Shelf talkers are small informational marketing pieces that are affixed to the displays where wine is sold. Often called “silent salesmen,” they are a source of considerable controversy in the wine trade.  The ways shelf talkers can mislead shoppers range from innocent mistakes to unattributed no-vintage barkers to outright fabrications. The excuses retailers use to defend them are no less varied.

Costco shelf talker

Costco shelf talker

A recent visit to the Costco in Waltham, outside of Boston, gave me a chance to spot-check an assertion I had made while defending Costco’s shelf talkers on another wine blog. I said that I hadn’t seen Costco withholding more recent ratings when they were available and cited the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon specifically. I’m sad to report that it appears I was wrong.

The photo to the right shows the 2006 vintage of the wine for sale, and while the ratings on the store-made shelf talker go as far back as 2003 and include scores between 88 and 90 points, the 83-point rating this wine received from Wine Spectator in the 2005 vintage is not mentioned. Further, the 2006 vintage has been rated by Wine Spectator: 88 points. However, only the higher 90-point rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate is mentioned.

Simply put, this Costco shelf talker is a prime example of cherry picking. It’s cherry picking in that the 83-point 2005 rating from Spectator is selectively overlooked since the 2004 rating is higher. And it’s cherry picking because ratings from other publications are used when they’re higher than the Spectator ratings. Taken as a whole, the shelf talker paints an unrealistically positive picture of the wine being sold.

A Virtual Shelf Talker From Wine.com

A Virtual Shelf Talker From Wine.com

Costco (the largest wine retailer in the United States) isn’t the only one who plays this game. I’ve seen it at local wine stores and on Wine.com (the largest online wine retailer). The image to the left shows a listing for the same Mondavi Cabernet on Wine.com. Here, instead of a laminated store-made sign, the shelf-talking is done by a hefty roster of scores. Notice that the ratings go back 10 years and draw from sources like Wine & Spirits and Stephen Tanzer in addition to Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. A reasonable person would infer from the long list that Wine.com is providing a comprehensive summary of all available ratings; in reality, this retailer too is misleading the consumer. In addition to the 83-point Spectator rating of the 2005 vintage being excluded, a shockingly low 77-point WS rating of the 2001 is also selectively ignored.

I should note that I don’t have a problem with including ratings from past vintages. In cases where the wine being sold hasn’t been rated yet, a track record of recent reviews can be helpful. However, they shouldn’t be deceptively selected, and they should be updated within a reasonable amount of time of new ratings being released.

C’mon, Costco and Wine.com! You’re better than that, and so is the Mondavi Cab. I’d really like it if Costco, Wine.com and others took note of this and worked to clean up their point of sale material. It’s just not fair to consumers.

Question of the day: What do YOU want from retailers in terms of shelf talkers?
 
Robert Dwyer is a Massachusetts-based wine blogger at The Wellesley Wine Press.  He helps people enjoy wine more while spending less money by discovering wines of value at all price points.
  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    Thanks a lot for publishing my piece here. It was great working with the Palate Press editors, and I look forward to a bright future for the publication.

  • Sheila

    I agree! I have made the mistake of purchasing a bottle of wine based on a positive shelf talker only to be disappointed later when I looked at the reviews for that wine online. I had I naively assumed that all recent reviews were represented in those listed on the shelf talker. I feel it is very deceptive to “cherry pick” only the good ones. Frustrating to feel that I need to do research prior to purchasing every bottle. I’d like to be able to look at the reviews listed and know I am getting all the information I need to make an informed decision. I feel it is a disservice to the customer to only highlight the positive – that is just advertising, not informing. Is it the retailer that produces the shelf talkers or the winery? I could understand the winery only talking up the positive aspects of their product but I was under the impression that the shelf talkers were there as a customer service and provided by by the retailer. Knowing what I know now I will put much less faith in what I see listed on the shelf near a wine.

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

    Bob – Good stuff. Unspoken in most of the discussions I hear regarding shelf talkers is this: Wine is supposed to be different from year to year. There are obviously myriad factors for why this would be so; perhaps the fruit comes from different sources, or the grower changed practices, or a new winemaker arrived, or the weather was awesome, or the weather was dreadful. I don’t want wine to taste the same from every vintage. When that happens, I’m suspicious that things are getting just a bit too artificial.

    I’m not saying all wines must be “natural” wines — hardly. Just pointing out how generally worthless it is to have a shelf talker with nothing but a pile of scores from the past five years.

