Bookstores vs. Wine Shops


Both have wide selections. Great variety.

Both have door-opener, easy point of entry products.

Both have higher end, more intellectual, more speciality products.

Both have large national retailers that come into a city and seem to crush the competition and put them out of business. Then that gigantic company is suddenly on the ropes because an even larger competitor is online, selling the same products for far less.


A bookstore sells a product that can be easily packaged and shipped, cheap, across the country or around the world. There is little to worry about when a book is packaged up and bouncing in a truck for four days. Thus, you can be in a huge bookstore, whip out your phone, and confidently order a book from around the world to arrive at some point in the next seven days, because in the end you’ll save two bucks. We’ve all done this.

Wine tends to be consumed soon after purchase, which also negates the use of whipping out the phone to price check and order it online to save two bucks. That rotisserie chicken in your car is getting cold! Gotta have that bottle of wine for tonight!

Wine shops (as opposed to liquor stores) tend to have at least one or two people available at all times to guide you through a selection process. Professionals that are specialists in getting the customer the wine that they want. Bookstores do have specialists but I think most bookstore customers are coming in to browse in a genre rather than be instructed on the difference between Mark Twain and Herman Melville.


Wine is not digital. Wine has challenges inherent in shipping and selling. Wine is a speciality product that goes up in value depending on who is recommending it to you. It’s often time sensitive for a meal or event that evening.

Because of these facts, a small wine shop that opens in the shadow of a gigantic liquor retailer actually has an advantage if they focus on it. They become specialists of the moment. They can easily have a selection of wines the big store does not. They can bring forth more knowledge. They can have the wine for the moment as needed, just as well as the big store does, but it can be purchased with more pride and confidence from the consumer. (Sadly, it’s not as simple as “please buy local.” It takes far more work than that. “Keeping the money in the community” doesn’t justify a 30% higher pricetag.)

However, the moment the small wine shop that opens in the shadow of a gigantic liquor retailer tries to play the same game, tries to attract the same customers, tries to sell the same products, is the moment they will begin to be crushed. Differentiation is essential to survival.

Some links:

Why Indie Bookstores Are On the Rise Again

Why One Independent Bookstore Thrives While Barnes and Noble Stagnates

Finding A Customer-Friendly Wine Store (2006 article from the WSJ … fascinating to read it ten years later)

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