Big Box Liquor Stores vs Boutique Wine Shops

Many of us have been charmed by the intimate, aesthetically focused nature of boutique stores — stores that offer their consumers carefully curated selections at prices that reflect the quality of their products. We have also been awed on occasion by the sliding doors, bright lights, and endless racking of big box stores—stores that offer their consumers broad selections at bargain prices.

Both stores have their place. But it’s primarily boutiques that offer enduring value to consumers who are looking to expand their knowledge and gain access to rare and often extraordinary wines.

Let’s take a look at the experience and the product. These are the areas where smaller wine stores — the little guy — often comes out ahead.

The Experience You Get at a Boutique Wine Store

The staff-to-consumer ratio at a boutique is higher than in a box store, so a consumer is more likely to speak with a staff member and find what they’re looking for.

Generally speaking, the staff at boutiques are committed to the industry and have pursued formal wine education. As a result, they are often more knowledgeable and able to recommend appropriate wines.

Increased interaction time with knowledgeable staff means that consumers are more likely to form relationships with staff and the quality of those relationships will bring consumers back in the future.


Products Available at a Boutique Wine Retailer

Fine and rare products are largely the purview of boutique retailers, and the reasons for this have to do with pricing, access, and expertise.The bargain prices seen at box stores—chains in particular—are a result of those stores purchasing a massive quantity of product from the supplier, and then receiving a discount on that product. It makes sense as a box store to primarily sell products that you can get at a discount, because the sales model is premised on volume rather than margins.In a boutique, however, the prices tend to reflect products that are more rare. Many of these products are unavailable at bigger box stores because they don’t meet the volume requirements for those stores to get the pricing they want. If there are only six cases of something available in the market, as a supplier it makes sense then to sell (or allocate) them at full value to a smaller, boutique retailer.The other piece to the product puzzle is the active role that buyers and sommeliers play in the product selections for boutiques. Beyond purchasing economics, margins, and pricing, which are directly impacted by supply, boutique retailers often consciously source wines that are not available in box retailers as a way of carving out their own niche. Good competition isn’t merely about price, but about offering products that you don’t have to compete on price with.

There are, of course, other facets to consider when comparing bigger box retailers to boutique retailers, but in the areas of experience and quality product, smaller is often better. Imagine that.