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We Investigate: Shopping for Whisky In Store

We sent our man on the street to replicate a Shopper’s purchasing journey in 3 types of retail outlet: Morrisons – for mass market grocery retailing, Waitrose – Premium Grocer and Amathus a specialist Whisky retailer.

Mission: Browse and find the perfect bottle of Whisky to present to your future Father in Law on a first visit to the girlfriend’s parents. (no pressure then!) Budget was £40-50. What did he find?

We were interested to explore how each retailer approached the following criteria:

a) Whisky Range Visibility, b) Category Layout, c) Category Information, d) Promotions, e) Service, f) added value g) experience.


Morrisons is a mass-market grocery retailer.

a) Whisky Range Visibility

Finding the Whisky category in this retailer was my first challenge. Having conducted a tour of the floor and then asked a member of staff for the location I was surprised to find that this store ranged it’s spirits within a glass panel under and behind the tobacco counter.

Whiskey Image 1

b) Category Layout,

The positioning of the category was our first barrier to purchase. The location of Spirits behind glass or behind the counter made the range totally inaccessible and almost forbidden. The queue was yet another barrier. The only way to view the product was to specifically request a bottle – which meant that I had to already know which bottle I wanted (I had no idea!).

Because the product is not on the shop floor, there is no opportunity to be reminded to purchase – in fact unless this is on the list (it was on ours) it is unlikely a Shopper would be encouraged to purchase Whisky or any other Spirit.

c) Category Information

There was zero information.

d) Promotions

There were many discounts behind the counter, but they were almost impossible to see because they were too small and far away. I had to request to see the promotions.

e) Service

There was zero service or expertise. The staff at the counter had no knowledge about the brands or attributes of the spirits.


I didn’t purchase anything! The barriers presented by this retailer combined with my lack of knowledge and confusion about the category meant that I could not make any decision or choice.


This “convenience store” type of service is probably due to regulatory and security reasons. However the presentation of spirits is not ideal for brands wishing to present their high value, premium merchandise, and it is an odd approach for a retailer, when Whiskey is likely to be the most expensive product in the store. This category should be shown more creativity, love and care. Shoppers require information about the product and category and help in purchasing.


Waitrose targets middle & upper class households who value extra service and want to enjoy the experience of buying groceries.

a) Whisky Range Visibility

The spirits section is differentiated from the rest of the store with wood and glass shelves, with the product classily illuminated by back lighting. The Whiskey Category has a full bay of merchandise and the colour of the whiskey was a handy signpost.

whiskey image 2

b) Category Layout

The category was neatly stocked and well presented. Gift pack items (Boxed whiskey) of £30 – £50+ were laid out on the top 3 shelves with the leading brands on the coveted hot shelves. The lower value, mass market lines were stocked on the bottom shelf, however I was surprised to find some leading brands (eg Jameson – the no 1 Irish Whiskey) here, when I would expect this popular brand to demand better range positioning higher up on shelf.

c) Category Information

On my visit the Buyer’s Choice was focused on Laphroaig Quarter Cask and extra information on the shelf barker explained the peat-smoke flavour. The fact that John Vine, (a named, actual person!), Waitrose’s spirits buyer was recommending it to me, added credibility to the recommendation.

Expert staff will assist the shopper if they see he/she is indecisive and will offer advice.

d) Promotions

I spotted a discount price promotion on a Spirits bay. Within the Whiskey category there were a few price discounts on the bottom shelf.

Waitrose highlight key brands using their “buyer’s choice” device. A great way to promote product by adding value without discounting.

whiskey image 3

e) Service

Despite John Vine not being in the building, his virtual advice and recommendations were around me and very helpful. In addition to this, Waitrose provide Wine, Beers and Spirits specialists who are highly trained experts and who regularly engage with key brands. On my visit I found a man who was polite and nice and explained the differences between types of whisky blends, until he was called away by his supervisor.


If it’s good enough for John Vine, it’s good enough for me, and the man I need to impress! I walked away with his recommended bottle in a gorgeous gift pack for £39. Was this a bargain – I’m not sure, but I feel that John would be proud of my choice.

whiskey image 4


Overall my shopping experience was surprisingly good. There was a good range of Whiskey for my mission, ad hoc shelf barker recommendations, a B,W&S Specialist hovering around to help anyone with a confused face and also a Wines & Spirits book to reference. However it did occur to me that had been busy, I may have walked off, so a digital, interactive panel or product finder, would have helped me to learn about whiskey, blends and flavours myself.


whiskey image 5

Amathus is a specialist retailer and wholesaler of craft beers, wine and fine spirits, with outlets in Wardour Street, Shoreditch and Knightsbridge in London. This specialist mainly attracts a curious audience who want to learn more and discover the unusual.

a) Whisky Range Visibility

The product range is stocked behind a long earthy wooden table, whilst beers, lagers and wines are arranged around the store and more accessible.

This table & a couple of barrels serve as a trial area for tastings.

b) Category Layout

There were at least 4 bays of Whiskey brands to browse and choose from – although from behind the table. It was essential to engage a member of staff to help with this process. They were more than willing to help me.

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c) Category Information

This store thrives on one on one personal engagement. It is like the Apple of Whiskey Stores. The staff will help you find something here, whether you are an explorer, or Whiskey Connoiseur. The chain also offers tasting events.

d) Promotions

I realise there must have been promotions, but the staff kept me so engaged with their stories, tales and talk of whiskey (not to mention a few swift ones) that I did not care too much how much the Whiskey cost. I was bought into the experience and frankly would have purchased whatever I was told to.

whiskey image 7

e) Service

The staff were very welcoming and engaging the moment I stepped into the store. I was approached by a friendly person who asked what I was looking for and why. He immediately made my mission personal, asking lots of questions about the receipient, what Whisky my future Father in Law might appreciate. I had no idea and asked for his recommendations. He enthralled me with talk of maturations, distillation, geography and blends and then offered me tastings of 2 different types of Whiskey to illustrate his point.


I felt it rude to refuse and the minute I tasted the samples, I realised why he had advised that the smokey whiskey may be more of a ‘risk ‘and so I decided to purchase the other Whiskey, which was peaty in flavour by Dalmore.

whiskey image 8


I enjoyed this store experience immensely, purchased a bottle and would recommend this place to my friends. However the store made no effort to sign me up to any loyalty scheme for future sales or engagement and missed the opportunity to invite me to a future tasting. I think this was a wasted opportunity after all the effort they put into the sales patter.