To celebrate their new pricing policy, I set off to walk to Majestic. It’s a longish way, but this time I can walk. Because I won’t have to walk back again lugging half a dozen bottles. I can buy just one.
Last week, Majestic Wine Warehouse decided to abandon its “minimum six bottles” rule, and allow customers to buy single bottles of wine. But this change in policy unleashed a surprising stream of pent-up anger; there were uniformly negative comments about Majestic when the Daily Telegraph reported the change.
So remind me. Why in the first place would you want to shop for wine in a warehouse?
Surely a warehouse is the sort of place to which you go for building supplies. Planks, gravel, some forbetwos, a couple of soggy chimps and a forty-eight foot bastard.
Yet, anticipating a sophisticated dinner party, you set off for a warehouse. Somewhere semi-industrial, with the striplighting of a penal institution. Where the staff wear not the striped shirts or even artisan aprons of wine merchants, but fleeces, because they’ve supposedly just finished work on the fork-lift outside. A warehouse, where you can wander through stacks of boxes and bottles, piled up to head height on industrial pallets. Ah, the sophistication of wine…
Why did we undertake this grim exercise? Because we believed that, by buying in bulk, from a warehouse, we enjoyed a discount unavailable to those buying only single bottles. It was a similar premise to a cash-and-carry, only with the added cachet of saying that you were buying “a case of wine”, which sounds classier than a multipack.
There was also a feeling that you were somehow beating the system, that you were shopping higher up the supply chain, virtually from the back of a cross-Channel HGV. And that in a basic warehouse rather than a stylish shop, you weren’t paying for needless fripperies, like shelves.
All of this was understood when the minimum purchase was a twelve-bottle case. You took your car, because the warehouse was appropriately stuck out on a grim drag of town alongside storage units and car dealers. Or out on a retail estate, next to Sofa Land and Oak Furniture Land, out in the Land of Lands.
And having gone through this whole unappealing and time-consuming process, you wouldn’t return home without something to justify the trip; so when that “something” had to be twelve bottles, if you went at all you always came back with a case.
In recent years, Majestic dropped their minimum purchase to six bottles. Okay, wine is an industry which seems unable to decide whether a case is six bottles or twelve. And they produced divided carriers, so that you could leave the car at home and lug six bottles back home by hand, presumably whistling and clanking like a milkman.
(For younger readers I should explain that a “milkman” was someone who used to provide sexual favours to housewives, under cover of distributing bottles of milk to their doors.)
But now, Majestic are allowing you to buy just one, single bottle. Which means they are going to be compared to those popular neighbourhood retail concepts, shops. And without the requirement of buying an entire case, suddenly the warehouse concept seems rather absurd.
It emphasises quantity over quality, the canyons of boxes only underlining the gallons of the stuff they are trying to shift. It’s like walking through that Tate installation.
The bottles on your average merchant’s shelf may be just the visible edge of a cellarful of stock, but at least that visible edge looks limited and desirable. The lighting in a shop is akin to a dining room, and not to a HMRC confiscation unit. And the staff in a wine merchant’s look as if they might actually come for a dinner party, rather than come to tidy the garden.
And then there’s the pricing. Because in a wine shop, there is usually a price on the shelf, and then a discount if you buy a case. At Majestic, the prominent price is, still, the discounted bulk price.
Which inevitably leads you to consider what the wines are actually worth. If somewhere permanently offers 25% off their wine when you buy six bottles, then presumably that is actually the price at which their business operates. That is, in my language, the regular price of the wine. And you’re simply a mug if you buy a single bottle – or, indeed, up to five bottles – and pay a punitive 25% more.
So I walked all the way back again, emptyhanded, unwilling to pay 25% over the regular price of a wine for the privilege of buying a single bottle. (If only the excellent piece on their prices by Geordie Clarke had appeared before I set off…)
Yes, you can now buy a single bottle of wine from Majestic. But in a set-up where everything, from the location to the presentation to the pricing itself, is still geared towards bulk purchase – why would you do that?