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Boozing or branding? Measuring the effects of free wine tastings at wine shops

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus on both the sales effects of free wine tastings and the effects on attitudes towards future purchases four weeks after the tastings. Design/methodology/approach – Store scanner data for the four weeks before and after each of ten wine tastings are used to measure the effect tastings had on sales. A total of 170 consumers, who attended a free tasting in wine shops across 4 cities, are interviewed as they leave the store and 37 of these consumers respond to a call back survey one month after the free tasting. Findings – Scanner data shows a 400 per cent increase in sales of the wines tasted on the day of tasting, and a small but significant effect on sales during the four weeks afterwards. The survey shows that there is no difference in purchasing between those attending a tasting with the intention to purchase and those just stopping by. Both groups purchase at about the same rate. Only about 33 per cent of the attendees purchase; the other two-thirds are boozing. Research limitations/implications – Free tastings boost immediate sales just like most price promotions, but the effect on the intention to purchase is stronger for those who made a purchase. The study is conducted in one country among a small number of buyers, which limits its generalisability. Practical implications – The results and implications of this research can be used by retailers and wine companies to make more informed decisions about free tastings. From this small study, attracting the maximum number of tasters to increase sales and long-term purchasing intentions would be recommended.
Boozing or Branding? Measuring the Effects of Free Wine Tastings at Wine Shops
Abstract
Purpose: This research focuses on both the sales effects of free wine tastings and the effects on
attitudes towards future purchases four weeks after the tastings.
Methodology: Store scanner data for the four weeks before and after each of 10 wine tastings
were used to measure the effect tastings had on sales. One hundred seventy consumers, who
attended a free tasting in wine shops across 4 cities, were interviewed as they left the store and
37 of these consumers responded to a call back survey one month after the free tasting.
Findings: Scanner data showed a 400% increase in sales of the wines tasted on the day of
tasting, and a small but significant effect on sales during the four weeks afterwards. The survey
showed that there was no difference in purchasing between those attending a tasting with the
intention to purchase and those just stopping by. Both groups purchased at about the same rate.
Only about 33% of the attendees purchased; the other two-thirds were boozing.
Implications/Limitations: Free tastings boost immediate sales just like most price promotions,
but the effect on the intention to purchase is stronger for those who made a purchase. The study
was conducted in one country among a small number of buyers, which limits its generalizability.
Practical implications: The results and implications of this research can be used by retailers and
wine companies to make more informed decisions about free tastings. From this small study, we
would recommend attracting the maximum number of tasters to increase sales and long term
purchasing intentions.
Classification: Research paper
Key Words: Free tastings, wine sales, brand recall, wine retailing
Introduction
Wine is one of the few product categories where free tastings are regularly used as part of the
promotional process. Many food products use free tastings in supermarkets as part of a new
product introduction strategy, but few use free tastings as an ongoing promotional tool.
Regulations on offering free tastings differ around the world, but they are legal in many areas. In
Australia there is a long tradition of wine shops holding free tastings every Thursday evening
and/or Saturday afternoon. These are sponsored by wineries, which provide free wine, and
typically are conducted by the retailer’s staff. With all the resources allocated to such a
promotional tool, one would expect that empirical research would have investigated the effect of
such large expenditures, but a literature review did not reveal any specific studies in this area.
This research focuses on two main areas. The first is on the effect free tastings have on brand
sales at the same time. Free tastings should follow the pattern of any other sales promotion; that
is an immediate increase in brand sales followed by a rapid decline. The typical pattern would
be increased sales on the day/s of the tasting/promotion and a swift decline on following days
(Blattberg and Neslin 1989). Will the nature of wine consumption illustrate a contrasting pattern,
where there is a spike in sales on the day(s) of the tasting followed by a series of smaller spikes
at intervals on days following the tasting caused by repeat purchases?
The second area focuses on consumer perceptions and reactions to in-store tastings by taking a
look at the factors that draw customers to free tasting events, and brand awareness and future
purchase intentions in an attempt to see if free tasting has longer term effect.
