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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

On Becoming a Naked Angel‏

I recently became a Naked Angel - it was alarmingly easy; having bought a discounted case of wines from Naked Wines, I was invited to become a Naked Angel with the lure of a hefty money-off voucher.

Now, I like a bargain and I've enjoyed all my Naked Wines so far, so I clicked "yes".

Expecting a multi-stage order-review-confirm-pay process similar to something like amazon, I was surprised to find that's it - I'd just signed up to being an Angel.

So what are the benefits of being a Naked Angel, apart from it being a great opening gambit at dinner parties ?

As well as the initial voucher, Naked Angels also get a sizable amount of cashback on each order - around a third of the full list price.

In return, Angels are asked to contribute a set amount every month (from £20 upwards) into their account with Naked Wines.

Naked Wines currently has over 30,000 Angels and uses the regular cash in-flows to fund individual wineries, thereby cutting out several layers of middle-men, reducing the overhead cost in a bottle of wine and, in theory at least, leading to keener pricing.

As Naked founder Rowan Gormley puts it, that allows the company to "spend more money on what goes in the bottle and less on everything else".

It also allows Naked to obtain a degree of exclusivity with their wines so they do not end up competing with other wine retailers - good for Naked, but also of benefit to their customers.

So far, so smart.

Additionally, Naked's website involves a lot of Facebook-style features - each of the wine-makers has a wall where Naked customers can post comments and chat with the producers directly.

There are also discussion groups to be joined that will familiar to any user of LinkedIn.

Naked's approach is certainly ingenious - the genuinely new idea of funding wine-makers directly via regular contributions, along with plenty of zeitgeist-y social media features like being online "buddies" with people, a funky, inclusive and unpretentious approach that encourages novices and a pricing strategy that rewards loyalty rather like a workers' co-operative.

Much of this is not new-new; Facebook now has 500 million subscribers, Laphroaig has its own online "Friends of Laphroaig" social media site whilst the workers' co-operative business model dates from Victorian times and customer loyalty programmes have been around for years.

However, rather like the invention of the mobile phone, it is the combination of all these existing technologies and ideas together that is so innovative. It's also very well done, without feeling too slick or corporate.

As to the wines, they have all been well-made and enjoyable so far - as a fellow blogger points out (in this article), the wines are chosen based on customer preference (rather than by wine professionals) which means they tend to reflect the palates of Naked's customer base which, perhaps understandably, seem to favour the immediately crowd-pleasing over the challenging and thought-provoking.

One of Naked's groups is called Naked 2.0 and encourages customers to say what they would like the business to do more (or less) of in the future; it's a great way to get feedback from your customers without the expense of commissioning focus groups or market research agencies.

It also creates a sense of greater involvement in the company leading to a feeling more of being a stakeholder than mere customer.

Whether you like it or not probably depends on the kind of person you are; it most likely appeals to the sociable, tech-savvy would-be sophisticate with enough pennies to spend on decent wine and an interest in all things novel.

The size of that potential market is currently 30,000 loyal Naked Angels and counting in the UK alone.For more details on Naked Wines' Angels scheme, see this article by US blogger Arnold Waldstein: http://arnoldwaldstein.com/2010/11/naked-winesa-social-approach-to-online-wine-markets-that-really-works/


Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/


  1. Nice post.

    Besides the obvious value to the members and support of artisanal vineyards, there are two things I really like about the Naked model:

    1. Community-sourced funding of small vineyard's production is a simple concept but logistically very challenging. I give them a lot of credit for getting this in play and doing such a good job of it.

    2. Most e-commerce sites adds social as a bolt on layer. Invariably this doesn't work. Naked has social as a core component of the pulse of the biz. That's the magic and the glue of the model and the gestalt of the brand.

    Good read, really well written.

    Thanks for the linkback.

  2. Thanks Arnold - this idea of what is currently going on in the wine industry is one I'm going to explore further; on the one hand you have the small Burgundian domaines of a fraction of a hectare, on the other you have the New World behemoths; and there's a place for both, I believe, as they do very different things.

    I think we're going to see the development of more groups of artisanal wine-makers, either following the Naked model or a different path, as they try to create some economies of scale in marketing and distribution whilst maintaining the individuality that makes their wines more interesting than mere mass-produced plonk.

  3. From one Angel to another, great summary and post!

  4. As a (very) old wine lover and a very new Angel I don't really know whether to thank you or not for this post. Thank you for showing more people the first on line wine group that has sent me consistently good wines (and despite your comment some of them are challenging but in a very good way) or to worry that too many people will get to hear of Naked and the quality start to suffer.

    Seriously, I doubt that this will occur given the very strong feed back that the social networking aspect of their site provides, but I would hope that this really is the start of something new, and as I get even older and less able to travel that I can still enjoy individual wines made by exceptional winemakers and not dumbed down plonk for the mass (Cheap) market!

  5. Colin - thanks and glad you like it.

    David - I know exactly what you mean about the feeling of ambivalence. Let's just hope Naked don't ever go down the route of agressive market share growth above all else and forget about the quality of the wine.

  6. Thanks for the mention! As I've written on my blog (cellarfella.com), I really like NW's model. Customers aren't just there to be sold at any more – the internet allows retailers to include them in any number of ways, though few as yet have worked that out. Those that do, though, get a very enthusiastic reception (particularly if they sell you nice wine). Every other retailer should be watching and learning.

  7. Simon, your point is well made; there's been a movement in wine writing and retailing for the last 40-or-so years to de-mystify the subject and make it more accessible to a broader audience. Naked, to my mind, have got that part of their approach spot-on.