    Cheers in a very nice piece.

  • Larry Chandler

    Shelf talkers that describe wines that are NOT for sale is idiotic and dishonest. Yet it is done simply to confuse people. Even if people see that the vintage is different they might assume that the wine that is for sale is similar and this new wine just hasn’t been reviewed yet.

    It would be nice to get rid of all shelf-talkers that just show scores, but have honest descriptions of only that wine that is for sale.

  • Scott Goodwin

    Robert,

    I completely agree with you. My pet peeves also include when they give a “Robert Parker” score when, in fact, the review and score were by Jay Miller, Antonio Galloni or other Wine Advocate writers. Or the old stand-by – a shelf-talker with a review that is completely silent on the vintage! Not a good sign. Are you familiar with 90+ Cellars? They’re new and their whole model is to buy juice from producers who have produced wines with 90+ score in PRIOR VINTAGES. Interesting marketing approach but I’ve tried to Lot 3 Malbec and I have to admit I was impressed!

    • http://www.palatepress.com David Honig

      90+ Cellars sounds like an idea whose time will never come.

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  • http://cheapwineratings.com Tim

    I know my opinion here won’t be a popular one with most wine junkies (especially one’s who are interested in wine enough to read this article). But, here goes…

    Shelf talkers are point of sale MARKETING materials, not educational materials or reference resources. The whole reason they are there is to sell wine, not to make sure you’re a well informed consumer. You might not like it, but retailers have no obligation to provide you with a reference library of wine reviews.

    Buyer beware. If you’re making wine purchase decisions based on a shelf talker, then you deserve what you get.

    And while a few, well informed wine consumers like Robert might notice the omissions, I would guess that over 99% of Costco shoppers would not notice or care.

    • http://www.palatepress.com David Honig

      Tim, I don’t think anybody here is going to disagree with you, though we might all together bemoan the truth of what you say. Bob’s piece is not a pollyana piece; rather, it does a good job of alerting buyers to exactly what you observe.

  • http://www.julienmarchand.com Julien Marchand

    (This comment was written before the comments were debugged, so it might be a bit out of place in the current discussion… which I haven’t read yet and will jump in right away!)

    I think I am a not quite a typical shopper.

    First of all, In Québec, we have a state monopoly for selling alcoholic beverages, so we have no difference from one store to another, since it’s all the same company. I secretly hope that since there is no competition from other stores, it would encourage transparency and giving the customer the full deal on the products they sell, but I’m not quite holding my breath.

    Then, I get most of my wines review not from magazines such as Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, et al. but rather from blogs I read and trust. Sure, a 90+ score from all major reviewers is a good thing in my book, but I put more value in a solid review from someone I know has a palate similar to mine, such as bloggers I read, a couple of employees that know me as a customer and friends.

    So ideally, shelf talkers would be my mobile device which would scan the bottle and give me reviews based on what I like and trust. Hmmm… That’s a nice idea…! :)

  • Melinda

    Thanks for this piece. I’ll admit that I’m often swayed by shelf talkers, especially when I’m in a hurry! But after reading this, I’m definitely going to be thinking harder about what the scores on the card are, and aren’t, telling me.

    My favorite shelf talkers are generally the ones from the buyer or employees at the wine store — those tend to have actual tasting notes from the appropriate vintage, and it’s more like a recommendation from a friend than a disembodied score from a magazine.

  • Molly

    I’m a retailer, and I use my own shelf-talkers. I get info on the vintage from the winery website, and from outside reviews. (Not usually Wine Spectator or Parker, but from wine blogs…I consider a lot of wine bloggers to be a lot more open and honest about a wine than the winery itself.) I don’t include scores. They’re short….actually they’re the size of a business card, and about 1/4 of that space is taken up by our logo. I did it mainly for sparkling wines and blends so my clientele can see what the blends are in the wines they’re looking at. I know that blends change vintage to vintage, so I can just go in the computer and change it.

    • http://www.palatepress.com David Honig

      Molly, you are the kind of retailer that creates wine lovers, and that wine lovers love. Anybody can ring up a register. It takes a great wine person to get to know their stock and their customers, and know be a great matchmaker between them.