The aim of looking at these two areas is to provide justification (or not) for the ongoing of free
wine sampling in retail stores. The purpose is not only to provide a new area of research to the
academic sector but also to indicate managerial implications to retailers. Many retailers have
anecdotally mentioned that free in-store tasting is an area of concern because it drains resources,
the number of attendees is declining, and the return on investment is unknown. Tastings require
preparation, staff time away from the shop floor and they draw attention away from other
products for sale. This does not mean that retailers believe tastings to be a bad idea, but simply
that the benefits are not measured and the effects unknown. It is time these uncertainties are put
to rest and the aim of this research is to provide a solid and accurate reflection of the issues and
debates surrounding free in store tasting.
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Literature Review
There has been no previous research looking specifically at the relationship between free in-store
wine tastings, consumer behaviour and brands. Studies dealing with consumer behaviour, brands
and promotions, in both wine and non-wine markets, will provide the basis for explaining the
possible effects of free wine tastings in a retail environment. The purpose of this literature review
is to draw on previous findings and illustrate how they are applicable to issues surrounding a free
wine tasting.
Consumers tend to base their decision-making on a number of attributes associated with a bottle
of wine that lead them to form an opinion and in turn make a purchase (Chaney, 2000; Thomas
and Pickering, 2003). Prior to purchase the most important pieces of information to a consumer
looking at a bottle in a retail environment are: having previously tried the wine, the grape variety,
the brand name and price (Goodman et al. 2008; Lockshin et al. 2006; Thomas and Pickering
2003; Thomas 2000). Barber et al (2007) take this concept a step further by arguing that
consumers often look for attributes on a bottle of wine that spark some form of recognition and
that the information available is then processed and used based on a risk reduction strategy.
Choosing a bottle of wine can be a difficult decision, particularly for less knowledgeable
consumers. Customers in a wine shop typically have only visual cues to guide them through
their decision-making process and possibly some memory of previous tasting, but no research
has considered actual tasting during the decision-making process.
A free wine tasting event is a unique form of retail selling and promotion. The only comparison
that can be drawn is to other situations where some sort of free sample is being offered, for
instance in food markets. Another observational difference is that ‘free giveaways’ are often used
to promote a product that has been discounted. With wine that is on free tasting there is typically
no discount in the price.
McLaughlin (2007) relates the concept of in-store free wine tasting to that of test-driving a car. It
is a unique promotional situation where the consumer gets to try the product without any real
obligation to buy or any discount provided. Almanza and Barber (2006) relate this concept more
specifically to wine by arguing that the majority of consumers find choosing and purchasing a
bottle of wine a risky business. Consumers are concerned with the consequences of making a
poor selection when choosing a wine and evidence has shown that taste is the risk that consumers
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fear most (Barber et al 2007; Mitchell and Greatorex 1988). In addition, it has been shown that
customers who sample a new product have an increased probability of immediate purchase
(Barth 2007).
Early research by Chevalier (1975) on sales promotion illustrated the dramatic effect it can have
on sales figures. This effect has since been studied by Guadagni and Little (1983), Krishramurthi
and Raj (1988), and Gupta (1988) using scanner data at a household level, while Moriarty
(1985), Wittink et al. (1987), and Blattberg and Wisniewski (1988) looked at scanner data on a
market level. Blattberg and Neslin (1989) showed that ‘brand switchers’ account for about one
third of the increase in volume due to sales promotion. The other two-thirds have bought the
brand in the past. This shows that sales promotions do not necessarily attract people new to the
brand. The same may be true with wine tastings. Promotions could have either a positive or
negative effect on repeat purchases. Discount promotions typically have a negative short-term
effect, as argued by Neslin and Shoemaker (1989) and Blattberg and Neslin (1989), due to a
negative attribution for the company’s reasoning behind staging the promotion and stocking up
by consumers.
