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In Defense of BevMo!



I’m not saying that what BevMo is accused of doing was cool—but it’s not the worst thing in the world, either, and the take-home lesson for consumers is not to base their entire buying decision on in-store displays, including shelf talkers.

The accusation in the class action suit against BevMo is simple: the vintages on the store’s “price signage” and the vintages on the bottles on the shelf were sometimes different. For example, one BevMo shopper complained to a CBS-TV reporter who accompanied her to a Manhattan Beach branch of the store, Look here, ‘Malbec Mendoza 2012’ and the bottle ‘2013.’” The consumer added, “The product should be what exactly it says it’s selling.”

Well, that is undoubtedly true, and I’m sure after all the negative publicity, BevMo is hugely embarrassed and will do their level best to make sure that doesn’t happen again! But, let’s face it, with so many different SKUs on their shelves, and more wines coming in and going out every day, and individual stores probably having to depend on corporate to provide the shelf talkers and other print materials, it’s awfully hard for the floor staff to keep everything current. I’ve seen the same vintage variation in other big box supermarkets, and also seen how not even some wineries can keep up with the current vintage on their own website!

So this isn’t to excuse BevMo, it’s just to provide a little context. Besides, do you think that there’s going to be a huge difference between a 2012 Malbec that gets a good score and a 2013? Probably not.

The shopper who complained about BevMo told the TV station she felt “swindled a little bit.” That’s an exaggeration. “Swindling” is the conscious act of defrauding somebody: My Webster’s dictionary calls it “to get [something] by false pretenses or fraud.” I don’t think that anybody at BevMo deliberately performed a fraudulent act upon the public. Surely it was, as I said, a simple mistake or oversight by a busy staff that just couldn’t keep up with everything.

Look, sometimes I think these class action lawyers have gone amok. As for the TV station, we’ve all seen local television news in our own cities and home towns. We know how desperate some of these “investigative” reporters are to find some scandal, some egregious violation of the public trust, to report on the 5 o’clock evening news. But I think we also know how they can make a mountain out of a molehill. Go to the article in the link I provided and read the snippets of transcripts of the conversation between the CBS producer and the BevMo clerks s/he confronted about the misleading vintage signs. It reads like a Saturday Night Live parody. Yes, BevMo store clerks—like clerks in all big boxes, and quite a few in small stores too—would benefit from additional training, not just in wine but in everything. But do you really expect a cash register clerk to be a wine expert—to understand the legalities of vintage dating? That seems unreasonable to me. I shop at BevMo and have ever since they opened. It’s a fine chain; there’s a nice one here in Oakland and I’ve bought wine and beer there for many years. When you shop at a big box liquor store, you sort of implicitly understand you’re not going to get the same level of professional knowledge as you would in a small fine wine shop. On the other hand, you usually won’t pay as much money, either. And there is a connection! So lay off BevMo, please. It can happen to anyone.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    I frequently see shelf talkers with point scores whose vintage doesn’t match the one for sale. I find that pretty deceptive, but I’m attuned to the situation so I don’t worry about it. I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on here.

  2. Lise Ciolino says:

    While I agree that class action suits often get a bit out of hand, is it so difficult for the BevMo employee who is stocking the shelf to remove a shelf talker if the vintage doesn’t match? Why is this not part of their job?

  3. Stefano Poggi says:

    I agree that the got-ya journalism was ridiculous, especially the in-store portion.

    What is a little more difficult to defend is the shipping of wine of different vintages than stated on the website. In the store I feel the burden is more appropriately placed on the consumer to look at the damn label.

    When you get it shipped to you you have no such recourse. Imagine if you got shipped 2002 X Barolo as opposed to 2001.

  4. I think this a sign of the times, a litigious society with no soul. I try to look at an accumulation of critical reviews and keep apprised of what might represent a good or great wine that displays value. What is hanging on a retailers shelf or on the neck of the bottle is something that only provides clues as to what one might expect. If a wine had a necker that states only to score, even from a reputable source, it does not reveal much. If it describes the attributes or what to expect then it is useful and if the vintage does not match then I look for verbiage that might indicate a house style or implies consistency of source. This is a frivolous law suit – perhaps another warning sign is in order – “don’t be stupid”

  5. phennario says:

    I’m a little concerned by this. Someone has to stock the shelves. That means that at some point that person has to actually look at the label of the bottle they are putting on the shelf. It isn’t really a stretch to believe that they can see if the shelf talker and the bottle match. If they don’t you pull down the talker and put it by the register so the manager knows that it needs to be adjusted. Come on, it isn’t rocket science.