  • http://winezag.wordpress.com Adam

    Bob, thanks for the link in your piece. The shelf talker issue also begs the question of validity of points and puffs and other critic rating measures. There is an interesting discussion on this also here at Palate Press http://palatepress.com/2009/09/09/it%e2%80%99s-not-about-you-lessons-for-wine-critics/

    It is a tough argument though, because in the end, most wine drinkers are not clear about optimal varietal profile characteristics and resort to “yummy” measurements when buying wine. Not such a bad thing. In any event, the post continues the conversation intelligently.

    Thanks for revisiting my original claims about the “real” problem at costco.

  • http://timswineblog.blogspot.com/ Tim

    I think to say that shelf talkers seek to “deceive” shoppers is a bit harsh. What marketing individual in their right mind would include bad reviews? On film posters or ads you only see the 4 and 5 star reviews. This is the same thing.

    You are right in that the picture is incomplete however, but that’s how it has always been and it’s nothing new. It’s correct to highlight it and raise awareness of it.

    At least at Costco they actually tell you what vintage the scores are for. On some supermarket websites in the UK here, I frequently see critic’s praise next to a wine, only to find out later that the comments were attributed to a different vintage. Now that’s deception.

    Tim

  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    @Tim

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this piece. You’re absolutely right to advise that shelf talkers are promotional materials that should be viewed with skepticism.

    You say that 99% of Costco shoppers wouldn’t *care* about these omissions. I disagree with that. They might not know, but they would care if they knew and I think some of the other comments speak to that.

    It comes down to 2 things:
    1) What does a reasonable person infer from the signage?
    2) What is the retailer’s intent?

    I think in these examples, it’s clear that the intent here is to paint an unrealistically positive picture of the wine’s ratings pedigree (to boost sales) and that a reasonable person would infer that since so many historical ratings are included that the retailer is providing a reference resource.

    I too see no-vintage shelf talkers frequently and successfully used to give the impression that the wine being sold is the one that received the praise. These, along with outright fabrications, are probably more common in local wine shops. But I wanted to highlight these two examples at Costco and Wine.com because (1) they’re large retailers and therefore relevant to a lot of consumers and (2) I previously assumed myself that they were disclosing ratings more consistently.

    Thanks again for continuing the conversation. I appreciate it.

  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    @Sheila Thanks for your comment! At Costco and Wine.com, they produce the shelf talkers themselves by collecting the ratings from wine publications. Other retailers use materials produced by the distributor and others write the notes themselves (which sometimes do and don’t include numerical ratings).

    @EvanDawson You raise a good point about past-vintage disclosure in general. They’re shared as if they’re an indication of present vintage quality and I you’re saying you don’t want the each vintage to be the same! Quite a contradiction in viewpoints between the retailer and the consumer.

    @LarryChandler Thanks as always for your thoughts. Do you really think that getting rid of numerical ratings at Costco would be preferred by customers? I think if they’re presented without cherry picking they’re providing information that consumers can use as part of their purchase decision.

    @ScottGoodwin I have seen “RP” shorthand for all Wine Advocate reviews. I think that’s a nuance for the hardcore wine audience. I infer from your pointing it out that you trust ratings that came from Robert Parker himself differently than his colleagues that submit ratings for Wine Advocate? I *have* heard of 90+ Cellars. Just recently actually. I look forward to tasting through their wines soon. Glad to hear you liked their Malbec. It would be interesting to know whether the wines they sell sometimes have 90+ ratings for their current vintage and not just previous. I’m not completely clear on their business model.

    @Julien Thanks for your patience with the commenting glitch yesterday. The idea of scanning a bottle with your mobile phone and pulling up ratings is one I know people are working on. Access to wine ratings while I’m at stores is part of the reason I ponied up for an iPhone. But you allude to ratings at least partially influencing your purchase decision. I’m in the same boat I think. It’s not a matter of dopey consumers relying exclusively on numerical ratings- it’s just part of the larger purchase decision along with things like what the label looks like, your familiarity and impression with the brand, the price, the shape of the bottle, what we’re looking for in a wine at that point in time, etc. That being the case, I think misleading shelf talkers can influence more people than just the 99% of the population that shops at Costco. Even wine lovers at least consider professional ratings and tasting notes, don’t we?

    @Melinda I’ve become more cynical in this respect too, basically to the point of distrusting anything I see in certain stores.

    @Molly I really appreciate the small, concise descriptions like the ones you’re providing your customers.

    @Adam Thanks for providing the inspiration for this piece! Yours is an excellent wine blog that I encourage people to check out.