Other research has asked consumers how important having tasted the wine or the availability of a
tasting is on a consumer’s decision to buy and their satisfaction with the retailer (Lockshin and
Kahrimanis 1998; Goodman, et al. 2006; 2008; Johnson and Bastian 2007). Lockshin and
Kahrimanis’ research (1998) ranks ‘wine tastings available’ as the 24th most significant store
attribute when evaluating a wine shop out of a list of 45 attributes,. However, these articles
looked at consumers’ stated effect of tastings on retailer choice and shopping behaviour, not at
actual wine purchase behaviour. Goodman et al. (2006; 2008) found previously tasting the wine
to be the most important in Australia and ranked in the first three across several countries,
however the question looked at tasting before purchase, not during the purchase process. Johnson
and Bastian (2007) also found consumers, when asked, stated that tasting the wine prior to
purchase is an important factor in their decision process.
Research Questions
The research questions need to reflect a blend of previous findings and intelligent speculation to
measure the effects of free wine tastings in retail stores. Does the brand receive more sales on the
day of the tasting than during a ‘regular’ trading day before the event? Does the brand receive an
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increase in sales after the day of the tasting? One would expect, as with most promotional
activity, the day of the tasting will persuade consumers to purchase more of the brand being
offered on tasting than if that brand was not on tasting. The after effects are not clear.
The next main question is: do people attend a free tasting knowingly and do they attend with the
intention to buy? One might expect that people consider a free tasting to be a bonus to their
shopping experience, a gift from the retailer to the customer. If this is the case, then it could be
predicted that attendees view a free tasting as a chance to get a free drink of wine and merely
‘booze’. On the other hand, some consumers might attend a free tasting with the purpose to taste
and then buy if they like the wine. Related to this is how many people actually do buy from each
of those groups - those who just showed up and those who attended on purpose? Finally, it is
important to find out whether those who attended the tasting remembered the brands tasted after
a time lag and whether or not they planned to purchase these wines in the future.
Method
All the data for the research was derived from a major Australian retail wine chain’s free tasting
sessions and the customers that attended those sessions spread across 10 tastings, in nine stores
across four Australian cities – Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
The actual sales on the 28 days before the tasting, the day of the tasting, and the 28 days after the
tasting were obtained from the scanner register for each of the stores for each of the wines tasted.
There was no identification of who actually bought the wines, only the sales of each specific
wine before, during, and after the tasting.
The consumer response survey was only completed by people who had tasted free wine on the
day of the event. Customers were only approached once they had tasted the samples and when
leaving the store either empty-handed or once they had purchased any wine from the retailer.
This was a protocol stipulated by the retailer. Every third customer was approached leaving the
store. This resulted in a non-random sample of consumers.
The survey was used to measure a number of consumer responses to the free tasting. Variables
included did they attend with the intention to buy, whether they felt free tasting was important,
how often did they buy wine offered on free tasting, were they aware of the tasting prior to
arrival, did they buy any of the wine that was on tasting and, if so, what brand(s)? In addition the
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survey contained a group of questions designed to try to gauge the customer’s level of
involvement in wine and how often they bought and drank wine. The survey asked the
respondents to clarify whether they had bought wine on the day of the event – either brands that
were on free tasting and not on free tasting. The last section of the survey also contained a set of
demographic questions.
A call-back survey was conducted exactly one month after the date of the tasting. Customers,
who completed the initial survey, were asked if they would consent to a follow-up phone call in a
month. The aim of the call-back survey was to see whether the consumer could recall the
brand(s) that they tasted on the day of the tasting and if they had purchased any bottles of that
wine(s) in the period between the tasting date and the call-back date as well as their future
purchase intentions.
Analysis and Results
Scanner sales data
The scanner data set contained the sales, in number of bottles sold, for all of the SKU’s
(stockkeeping units) that were offered on free tasting for the 4 weeks prior to the tasting date, the
day of the tasting and the 4 weeks after the tasting date at all of the locations used in the
research. Different wines were tasted during our test period at different stores. There were
several tastings of imported Champagnes in the lead up to Christmas. There were also tastings of
several wines from a single brand, e.g., Penfolds; or tastings of multiple brands from a single
region, e.g., Marlborough (NZ) Sauvignon Blancs. To explore any patterns between the different
free tasting formats, we first graphed the data using Excel. The data were recorded into four
categories as below depending on the wines tasted:
Category 1 – Unit sales data for all the brands involved in every free tasting
Category 2 – Unit sales data from the locations that staged free tastings of Champagne
Category 3Unit sales data from the locations that offered only one brand (but multiple items)
on free tasting.
