Since the time Wine-Searcher was founded by London wine merchant Martin Brown in the late nineties, the site has become one of the Internet’s go-to destinations to discover new wine. Over the past 18 years, the wine search engine has made a name for itself by pairing an extensive database of wines with the opinions of renowned wine experts like Jancis Robinson to help thirsty users find their next great bottle.
But if you just need to pick up a bottle for dinner tonight at the local wine shop or grocery store, you may not have time to sift through the millions of listings (about 9 million at last count) on the Wine-Searcher website or on their mobile app to find one. But that’s probably ok with Wine-Searcher, since nowadays they might just suggest you ask Casey.
Meet Casey The Chatbot
Casey is Wine-Searcher’s new wine chatbot. The bot, currently available in beta on the Wine-Searcher website or through Facebook Messenger, is a big strategic initiative for the company who sees Casey as a way to expand their addressable market.
“For us, (Casey) is moving us into the everyday wine drinker market beyond the wine expert,” said company spokesperson Suzanne Kendrick in a phone interview with The Spoon.
Kendrick explained the typical Wine-Searcher user ranges from wine enthusiasts who know enough to discern they “like New Zealand Pinot” all the way up to wine experts. However, the company feels there is a large swath of wine drinkers who just want a good bottle of wine and don’t have time to learn the difference between New Zealand and California Pinot.
Those drinkers just “want a recommendation, want a great wine at a great price, and they want to get it now and not wait for it to ship next week,” said Kendrick.
It’s for this consumer – the ‘everyday wine drinker’ – that Wine-Searcher built Casey.
Minimal Viable Product
The company has been working on Casey for about a year and has eight people working on the project according to Kendrick. To help them build the bot, the team has been working closely with Microsoft. That’s because the framework powering the bot’s ability to carry on a natural language conversation is Microsoft’s LUIS (Language Understanding Intelligent Service) platform.
According to Kendrick, the Casey is getting better and better and having conversations about wine, but she says the chatbot is still in the “minimal viable product” phase of development. While Casey is good at wine recommendations, it’s still learning to how to make food recommendations.
I gave Casey a whirl, and it worked better on the Wine-Searcher website than in Messenger, where the bot told me the server was unavailable after I asked it for a $75 bottle recommendation to go with a hypothetical meal of fried chicken. On the company site, Casey asked me my wine preference (red, white, etc.) and price range and was able to recommend a bottle. When I chose a bottle of wine, it handed me off to Total Wine & More’s website for me to choose in-store or delivery.
This last part is important because Wine-Searcher makes much of its revenue through its relationships with large wine retailers like Total Wine & More. Other wine destination sites like the fast-growing Vivino, which just nabbed $25 million in funding, are taking more of a one-stop shop approach for wine buying by serving up recommendations and handing the commerce and delivery as well (it also looks like Vivino is working on its own effort to take its wine scanner capability from the app and put it into bot form).
For its part, Wine-Searcher is happy to stay out of fulfillment and shipping and just be the Internet’s wine experts helping the widest possible audience. With its chatbot, which the company is just starting to talk about, they hope to expand their audience and help take the company into its next two decades.