    Thanks again for the comments everyone. I’m really enjoying the conversation.

  • http://wineskewer.wordpress.com Tish

    Very informative conversation going on here thanks to your initiative, Bob. I’d add two points:

    1) The discussion of “shady shelf talkers” should not reflect only on specific wines and how they are handled at specific tores. It’s also about how/where you can get good advice. I shop for wine a lot, at diverse stores, and I believe that a high proportion of industry-supplied shelf talkers is usually a good indicator that there store staff lacks confidence/ability to engage customers directly. So I choose to support stores that make the effort to limit “silent salesmen” and/or create their own, based on direct experience with the wines. [Expect more support of such savvy retailers here at Palate Press.]

    2) On a wistful, nostalgic note, I still remember the “look” of wine listings at wine.com’s precursor, back when it was called Virtual Vineyards. Instead of a laundry list of good ratings, each wine had a diagram that represented its style — based on intensity, sweet/dryness, texture, oak… — created by Peter Granoff and his staff of buyers. It was a concept way ahead of its time, or perhaps a bit too nerdy for the average shopper who appreciates the shortcut of “grading.”

  • Dave

    Our family built a chain of wine shops. The most successful of shelf talkers were the ones we wrote based on our personal experience (ratings be damned) with the reality that my name or my wife’s name at the bottom meant we’d also have to look the customer in the eye before, during, and after the transaction. Yet, I’ve got to say, if chains use scores on theirs, fine. But the same ethic needs to apply: the wine on the shelf should be the wine noted on the talker. Period. And for purists, I’d no more expect bad reviews or scores on merchandising than I’d expect someone to hand me a list of poor job reviews and project failures on their resume. Not the place. And finally, Tish is right in his nostalgia, we used a similar system that not only delivered a wine personality profile for today’s purchase, but allowed people to come back and refine their choices on their next visit. That part was PALATE education and a real loyalty builder.

  • http://www.winelife365.com/ Mark

    Robert,
    Great thought provoking post and a lot of great comments as well.
    But, you asked the question, “What do YOU want from retailers in terms of shelf talkers”?

    As a shopper, I want the following:

    A.)To know that the shelf talker is actually talking about the actual wine that’s on the shelf.

    B.)A retailer that has actually tasted the very wine that they are trying to sell me, so that they can give me their own opinion about the wine if I ask about it.

    C.)More retailers like Molly who commented above that are more considerate and honest about the information that they are putting up in there store for customers to take notice of.

    I’m sure that I can come up with a few more, but these three would be a good start.

  • Phil

    Bottle Barn is one of the largest liquor retailers in Sonoma County and they habitually have these very colorful and effusive shelf talkers for the myriad offerings of Bronco. The store actually seems to let the Bronco sales reps write their own shelf talkers as they are markedly different from the rest in the store. I love the store and I love their prices, but letting sales reps write their own STs is a huge conflict of interest and is downright shady, IMO.

  • http://www.julienmarchand.com Julien Marchand

    @Robert “Even wine lovers at least consider professional ratings and tasting notes, don’t we?”

    Indeed. Professional wine rating is a parameter among all others and it couts more for some people than others. Some people make this the primary criteria (the idea of 90+ cellars…) while for some it counts less. On my side, I have a couple of reviewers I know that have a palate much closer to mine, so I will put more importance on their review.

    However, that’s when you have time to do some research, which I think all of us here are loving and taking the time to do….!

    As far as the shelf talker in its current form, I would stand pretty much at the same ground as Mark, which is knowing that the shelf talker is talking to what’s on the shelf and that it has some honest tried, tested and true feedback on it.

  • http://silenescellar.blogspot.com/ Richard

    Interesting conversation going on here, Robert.

    I think that shelf talkers give the consumer some help in picking out wines. Most wine consumers don’t really have a clue what to buy unless it is one of their old stand-buys. This is not entirely their fault. The amount of wine out there is staggering.

    I think your Costco example of ‘shady’ is a non issue. While the shelf-talker you cite doesn’t give the consumer full disclosure I don’t see how it is dishonest. Omission of a score on a wine that you aren’t even selling is irrelevant. Would any merchant in their right mind tell you that a wine they sell got a low score? I don’t know what business you are in, but to me that’s retail suicide. Besides, there are real shady examples out there. Retailers who use a review on a previous vintage for the current one because the previous year’s wine got a higher score is an example. Just for the record, I don’t care for Costco’s shelf-talkers. I don’t find it to be useful information.

