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Photo for: Naked Wines’ Ray O’Connor MW on how it sources the right wines for its customers


Naked Wines’ Ray O’Connor MW on how it sources the right wines for its customers

Ray O’Connor MW, wine director at Naked Wines, explains how it uses its customer data to plan, source and buy wine it knows are going to be popular with its subscribers.

What is your background and how did you get into the drinks industry

My background is very varied; from owning bars in Luxembourg to working with a bungee jumping company in Greece. When I discovered wine I immediately committed myself to learning as much as possible as quickly as possible. So once I had completed the WSET Diploma in Dublin in 2006 I moved to London - the centre of the wine world at that time. Initially as a sommelier for Gordon Ramsay and then moved closer within the wine trade circle working at the International Wine Challenge.

Ray O'Connor MW, Wine Director at Naked Wines

Why did you want to work in the wine sector and wine retailing in particular?

Wine offers everything that appeals to me - nice people, beautiful places with beautiful food and a seemingly endless amount of qualities and styles. I personally enjoy the economics involved in the retailing side of the industry. Supply and demand, quality perceptions and aspirations, understanding and responding to customer requirements.

What do you see as your point of difference at Naked Wines?

We’re in a privileged position where we can work with a winemaker on a new project and bankroll it from the outset. So we can discuss price per ton of grapes, winemaking costs, oak if relevant, dry goods, their profit and that’s the total cost of the wine. It enables us to work with premium fruit in most regions. So, it’s equally creative and liberating to be able to conceive these high quality wines.

Naked homes wine delivery

From there, the winemaker has the ability to hear direct from the customer and see the feedback on their wines straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, so they get a clear read of what is working and what is not, rather than myself or the team telling them

How have you gone about building up your range and deciding on what regions and countries to concentrate on?

Back in August we asked our customers where they would like myself and fellow wine buyer, Matt (Smith), to travel to to find new wines and winemakers once it’s safe to do so. We have had over 2,700 replies and standing far out in front was Georgia, followed by Slovenia and Greece. So I’ll be packing my bags soon enough.

What are the key factors you look for in a new wine or producer before taking them on?

It really starts with the producer. Understanding what they want to make and ensuring that regardless of the style; be it mainstream or eclectic, that the level of quality is where it needs to be. Once you’ve got a talented winemaker with the same quality aspirations as you do, you can back them to make whatever wine they want.

What are the things a producer can do to make your life easier?

Stop using styrofoam for wine samples. It is the work of the devil.

What are the things that producers get wrong that frustrate you and make you less likely to want to work with them?

I wouldn’t say I am frustrated often by producers. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt that their best intentions are at heart. But perhaps sending a tank sample of a new vintage where the wine style has zero relevance to the previous vintage is a bit of a head spinner.

What changes did you have to make during the pandemic?

Initially, like most people, we had to ensure the safety of our office staff, warehouse team and winemakers. Trading wise, we sought to ensure our existing Angels were taken care of and served first before taking on a new set of customers. We also enhanced how we connected with our customers by hosting regular ‘Thirsty Toosday’ sessions whereby we brought in a few winemakers for a virtual tasting and chat.

What really struck me through all that was the level of chatter between customers in the Chat section. It was evident that during the lockdown they just wanted to talk to other wine lovers, even if they should have been paying more attention to whatever I was talking about.

How many of those are here for the long term?

We continue to prioritise service for those who are already investing in winemaker projects but the majority of those customers who joined us in the lockdown have appreciated the wines and the connections with winemakers and are sticking around. Naked prides itself on excellent customer service which has been recognised by people over the past two years.

What are your plans for the next steps for the business to help you grow?

Naked UK has grown massively over the last 18 months. But our ultimate goal remains the same - to drive the wine industry forward and for the better, for winemakers and wine drinkers. Our growth means we can deliver all of this bigger, better and faster than ever before: More Angels means more to invest in recruiting some of the world’s best winemakers, which means we can scale up our efforts to bring our customers more wines from untapped regions of the world.

We're currently undertaking a full review to determine the styles and regions our customers would like to see more of, as well as the formats that really resonate e.g. more boxed wine, tasting packs. We're doubling down on the rate at which we develop our tech.

We're enhancing the range of ways Angels can shop, to give them options to buy wine in a way that works best for them e.g. our Never Miss Out offering to ensure Angels receive the wines they love first, WineGenie (takes the work out of finding your favourites or experimenting with new wines), and our personalisation and recommendation tools.

As we grow, we want to build a better business, not just a bigger one. Great wine shouldn’t cost the Earth, so we’re driving towards a more sustainable supply chain, with particular focus on aligning our full ecosystem of winemakers to a CO2 reduction plan exploring greener packaging, shipping and energy choices

What do you think are the key skills needed to be a good online wine retailer?

An appreciation and understanding of data and embedding it into the decision making culture. While wine can be, and should be, an emotive and subjective industry, it’s important to overlay decision making with data which we apply to the customer experience.

We pride ourselves on making recommendations based on our customers’ personal tastes. We tell them what to avoid, as well as what they’re going to love, based on previous ratings and purchases. And this applies to winemakers also whereby customer’s feedback plays an invaluable part in helping to refine and shape future vintages.

What are key skills to be a good wine buyer?

As Paul Simon says ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied”. Removing personal preference from the buying decision and understanding what a wider group of people might appreciate is key.

Never, ever, compromise on quality. It will come back and bite you in more ways than one. As mentioned above, a balance between subjectivity and objectivity based on data allows for a sustainable wine range. It helps if you are a good taster, from identifying potential flaws, to being able to ameliorate a blend through interpreting what the sum of all parts can look like.

Mostly, being humble and listening to people. Customers and winemakers.

Call for domestic and international submission is now open for London Wine Competition. Enter your wines before 31 August 2024 to get super early bird pricing. Register now and ship later to save.

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