  6. Bill Bryce says:

    I was employed by the PLCB, I was the Wine Consultant for the store where I was based at. I made sure that any ratings of wine I created or received from vendors matched the vintage on the shelf. later on, I was an assistant to the Speciality Co-ordinator. I was responsible for insuring that all 15 stores in my region had correct ratings for all their speciality wines. Now me as one person could do all this, than why cant the employees in the Bev-Mo stores do the same? I feel that laziness or improper training is probably the culprit.

  7. I think the suit is a good thing. It’s true there is a difference between being sloppy and being fraudulent. However, when a store does it all the time, it’s a systematic act that does rise to the level of fraud. If you want to run a big wine store, you need to keep track of your stock! I run a small wine store and it’s a challenge keeping up with vintages, but it’s part of the job. If you put those ratings on the shelf, you are obliged to make an effort to keep them current!

    Imagine it with a very expensive bottle like Chateau Margaux. If there was a bottle of 1991 (88 pts WA) on the shelf with a sign saying the 1990 was 100 points, that’s pretty sketchy. The principle is no different for customers who will never shell out $1000 for a bottle. They deserve the same consideration.

    From a marketing perspective, it only makes retail wine seem more intimidating and difficult when customers feel someone is taking advantage of them.

  8. Spot on, Steve.

  9. CA winediva says:

    I have to laugh at people’s view of Bevmo. Right on, you gotta know your prices.
    At the new Bevmo here in Napa they are charging $32.99 for a bottle we sell at the tasting room where I work. In the tasting room we charge $32.00. They claim suggested retail is $39. I pointed it out to the wine clerk who was not in the least interested.
    The biggest shocker to me was Drambuie at $35, $25 at Trader Joes. So I’ve not been back. I’ll wait for the 5cent wine sale where they Jack up the price then knock it down!

  10. Patrick says:

    This is not a frivolous lawsuit. Something had to change to get the folks over there to watch their shelves. A lawsuit, however disagreeable it may be, is maybe the best way to get the attention of a chain such as BevMo. And by the way, the same thing happens at my local Whole Foods: a wine gets 90+ one time, and every succeeding vintage of that wine goes onto the 90+ shelf. The store reps may say, “Oops we missed it” but they need to catch it before it happens.

  11. when I was shopping for wine in Safeway 25 years ago, I would grab the guilty shelf-talker, tear it in half and replace the parts under the current bottle

    I suggest you all do the same.

  12. Hal Beck says:

    I’ve been in and around the wine business for 40 years, much of it in retail. In most large stores and even in fine wine shops, product is shelved by the distributor’s “merchandisers.” They get paid by the hour, have a certain number of stores to service and a lot of bottles to get on the shelf. I was always happy if they occasionally asked where a wine they didn’t know should be placed. Most did not. They are not employees of the retailer! Likewise the shelf-talkers are frequently placed by the distributor “reps.” Their attitude, particularly on vintage, can be “Any information is better than none.”
    This is wine, not an automotive safety recall or a defective pharmaceutical. A class action?

  13. Dear Hal Beck, thanks for your perspective!

  14. Greg Pearl says:

    Could be interesting to chart the mislabeled wines and compare what percentage reflected higher scores or lower scores then the shelf talker touts.

  15. Bob Henry says:

    At BeMo, the shelf talker “may” comprise:

    1) the producer’s name and grape varietal and vineyard designation and vintage;
    2) the bottle format size;
    3) the “everyday selling price” of the wine;
    4) the discounted “sale” price of the wine (e.g., Club Bev);
    5) the “sale” expiration date;
    6) the bar code;
    7) the SKU; and
    8) an elective description of the wine (which may include a reproduced wine media review/rating).

    Taking a shelf talker down that has an out-of-date review/rating results in there being no price tag affixed to the shelf.

    That is untenable from a retailing perspective.

    So the store manager’s only recourse is to continue to display the out-of-date review/rating shelf talker until corporate revises it.

  16. Michael Moses says:

    In this business ratings sell. A winery that strikes gold with a 90+ point review can establish a name for themselves. Reviews can make or break some wineries long term viability. There can also be marked differences of any given wine vintage to vintage. A large beverage retailer by me does the same exact thing on a regular basis. I do not believe for a second it is “accidental”. They leave the higher score shelf talker up because it sells wine. On several occasions I have pointed out outdated shelf talkers to only see them put right back after I left the store.

    The senior floor staff member of this particular retailer bases all recommendations solely on scores. By the way he speaks you would think Robert Parker is second only to God. I have overheard him recommend wine to hundreds of people over the years because I am in the store quite often. It is actually quite frustrating as a wine connoisseur to see this selling approach because it does not educate people and knowing he is responsible for teaching other staff members selling techniques is even more frustrating.