    I used to write shelf-talkers for wines. I wrote about the wine’s qualities and what the wine might be paired with. I might have added some little factoid about the winery. I also never wrote a shelf-talker for a wine that I had not personally tasted and I never gave them scores. In my opinion, shelf-talkers should explain the wine’s aromas, flavors, textures and drink-ability. They could also offer a food pairing. Scores to me are only slightly helpful unless the score giver and you have identical palates. Quite frankly, people who shop by scores are the least enjoyable to help choose a wine. Generally, in my experience selling wine, those that shop by scores are the most pretentious, close-minded consumers I have seen. Perhaps that is a subject for another day.

    One thing I find lacking in your post is this. While you point out what you think is shady or bad about certain shelf-talkers, you never state what you think ‘should’ be on them. I would like to know what that is.

    Cheers!

  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    There’s natural tension between what a retailer wants to do in order to sell wine and what I expect as a consumer, and I can accept that. I think we see this in comments from Dave and Richard who have seen this from the retailer’s perspective, both of whom say that the Costco example being discussed is a non-shady non issue. I respectfully disagree with this view and think that it’s far from retail suicide to be forthcoming with your customers in terms of how you disclose wine rating information from third parties. For me, it’s how I’ll come to trust or distrust a retailer.

    @Mark thanks for responding to my question at the end of the piece! Your suggestions sound great.

    @Phil I agree with your observation about Bronco shelf talkers. Any store that lets distributors control signage opens themselves up to issues in this area and I’d say it’s a bad idea to allow that to happen.

    @Richard To your question about what I’d like to see, I’d have different expectations depending on the retailer. First, for retailers like Costco I’d expect that if the vintage being sold has been rated by a publication they draw ratings from, I’d expect to see that rating disclosed. In this example, Wine Spectator rated the vintage being sold 88 and they should include that along with the 90 point ratings from Advocate. Second, if they choose to show prior vintage ratings (which is useful especially in cases where the vintage being sold is so new it hasn’t been rated yet), show the previous year and again show all the ratings from publications they choose to draw ratings from. If they want to go back further in time that’s fine- but again I’d like to see them show all of the ratings from publications they draw from if the wine was rated. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. This is all on top of tasting notes of course, which should be attributed to which publication and vintage the note came from- hopefully the current vintage if available. That’s not too much to ask is it?

    For wine shops that seek to build a continuing relationship with customers and differentiate on service, I’d have higher expectations. My favorite stores do more than just provide ratings references in an ethical manner. Perhaps this is a story for another day as well.

    Thanks to everyone for contributing to this discussion so far. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the viewpoints.

  • http://www.ninetypluscellars.com Brett Vankoski

    Greetings everyone. Throughout this thread a few questions have been asked about 90+ Cellars that I hope I can answer. As the sales and marketing director for the label, let me say that the goal of 90+ Cellars is to offer the wine buying public a fundamentally good bottle of wine at a great price by selecting wines that have a ratings pedigree (or an actual rating) of 90+ points or higher from the wine publications mentioned in this post. We display the ratings history on our website on each individual wine page. For example go to http://ninetypluscellars.com/lots.php?lot=4 to see more info about our Lot 4 Shiraz-Viognier.

    Like Costco and Wine.com, we do not list a past score if it was poor. In doing so, it is not our intent to misrepresent the wine or confuse people. The scores are there to provide the customer with an idea about why this wine caught our intention and the quality that this particular winery is capable of achieving as determined by a widely known third party. However, to quote another influential wine blogger, Jamie Goode, “Part of the problem with scores is that people see them as an attribute of the wine.” We all know that a score is really more of an assessment of a critic’s impression of a wine within the context of a particular tasting environment. Therefore, like Wine.com, the ratings pedigree is just one piece of information we include on our wine web pages. We also include a little information regarding the way the wine was made, a tasting note, videos of retailers tasting the wine, and user reviews. Collectively, we think this information can help the buyer decide if this is a wine that’s right for them.

    Of course, there is no substitute for having a friend or retailer with a similar palate help you select wine. Outside of tasting wine yourself, this is the best way to ensure that you actually get something you will enjoy. It is true that the focus of the 90+ Cellars label is on ratings pedigree, however I hope that all of you will judge it by what matters most . . . the way it tastes. I encourage you to give the wine a try.

