overnight, online sales have become the breadwinner for companies up and down the UK thanks to Covid-19 and its not-so-subtle ability to completely reshape shopping behaviours.

According to the latest retail data for the first month in total isolation, April saw a “seismic shift in purchasing patterns”.

Online sales surged +23.8% over the course of the month versus the same period last year, amounting to the biggest leap in a decade (IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index).

One company that had the jump on this digital renaissance is Roberson Wine, which has had its B2C website since 2008.

In 2015, the London-based supplier, urban winery and e-tailer even closed its high street store to focus on its digital sales channels.

But even Roberson has seen a massive pivoting of focus towards its online channel, which jumped from 25% of GP pre-pandemic, to 70% by the end of April.

“This reflects a complete collapse in the on-trade sector and the increase in online sales, which are up nearly 150% on the same time last year,” MD Talya Roberson told Harpers.

“But for us, it’s involved such a huge re-think in terms of approach rather than just keeping up with fulfilling orders (which we’ve also managed to do). We used to talk about the need to be flexible and nimble. That really means something right now. We’ve gone from working in silos, with everyone having their own focus, to being flexible and saying ‘this is what the priority is today’.

“B2C was always very important strategically. But Covid-19 has been a catalyst for ramping it up. Two months ago, the website was a bit like the Cinderella of the company: working hard and delivering day in and day out without anyone taking much notice. Now, it’s very much going to the ball.”

Admittedly, things have been tough, and like many others, sacrifices have had to be made, with around half of Roberson's staff now on furlough.

At the same time, as the company leans into the online space, it’s been able to unlock new ways of interacting with its audience via more consumer-friendly marketing and content.

This includes launching its California at Home campaign from next week, an initiative created by commercial director Simon Huntington, which will include a series of videos of staff enjoying Cali wine during lockdown (including a backgarden Baywatch re-enactment involving a bottle of wine in distress and paddling pool). There’s also their lockdown series “on the top 10 best-selling wines, which tells stories about people and food, not palate and terroir”.

“We’ve absolutely tilted towards the consumer. Wine geek speak is banned and we’ve focused more on video and social media content over the last six weeks. The focus is less on the wine and education and more on the experience. The California videos is just a bit of fun, but it’s exactly the kind of content that cuts through, especially at the moment, when we’re all a bit starved of fun,” Roberson said.

Top photo: Cool chap in the sunglasses is Simon Huntington, Roberson Wine's commercial director