Category 4 Unit sales data from the locations that offered several different brands on free
tasting at the same time.
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The categories were chosen to look at different aspects of the data. Champagne consists of
mainly well-known brands, most of which are highly promoted. Also, the data was collected in
November near the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period. A few of the tastings had one brand,
but many items from within the range, so it is possible that there would be a synergistic effect on
the overall range for such a tasting. Other tastings were themed around a grape variety or a single
distributor, but had a range of different brand names, where no synergy would be expected.
Figure 1 about here
The combined results (Figure 1) show an immediate increase in sales on the day of the tastings.
It mirrors Chevalier’s (1975) pattern that sales take in a promotional situation: an immediate
increase during the promotion followed by a swift decline once the promotion has finished. The
sales went from a highest peak of 1000 bottles in the period before the tasting to a peak of over
4000 bottles on the day of free tasting. The weekend after also shows a spike in sales. The graph
shows that the three separate groups reflect the same pattern as seen with the whole data set, so
all the items were combined into one dataset for the regression.
We then ran a dummy variable regression to look for statistical significance in the patterns
observed. The dependent variable was unit sales for each wine on tasting. The categorical
variables were: unit sales for the 28 days before the tasting, unit sales the day of the tasting, unit
sales the 28 days after the tasting, and one for weekends to see if unit sales were artificially
higher (lower) on weekends. We pooled all the data, since there weren’t enough sales of each of
the four categories above to analyse separately. The only significant variables were: unit sales
the day of the tasting (t = 14.0, prob = .00) and unit sales after the tasting (t= 2.63; prob = .01). It
is clear the tasting has a large immediate effect on purchases, while there is a small but
significant increase in sales after the tasting. There was no effect of sales before the tasting or an
effect of greater (lesser) sales on the weekends as compared to weekdays
Survey of customers after the tasting
A total of 170 surveys were collected from consumers after they left the stores where there were
free tastings. Every third person exiting was approached, although not ever third person was
interviewed due to refusals to participate. The demographics of the sample are presented in Table
1. The majority of respondents were male, accounting for 66% of respondents. The age range of
the respondents was fairly diverse with the two most common age ranges of 46 60 years old
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and 26 – 35 years old. For income, 44% were in the highest salary bracket of $100,000 plus and
it is also worth noting that 71% of respondents’ income was $60,000 or more, which is much
higher than the Australian average of approximately $35,000. Therefore, this sample is a
convenience sample and is not a representative sample of Australian wine consumers (Mueller et
al. 2008). It represents customers of a specialty wine store chain, which is mainly situated in
wealthier suburbs.
Table 1 about here
A series of chi-square tests were run comparing the gender, age, income, and wine involvement
(Lockshin et al. 2006) results for each city to determine if there was any significance between the
cities. None of the tests conducted produced a Pearson’s chi-square significance value that was
less than 0.05. This indicates that there is no significant difference between the cities and,
therefore, the sample can be treated as a whole for analysis.
Intention to buy was used to determine whether the consumer considered a free tasting an
opportunity to buy or an opportunity to try; does attitude lead to behaviour? We compared the
purchasing behaviour of those customers who attend a free tasting with the intention to buy, with
those who attend with no intention to buy to see whether attitude is a significant factor in buying
behaviour.