  • Steve

    A big non-issue as far as I’m concerned and the whole focus of the piece puts way too much importance on wine scores. First, let’s not dumb down the wine buying public too much. Can’t you tell that, when a vintage is not mentioned, or when only one publication’s score is mentioned, the omitted information would not be favorable? Of course you can. Anyone who can’t read between the lines can’t read. Second, how many wines have you had where you seriously disagree with the score? Way too many in my opinion, and for all sorts of reasons. Someone mentioned building a business with owner and/or employee generated shelf talkers. Get to know your wine retailer and they will get to know and help expand your palate. Costco delivers great value but there is no one there who knows you or your palate. Still, they have a role in the spectrum of retail wine buying opportunities. But dishonesty? Come on, find something more valuable and interesting to write about.

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  • The Wine Mule

    At our store we write our own tags. We actually believe that it is in our best long-term interests to not deceive our customers. Crazy, huh? As far as scores go, we play both ends. If we like a wine and Parker gives it a big score, we say “Hey, Parker gave it 92 points!” If we like a wine and Parker doesn’t give it a big score, we say “Hey, Parker’s a fat old lawyer from Maryland! What does he know?” Works just fine.

  • http://www.njmonthly.com Susan Guerra

    Robert: As someone who worked retail as an entree into the business, I will repeat what others have said. At the store where I worked, we wrote all of our own shelf tags based on having tasted the wines. Ratings were never put on the tags because we never knew what the wine was rated and never cared to know. If we could fit more information on the tags we would include pairing suggestions. In most cases, I found that the customers really only wanted to know what the wine tasted like (not what its score was), what it could be served with and whether or not we as a store had tried the wines ourselves and liked them enough to recommend them.

  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    @Steve You said “Can’t you tell that, when a vintage is not mentioned, or when only one publication’s score is mentioned, the omitted information would not be favorable?”. The first few times I saw a score omitted, I honestly thought that it was because the wine hadn’t been rated by that publication.

    @The Wine Mule and @Susan Guerra Thanks for your comments. I think the approaches you mention work well in shops that provide customer service and differentiate on things other than low price.

    One thing that’s been mentioned several times in the comments here is the importance of developing a personal relationship with a trusted wine store. I hear this advice all the time, and I agree with it. However, what if someone doesn’t want to take the time to do this for wine? It doesn’t mean they deserve to misled by retailers. If we had to develop a personal relationship for every product we bought, we’d end up spending most of our lives shopping.

    If someone just wants to buy a bottle of wine every few weeks at retailers that use ratings to help sell their wine, they should be presented with information that paints a realistic picture of wine being sold. Since that will never happen across the board, I hope this piece helps make clear some of the less obvious ways some retailers use shelf talkers to sell wine.

  • Dennis

    Joe average goes into the wine store because Jane asked him to stop and get wine for the dinner with the Smiths. Joe says, jane likes Chardonnay (shhh, you abc’ers) I have 20 dollars to spend and looks a the 3rd shelf (skipping the bottom shelf with 5-7 dollar 750ml and 8.99 1.5L bulk wine)

    When comparing the several choices at the right price point the shelf tag then might come into play. If I am lookinga 4 wines and one has a RP rating of 83 on the tag (ps youll never see it) and another has a 91 the 83 doesnt stand a chance, unless there is brand loyalty. Hence the omission of the 83 rating but the keeping of the flowery and fruity description.

    Todays market is all about case sales and points of distribution

  • John Trombley

    Hey, Robert Parker’s not fat. He weighs… 99 plus.

    Seriously though, about lawyers. Your mileage would vary from state to state, but many states have consumer protection organizations (or they did until recently), and all this whining about shelf talkiers gets me down anyway. Who’s doing something about it? When you put up signage offering to sell an item, at least in Michigan where I know the law best, you’re making a legally binding offer to do several things:
    Unless the offer is dated, or has a quantity for sale attached to it, you’re obligated to either sell the item as listed or give a good-faith raincheck for the item. How many of you have gone into a store, seen a previous better vintage offered for sale, and asked for a raincheck? If that happened a few times, a pattern would develop that would be of interest to law enforcement or perhaps some of these class-action lawyers we assume are so bad for us.

    This practice is simply fraudulent, if not legally then morally, when it’s a deliberate everyday way of doing business, and I’m rather shocked that anybody has a word to say in defense of it, ESPECIALLY retailers. The old ‘Caveat Emptor,’ eh? How many times do you want to pull THAT om me?

