If a country has no major domestic wine trade and makes it illegal to buy alcohol via the internet, how can it possibly have an effect on world wine trends?
The answer is simple: population. And the country in question is huge: India, home to the second-highest concentration of humans on earth, just behind China.
Let's take a look at how India's 1.3 billion inhabitants can have such a large impact by looking at what we call "meaningful" searches, or searches that lead the user to click though to a merchant. This implied intention to purchase carries slightly more weight than simple, aspirational searches for ridiculously expensive or hard to find wines. These users are looking to buy wine, rather than simply fantasize about magnums of Mouton.
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And India's impact on search figures on Wine-Searcher is slightly astonishing. We list just eight merchants in that vast, vibrant nation and really only two of those get any kind of heavy traffic. But how? you might well ask, given India's laws that prevent the online sale of alcohol. One merchant in particular has a clever – and entirely legal – way of doing so. DrinkersStop.com allows customers to digitally browse their stocks and bookmark the products they want. The customer can then go to the store, pay and uplift the wine, all perfectly legally.
It's clearly working for DrinkersStop.com, as it has had almost 10 times as many clicks in the past 12 months as its nearest rival, Fresh n Easy, which in turn gets more than 47 times the traffic of its next nearest rival. Obviously, someone is marketing their business well.
But enough about the nuts and bolts of subcontinental wine sales, what has any of this got to do with the rest of us? I hear you cry. Well, it is all a part of the changing face of wine consumption, as hinted at in our story last week about the emergence of a two-tier market. That story suggested that a new, younger, cohort was looking for whiskey more than wine, using their mobile devices to shop on the move. This is one of the things we discovered when we drilled into the data around that story.
Younger, mobile-based users are definitely changing the face of what we are seeing here at Wine-Searcher – we'll be highlighting some explosive data around that next week – and Indian users are in the vanguard of that shift; it's hard for India not to have an effect with around one-sixth of the world's population.
For proof, let me present exhibit A – our list of the 100 most searched-for wines. Whiskey has been steadily creeping into the list across the past five years, but it's when you see the actual whiskeys being searched that you see the Indian connection. Johnnie Walker appears in 13th and 26th places (for the black label and red label, respectively), while Chivas sits between them in 17th place – and it is search numbers from India that put them in those positions. There then follow three whiskeys from India: Antiquity Blue, McDowell's No. 1 Reserve and Royal Challenge, before Bourbon makes an entrance in the shape of Blanton's.
In total there are nine Indian products now on the top 100 list, including a vodka and a beer that sits between DRC's Richebourg and Château Figeac in the rankings. These are big numbers. In fact, looking at the past 12 months' searches from India against the previous year shows a massive leap in terms of meaningful searches. Between June 2017 and June 2018, there were a little more than 600,000 click-throughs to merchants. In the past 12 months that number has ballooned to 4,680,000.
And what are they searching for? You've guessed it – whiskey. The top queries include Royal Stag, Chivas Regal, Vat 69, Antiquity Blue, Black Label, Blue Label, Red Label and Blender's Pride. All queries for whiskey and all featuring the word "price" after the product name. The result pages that led to the most click-throughs were Antiquity Blue, Seagram Royal Stag, Johnnie Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal, McDowell's No. 1 Reserve and Johnnie Walker Red. Wine doesn't appear until we get to 33rd place, when Jacob's Creek makes an appearance. It is one of only two wines in the top 50.
Just to emphasize the mobile/desktop split between older and younger users, mobile searchers account for 4m of the 4.68m meaningful searches from India in the past 12 months.
And just to give some idea of the impact India can have on searches, here is a perfect example: one of the most popular search terms entered into Google by Indian users that leads them to us is "xxxb". One would have to be naive in the extreme not to imagine there is a pornographic rationale behind that search term but, regardless, the sheer weight of searches for xxxb has managed to propel an unlikely beer from the British midlands – Bateman's XXXB from Leicestershire – into our top 100 most searched-for wines.
English bitter aside, the popularity of whiskey isn't going away any time soon, especially not in what the wine industry politely refers to as "emerging" markets. Perhaps it's time they started to take notice. It's certainly time some enterprising Indian wine merchant started carving out a slice of a large and growing online market by talking to Wine-Searcher about sponsor status.