The results showed that out of the 170 valid respondents, 53% stated that they attend free
tastings with the intention to buy in comparison to 16% who stated they attended free tasting but
with no intention to buy; the remaining 30% showed no preference (Table 2). More customers
attend free tastings with the intention to buy than not intend to buy. Across all intentions, 61% of
the sample said that tasting the wine in store is important in their decision to buy, even though
actual sales did not bear this out. Eight-eight percent of the respondents stated that they felt more
reassured buying a wine after a free tasting. This supports Barber et al (2007) and Almanza and
Barber (2006) that adding taste as a product attribute reduces the risk involved in purchasing a
bottle of wine. It shows that consumers believe a free tasting acts as a useful aid in the purchase
decision-making process.
Table 2 about here
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The results from the cross tabulation in Table 2, show that a third of the people who attended the
tasting with the intention to buy, did actually buy on the day. Thirty respondents out of a total of
90, who stated they attend a free tasting with the intention to buy, actually bought (33%). Thirty-
eight percent, who attend without the intention to buy, bought on the day of the free tasting and
21% of individuals who showed a neutral viewpoint also purchased. However, a chi-square test
showed there was no significant pattern to the results; the proportion of those buying or not were
randomly associated with the intention to buy or not. There is little difference in the purchasing
behaviour of individuals regardless of their intention to buy when attending a free tasting as the
insignificant chi-square test showed.
Sixty-three percent of the respondents who purchased on the day bought a brand(s) that was on
tasting and 37% of the respondents who purchased on the day bought a brand(s) that was not on
tasting. The data also shows that more than double the number of bottles was purchased of wine
that was on free tasting. Regardless of intention, the wines being tasted attracted a
disproportionate number of sales. These results also show, that only 52 respondents out of a total
sample of 170 who attended a tasting event bought a wine(s) being offered on tasting. This
indicates that only about a third of people who attend tastings purchase a wine on free tasting and
there is quite a lot of ‘boozing’ going on at free tastings and not much buying across the
customers.
Demographic analysis
To analyse the data further, demographic variables were grouped into categories to determine if
there was any significant difference between groups of respondents. The categories created were
based on how retailers might group their consumers:
1. Age – divided into 2 groups:
35 years and under
36 years and over
2. Involvement – divided into 2 groups based on the response to the involvement questions.
Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 1 – 5 how strongly they agreed or disagreed
with the following 4 statements: ‘I have a strong interest in wine’; ‘Wine is important to
me in my lifestyle’; ‘Drinking wine gives me pleasure’ and ‘I like to talk about wine with
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my friends and/or family’ (Lockshin et al. 2006). A factor analysis was conducted and all
four questions loaded on a single factor. A score of 1 equalled strongly disagree and 5
strongly agree therefore there was a maximum score of 20 for involvement when the
responses were added together.
Low involvement consumers – respondents who scored 12 or less on the test.
Medium – high involvement consumers – respondents who scored 16 or more on
the test.
3. How often a consumer drinks wine:
Respondents who drink once a week or less
Respondents who drink more than once a week
4. Gender
5. Income – divided into 3 groups:
$60,000 and under
$60,001 - $100,000
$100,001 and over
Thirty-one percent of the respondents were 35 years old and under and 69% were 36 years old
and over. A chi-square test showed more than the expected number of individuals aged 36 and
over were classed as high involvement consumers. For individuals 36 years and above, the
decision to attend a free tasting is more affected by the brand that is being offered to taste than
for individuals who are 35 years old and under. Older wine drinkers tend to be more brand
focused. There was no significant different between the two age groups as to whether they
purchased a bottle of wine from the free tasting on the day of the event.
Twelve percent of the sample was low involvement and 88% were medium/high involvement
consumers. As expected, high involvement wine drinkers drink wine more often than low
involvement drinkers in this sample (chi square = 30.7, p = .00). Tasting the wine in store is
more important to medium/high involvement consumers in their decision to buy then it is for
lower involvement consumers (one way ANOVA, p = .00). Significantly more medium /high
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involvement consumers attend a free tasting with the intention to buy, and are more likely to
attend a free tasting based on the brand(s) being offered to taste than low involvement consumers
(one way ANOVA, p = .00).
