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Alexander & James – Diageo’s Shop For The Rich And Naive

by Oliver Klimek on February 15, 2013

A new online shop for spirits has been launched by Diageo. Alexander & James is named after Alexander Walker and James Buchanan, the founders of two of Diageo’s most popular whisky brands. A Spirits Business article quotes managing director Philippa Dickson: “It is a white glove, end to end luxury brand experience where people will be able to learn about our spirits and receive expert advice on food pairing and mixology ideas for every occasion. We provide the ease of making a well-informed purchase online.”

The design of the website is sleek and efficient, navigation is easy, it is all very well put together, as you could expect from such a major company. The shop is clearly directed at people with money to spend, and new customers signing up are promised invites for events such as Fashion Week or film premieres as well as the occasional free sample.

The pricing is up to that level. If you expected Diageo to let you benefit from the saved retail markup on their wholesale prices, you will be disappointed. Anything in the shop is significantly more expensive than from standard online retailers. A few examples from the whisky section: Johnnie Walker Blue Label: £179, Talisker 25 yo 45.8%: £300, Caol Ila 18 yo: £87.95. Massive profit margins here, if you keep in mind that Diageo must already make profit from wholesale prices. So in fact the customers pay for the freebies they are offered.

Consumer education is a focus of the shop which is always a good thing. But how this is done here is a serious case for the bullshit police. I have only looked in the whisky section, but I have found lots of inaccuracies and perpetuated myths like these:

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Of course you check 10,000 casks before selecting the one that goes into Johnnie Walker Blue. Yeah, yeah.

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Don't tell anyone that most of Diageo's whisky is stored in centralized complexes like Blackgrange and Bonnybridge

Maturation in oak casks really sets Cardhu apart from other whiskies

Maturation in oak casks really sets Cardhu apart from other whiskies

Clynelish was built in 1967. What was called Clynelish before that, was renamed to Brora. These are different distilleries.

Clynelish was built in 1967. What was called Clynelish before that, was renamed to Brora. These are different distilleries.

So bigger stills are superior?

So bigger stills are superior?

If big stills are superior, this whisky can't be any good, can it? But at least it is aged in oak casks.

If big stills are superior, this whisky can't be any good, can it? But at least it is aged in oak casks.

The regions myth bent to match the product portfolio. For others, highland malts are rich and robust.

The regions myth bent to match the product portfolio. For others, highland malts are rich and robust.

Now is it just okay to drink whisky with a mixer or is it best drunk with a mixer? I am confused.

Now is it just okay to drink whisky with a mixer or is it best drunk with a mixer? I am confused.

If you dig deeper, you will find even more. And that was only for the whisky section.

Yes, I have switched to nitpick mode when looking at the website. But this is not a startup venture run from a garage. This is Diageo, this is THE major whisky company in the world. They should know better. And I know they know.

Don’t tell me now “This is not a shop for whisky anoraks”. Indeed it isn’t. But if you really want to educate your customers, you have to do it with facts and not with hot air from the marketing department. With the ‘knowledge’ that is presented here, the upper crust will only have the illusion of knowing something about what they drink.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan February 15, 2013 at 5:12 pm

“the upper crust will only have the illusion of knowing something about what they drink.” I think you hit the nail on the head, Oliver. i.e. I think that’s the point; who ever fell more in love with Diageo’s whiskies as they learned more about them? There’s nothing at all romantic about what they do. They must know this.

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two-bit cowboy February 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Another well done piece, Oliver. Seems Diageo might have turned their marketing interns loose on this project, ’cause it sure wasn’t folks who know a bunch about the whiskies. Pay more, get less.

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Josh Feldman February 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I agree with two-bit cowboy. This is the work of marketing wonks. It’s BS laden start to finish. “aged in oak cask”… implies that they aren’t cutting corners and aging in plastic tubs with a few shovels full of oak chips tossed in for flavor and color…

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Alex March 12, 2013 at 5:47 am

To be fair, in hardly any other merchandise do I see so much markup spread as in liquor. Maybe it’s the combination of well-off people and/or drunks who are less price-conscious than the rest. Our liquor store around the corner sells Lagavulin 16 for over $100, which is $40 more than Costco and Beltramo’s. And the bar markup is even more out of whack. I’ve seen a dram for half the retail price of a bottle, and that’s not a naked ladies establishment.

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