  17. Tom Heller says:

    Gee, we have constructive reliance that there is beef in a burger we buy, not ammended with horse meat,or whatever. VW committed fraud on its MPG and its emmissions testing. Why is not possible that BevMO did the same?

    Clearly, BevMo’s sloth and carelessness has contributed to this fraud, whether with malice or with an eye to keeping payroll down doesn’t matter. We all get annoyed when the wine list is out of date, or out of stock. Why should BevMO get a pass? As to the content of the shelf talker, it along with the advice from the wine steward should always be caveat emptor.

    As for lawyers running Amok, TV cameras, in this era of “gotcha journalism” , BevMo, who wants to be the wine retail chain of record in California should be more responsible to its customers.

  18. My god. Hope the consumer wont have nightmares if the vintage on the bottle doesn’t match up with the shelf talker. If the vintage is different-move on to the other selections and move onto more meaningful things in your life. Simple as that. If the price on the shelf is higher than the price charged to the consumer at the register-I wonder how many of the money grubbers would complain?

  19. Joe Jensen says:

    I do not find a lot of fault with old shelf talkers unless they are
    doing it willingly.

    My bigger problem is with a company like 90+ Cellars who is selling wines based on the fact that the winery may have gotten a 90PT score on one of their wines from one publication in the recent or distant past.

    The reality is that a certain segment of the population still shops on scores instead of the helpful advice of a local wine shop steward.

  20. to all of those who say this is fraud (like Tom above) you are missing one gigantic point…the shelf talker might review a vintage and the bottle might be a new vintage, but there is no deception going on unless you cannot read the label on the bottle. The review for another vintage is no different than a review for an entirely different bottle of wine. the only concern you should have is that the price listed is correct. Sign says 2012 malbec, and the bottle on the shelf is 2013? then get out your phone and look for a review or ask the clerk if the price is correct. no one was trying to lie to you. they make new wine every year, there are tens of thousands of wineries and millions of wines and you are worried about a wine review being up to date the moment you walk in? worry more about where your orange juice really comes from, or if that olive oil is italian or not or even all olive oil, of if there is lead in your water and no one told you. caveat emptor!

  21. Bob Henry says:

    Let’s jump into our H.G. Wells time travel machine (or “Back to the Future” DeLorean DMC-12 automobile) to 1989 and quote a certain burgeoning reputation American wine critic:

    “… The newsletter was always meant to be a guide, one person’s opinion. The scoring system was always meant to be an accessory to the written reviews, tasting notes. That’s why I use sentences and try and make it interesting. Reading is a lost skill in America. There’s a certain segment of my readers who only look at numbers, but I think it is a much smaller segment than most wine writers would like to believe. The tasting notes are one thing, but in order to communicate effectively and quickly where a wine placed vis-à-vis its peer group, a numerical scale was necessary. If I didn’t do that, it would have been a sort of cop-out.”

    Source: Robert Parker’s interview with Wine Times (later rebranded Wine Enthusiast magazine).

    Written reviews from wine critics whose palate you know trump numerical scores.

    If Parker sez (as he did) that the 1986 Mouton merits a 100 point “perfect” score . . . but is a tannic monster, undrinkable until at least 2020 or 2025 (and capable of reaching 100 years of age) . . . then who carries about the points? His cautionary tale about drinking it early tells you everything you need to know about the wine.

  22. Bob Henry says:


    “… then who CARES about the points? His cautionary tale about drinking it early tells you everything you need to know about the wine.”

  23. Not having ever shopped at BevMo, I can’t say whether they did this intentionally or not, but I know it is hard to keep everything updated, especially when the store is large. Sometimes the guy who stocks the new vintage misses it. We try to go around and check, but things might get miss.

    Additionally, when you do change over, you might put up the 2013 score/staff write-up, but there’s probably still 3-4 bottles of 2012 on the shelf because, where are they going to go?

    I agree with Hal, though. Reps do that a lot. I remember one time this Spanish wine came in with shelf talkers on the necks of every bottle with a 91 score and I couldn’t find it anywhere, only to find out it was from four vintages ago. I took them down and then two days later, the rep came by and put them all back up! And then when I told her we didn’t want them, she tried to tell me it didn’t matter!

  24. Tone Kelly says:

    It would be interesting to compile the costs of frivolous lawsuits. Looking at the papers that come with a lawnmower you see such items as “This lawnmower isn’t supposed to be used as a hedge trimmer or a bush trimmer.” This is probably because someone did, sued the company because it didn’t say NOT to do this, and won.

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