In the sample 40% of respondents drink wine once a week or less and 60% of consumers drink
more than once a week. The group of people who drink once a week or less contain fewer
medium/high involvement consumers, and more low involvement consumers than expected
based on a significant chi-square. However, there was no significant difference between the
groups as to whether they bought wine on the day of the free tasting. It seems to be important to
attract the largest number of people to a wine tasting and not worry if they are high involvement
consumers or not.
The analysis of the gender category showed no significant differences between the groups across
all the variables. This indicates that male and female consumers do not vary in their attitudinal
and behavioural responses to free wine tasting.
Out of the total sample, 28% of respondents have an income of $60,000 or less, 28% have an
income of $60,001 - $100,000 and 44% have an income of $100,001 and over. However, there
was no significant difference between the groups as to whether they bought wine on the day of
the free tasting.
Interestingly, the analysis showed that across the majority of variables there is no significant
difference in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals in the different income groups. One area
worth highlighting is that income appears to have no affect on involvement in wine. The analysis
indicates that people across all income ranges have a similar outlook on free wine tastings. If a
customer ‘appears wealthy’ that does not mean there is a higher chance of them buying wine
from a free tasting.
Call back survey
During the in-store survey respondents were asked if they would consent to a follow-up phone
call a month after the date of the free tasting. It was designed to measure three aspects
customer memory (brand recollection), repeat purchases and future purchase intentions. A total
of 59 respondents agreed to a follow up-phone call. Each individual who agreed to a follow up
phone call was contacted exactly 1 month after the date of the free tasting that they had attended.
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All the unsuccessful attempts were re-called the following day. Thirty-seven of the 59 were
successfully contacted.
Thirty-five percent of people from the call back survey stated that they had bought a bottle of
wine that was on free tasting on the day of the event. This is similar to the figure of 30% taken
from the in-store surveys of people who bought a bottle of wine that was on free tasting. The
similarity between the recalled purchase and the actual purchase (taken at the time of the free
tasting) indicates good recall from the sample.
Ninety percent of those contacted could remember a wine they had tasted, but we did not have
the means to measure whether their memory was accurate. Out of the respondents who recalled
the brand they tasted, 67% (24 people) recalled Penfolds as a brand; all the other mentions were
only of single brands. The Penfolds brand was tasted by only 34% of those called back, but
represented 67% of the wines remembered. This seems to emphasise that well-known brands are
more likely to be recalled than less known or unknown brands.
We divided the call-back sample into those that bought a bottle at the tasting and those that did
not, and cross tabulated this with purchases they made of the wines tasted in the one month after
the tasting (Table 3). Only two people who bought wines at the tasting bought more of the same
wine in the month following. Ten people who bought at the tasting did not buy afterwards, and
10 who did not buy at the tasting bought afterwards. A chi-square test showed these results to be
about the frequencies expected; there was no pattern of those who bought at the tasting buying
more or less wine afterwards.
Table 3 about here
We also asked respondents’ intention to purchase wines they tasted over the next 12 months,
using a 11 point scale based on their perceived likelihood of future purchase (0=0%;
1=10%...10=100%). A one-way ANOVA showed a marginally significant difference (p = .07)
between those who did buy at the tasting (7.5) and those that did not buy at the tasting (5.2). We
can interpret this as purchasing at the tasting is more likely to lead to future purchasing than not
purchasing at the tasting.
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Discussion and Implications
The results of the sales data analysis showed that free tastings are a successful promotional tool
in generating an immediate and significant increase in sales. Our data indicate that retailers and
brand owners are likely to more than double (here up to fourfold increase) brand sales due to
hosting a free tasting event compared to sales during the four weeks before or after the tasting.
The results also show that there are significantly more sales in the four weeks after the tasting
date than before. However, Figure 1 indicates that sales figures are quite variable, and they seem
to be influenced by many factors not measured in this paper.
It is important for retailers to acknowledge that these results come from one chain of retail stores
and one approach to conducting a free tasting. Factors, such business account customer sales,
promotional activity other than free tastings, ‘one-off’ bulk sales, and the availability of stock for
the brands on free tasting in the eight week period may all have had an effect on the sales data
illustrated here.
