Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it

Wine pricing

Prices, prices, what’s the real price?

It’s time to bring on the lawyers when wine pricing reality gets out of hand

We’ve written many times about the foolishness of post-modern wine pricing – the phony suggested retail prices, the discounts that aren’t exactly discounts, and all the rest. In fact, in the past couple of weeks, I saw a $10 bottle of California rose that carried a “real” price of $20 at my local Kroger, while the Central Market chain sold a Texas white for $16 in Austin and $11 in Dallas.

What can be done about this? If you’re an attorney who likes wine, you can sue.

The Wine Industry Insight website and Wines & Vines magazine have the details: A group of law firms claimed that Wines ‘Til Sold Out, a California cyber-retailer, used deceptive pricing to confuse consumers about what they were buying. To this, they have apparently reached a settlement worth $12.6 million in cash and consumer credits.

Wine Industry Insight reports that “the defendant denies all wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, the attorneys involved have agreed to make no public comment.” And, since I don’t want to be sued, I make no claim I know exactly what happened.

But the attorneys’ complaint seems to address the sort of practice that’s common at too many retailers. For example, wrote Wines & Vines, the lawsuit alleged that Wines ‘Til Sold Out “created wine brands with private-label companies and then offered those wines with discounts not based on any actual retail value and offered other wines with exaggerated retail prices to make the discounts appear even larger.”

One example cited in the lawsuit: A California cabernet sauvignon, which was supposed to cost $35 and was discounted to $13.99. But those prices apparently didn’t exist anywhere other than the Wines ‘Til Sold Out website.

I see that practice – or something similar to it – frequently when I shop for wine, though more often at grocery stores and the largest chain retailers. It’s incredibly frustrating; how are we supposed to know if we’re paying a fair price?

Fortunately, there are a couple of things those of use who aren’t attorneys can do. First, know that any discount that seems to be that big, like the $20 rose marked down to $10, is too good to be true, and that the real price is probably closer to the “sale” price. Second, check for the wine. If it’s not listed, it may well be a private label described in the lawsuit, where the pricing is meaningless. Third, Wine-Searcher’s average price for wine in its database is usually dependable. If you see the same wine, including vintage, marked down, then it should be a fair value.

2 thoughts on “Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it

  • By Titus - Reply

    And that’s why the only things I order from WTSO are independently scored wines (I know, I know, insert critique of reliance on those here) or $10–$12 table wines that I would buy at around the same price anyways.

    They changed the fine print on their advertising within the last few months—probably in reaction to that suit—in a way that makes clearer that their advertised discounts are sometimes pretty slippery.

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