    You know, not all of us neglect reading these labels. I’ll give you a hint. Often expensive wines are listed on these shelf-talkers, and their prices are mismarked. The kind of seller that is most likely to misuse consumers is most likely to mis-mark that #325 bottle of Crystal as $3.25. So SELLER beware! When I hear of out and out theft defended by any wine retailer, I become angry enough to stop pointing out their errors to retainers that are in my favor, which are far from infrequent!

  • http://www.rjswineblog.com rjh

    great post, bob. disappointing, but not surprising to hear.

  • MSWallack

    Another problem that I’ve seen (far too often, unfortunately), is shelf talkers that are simply wrong. Not too long ago, I was shopping at Fresh Market and saw an interesting wine. The shelf talker was a slick, glossy, full-color display that had a Wine Spectator score. I looked up the wine on Wine Spectator (thanks, iPhone) and found that while Wine Spectator had rated the wine, it had been rated several points lower than the shelf-talker. I pointed this out to the manager and he told me that it must have been a “typo” (query how exactly a typo like that made its way into such a professionally designed shelf-talker). I’ve seen similar things on shelf-talkers at other stores, whether in the nature of inflated scores or wrongly attributing a score to a particular vintage.

  • http://wellesleywinepress.com Robert Dwyer

    @John Trombley I too am tired of hearing “buyer beware” with respect to this issue. Although the examples cited in the piece aren’t outright fraud, I’m sure you’ve seen other examples that are (ie, the outright fabrication and the no-vintage review that a reasonable person would associate with the wine being sold).

    @rjh Thanks. Appreciate it.

    @MSWallck You raise a good example of a mistake or typo that would make me start to wonder. We all make mistakes and we’re all reasonable enough not to fry a store for making a mistake here and there. But, like you say, when it’s a glossy well-crafted sign that they’ve obviously put a lot of time and effort into: How could it be a mistake? Especially when you see a pattern of these at certain stores, I find it hard to believe that it wasn’t intentional.

  • http://winecollective.ca Adrian Bryksa

    A shelf talker should describe the vintage that they actually have in stock. Plus, if the store is using these shelf talkers, they should ideally be used for all wines, not just the 90+ pointer. I think that a hand written or self described review from a staff member has much more influence than a shelf talker. Just opinion.

  • http://www.charlesriverwine.com Peter Sagansky

    Here is another way that shelf talkers may mislead wine merchants and consumers. When commercial wines get good reviews the shelf talkers go up on the store shelves and the wines often sell out quickly. It is not unusual for the producer of highly-rated “2008 Brand Name Central Coast Chardonnay” to buy more 2008 Central Coast Chardonnay juice and bottle it as the same wine.

    The retail buyers believe that they are ordering the same wine and are not aware that they are participating in a deceptive practice. The new version of the wine goes on the shelf as the original release with the same shelf tag.

    When the consumer purchases more of the wine that they had liked and they taste it they wonder why it doesn’t taste the way that they remembered it tasting.

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  • Dominic

    I know I’m a bit late on the topic and there are dozens of excellent points made but I would just like to throw in a quick bit.

    Shelf talkers aka POS (point of sale) are advertising, nothing more, nothing less, no matter who generates it. Anytime you follow advertising you are taking someone else’s filtered point of view to make a buying decision.

    Even the “authentic”, “genuine” store owner generated displays exist to steer you in a direction that someone feels is beneficial (for the store, the consumer and ultimately the supplier).

    As another poster pointed out there is a distinct difference between incorrect and selective information (the movie poster correlation) and since advertising is inherently selective it will ALWAYS leave out certain points of view and information. Most POS is not incorrect, all POS is selective and therefore biased, such is advertising. Most POS is generated by someone on the supply side so.

    Additionally we are now engaged in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation in regards to the almighty Score. The simple fact is that scores below a 90 (or the equivalent) are shunned by consumers so they are of course ommitted. No one says you are required to include scores, good or bad, nor does a mediocre or even poor score mean that a wine is without merit. Should a wine that scored 86 points be flushed down the toilet or immediately go in the discount bin? Perhaps the talker should read, ” 86 points??… Really, it’s not that bad… try it!”.

    I use POS both to sell our wines and occasionally make my own buying decisions. Just remember that like anything, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is.

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