Certainly a fourfold increase in total sales on the day of the tasting generates enough margin to
pay for the tasting stock and personnel. Retailers and wineries should take from this analysis the
knowledge that free tastings do cause an immediate increase in sales on the day of the event and
in this respect are useful promotional tools. The long-term impact is less clear.
The purpose of comparing intention to buy with purchase behaviour was to determine if there is
any correlation between attitudinal responses and behavioural responses. The fact that more
people attend a free tasting with the intention of buying is encouragingit gives free tastings a
sense of purpose because people are attending with the prospect of spending money. When
compared against purchase behaviour though, the data showed that intention to buy is not a good
indication of whether a consumer will buy a wine(s) from a free tasting.
For the retailer, this shows that a free tasting can alter an individual’s preconceived attitude in
relation to whether they intend to buy or not. This has both positive and negative implications.
On the negative side it suggests that even if people attend a free tasting with the intention to buy
they may not the process of tasting has not supported their intention. On the positive side,
consumers who attend with no intention to buy may change their intention and buy. It is the
retailer’s responsibility to draw the consumer in and keep them intrigued in order to close a sale.
Retailers should explore ways to convert those who intend to buy to actually buy and transform
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those who do not intend to buy also to buy. Anecdotally, we observed that the retail staff were
very busy during tastings and did not speak in detail to customers when it was so busy. We can
certainly recommend that an increase in the numbers tasting would result in an increase in sales;
anything the retailer can do to increase attendance should increase sales, as long as the store has
the capacity to deal with the extra customers.
The in-store survey showed that customers who attend a free tasting event are buying more of the
brands on tasting than brands not on tasting. In this respect free tastings are successful in
persuading people to opt for brands on tasting over other brands in the store. It implies that
consumers feel more comfortable purchasing brands on free tasting and that the process of
tasting a wine does lead to sales. The staging of a free tasting is therefore useful to both retailer
and winery in achieving an immediate increase in brand sales. The purchase figures on the day of
the free tasting showed that about one third of attendees buy a wine on tasting. This shows that a
reasonable percentage of respondents are buying, but they are in the minority; the other two
thirds appear to be drinking for free. It should be noted, however, that the sales of brands on
tasting outnumbered those not on tasting by 2:1. This may indicate ‘stocking up’ by those buying
the wines on tasting and may indicate the tasting reduced their risk and therefore they purchased
larger quantities.
The survey also indicated there was not much difference in the purchase behaviour between the
different demographic groups. Some of the results are not surprising: that older people tend to be
higher involvement and pay more attention to the brands offered on tasting. There were no
major differences between the genders or the income groups.
Some interesting results came out of the call back analysis. The first is that most of the
respondents recalled a wine brand. Out of the 10 consumers who had attended one of the
Penfolds tastings, 7 were able to remember that it was a Penfolds tasting. This success rate of
70% is higher than that of the rest of the sample. The implications are that brand awareness (or
reach) may be more effective if only one brand is on free tasting. Having only one brand on free
tasting focuses all of the attention onto that brand and the consumer is not bombarded with
various brand names – increasing brand recollection. It could also imply that Penfolds, as a large
and well-established winery, has a stronger brand image than some of the other wines involved
in the free tastings. There were, however, some other ‘big’ name single brand tastings (such as
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Leuwin Estate) that did not have such a high recollection. Having only one brand on tasting also
allows the retailer and winery to focus advertising and promotional tools more efficiently
because it provides an opportunity to give the customer information on the brand separate from
the competition.
Limitations and Future Research
Free wine tastings are not the same from one retailer to another. This research used only one
retailer, and therefore the format of each tasting used for the data collection was almost identical.
Other retailers may do things differently and the results could vary.
It would be useful to research this concept further and find more examples of retailers that
conduct free tastings in a different manner and see if the effects vary from one approach to
another. It would also be useful to explore the effects of free tastings in relation to different
global markets, especially in developing wine markets. Does the approach to free tastings differ
depending on the market and, therefore does the effect of a free tasting also differ? We could not
control for the amount of time the sales or tasting staff spent with each customer, so future
research could also look at sales staff activities to see how these influence post-tasting sales.
The work of Lockshin and Kahrimanis’ (1998) showed that customers do consider free tasting as
a relatively important attribute in Australia, but the research also showed that customer’s ranking
of the importance of tasting, as a store attribute does differ between consumers. Conducting the
in-store survey for this research supported this theory. There were a percentage of customers
who did not taste any of the wine being offered on free tasting. This research was not concerned
with individuals who did not taste but it would be useful to understand why some people taste
and others do not.
The relatively small number of those surveyed after the tasting and their agreement to be
surveyed does not necessarily give a good indication of the population attending free wine
tastings. This is even truer of the call back survey. Looking at sales data and conducting the call
back survey over a longer period may produce different results and implications.
Conclusion
Free wine tasting has been generally considered as a mechanism for driving brand sales and
attracting customers into the store, but the true effect of free wine tasting has until now been
15
overlooked by the academic sector as an area of research. The results of this study provide a
crucial starting point in understanding free wine tastings and the effect they have on customers
and brands. It also provides some data to educate retailers on what the true ramifications of
staging a free tasting are and if they serve as a beneficial promotional tool.
The sales data showed free wine tastings have a pattern similar to previous research on
promotional activity. Free tastings are successful at producing an immediate increase in sales on
the day of the event, which is then followed by a swift decline once the promotion has ended. To
reduce the risk involved in purchasing a bottle of wine, many consumers gather as many
attributes as they can about that wine in order to enhance their knowledge and make the
purchasing decision easier (Chaney, 2000; Thomas and Pickering, 2003). By giving a customer
the opportunity to ‘test drive’ a wine the retailer is providing them with the attribute that is
believed to be the biggest perceived risk when buying a wine (Barber et al 2007) – the taste. The
results support this previous research by showing that customers who attend a tasting do buy
more of the brands that are on free tasting than those not on free tasting. Furthermore, consumers
feel more reassured by a wine if they have received a free sample. Free tasting is successful at
promoting the brands that are offered on free tasting over those that remain on the shop floor on
the day of the event. The research also showed that about one third of customers who attend a
free tasting with an intention to buy actually do - the other two thirds of those tasting who do not
buy. This indicates there is quite a bit of ‘boozing’ going on during free tastings.
Whether are customer will buy from a free tasting on the day does not depend on their intention
to purchase nor their demographic make up, level of involvement in wine, and wine consumption
pattern. Any consumer who attends a free tasting is a potential buyer. An area for concern is that
the number of people attending free tastings appears to be both low and unpredictable. This
research suggests that more emphasis needs to be placed on attracting new consumers to free
tasting events with the aim of both educating wine consumers and improving sales.
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0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
3000
3500
4000
4500
Bottles sold (Units)
Days be fore and afte r tasting
All
Champagne
single
brands
Multibrand
Figure 1: Unit sales of wines on tasting by category before, during, and after the tasting
day
19
GENDER MALE FEMALE TOTAL
FREQ 114 60 174
AGE 18 - 21 22 - 25 26 - 35 36 - 45 46 - 60
60 and
over TOTAL
FREQ 3 12 40 28 61 32 176
INCOME
($)
Under
25,000
25,001 -
40,000
40,001
-
60,000
60,001
-
80,000
80,001
-
100,00
0
100,001
and over TOTAL
FREQ 11 10 22 23 20 68 154
Table 1: Demographics of the sample
Bought wine on tasting
Intention to buy Yes No
No 11 18
Neutral 11 40
Yes 30 60
Total 52 118
Table 2: Purchases of wine at the tasting by intention to buy before tasting
Chi-square = 3.0; (p = .22)
Bought wine on tasting
Bought within 1
month after the tasting Yes No
No 10 13
Yes 2 10
Total 12 23
Table 3: Purchases of wine after the tasting by whether bought or not at the tasting
Chi-square = 3.1; (p = .22)
20
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