Fun and funky.

It has always seemed strange that the youthful, crazy bunch of wine-loving hippies that is Oddbins should have dragged their heels so slowly in embracing the Web. With their tee-shirt wearing staff and eclectic stock of interesting wines at good prices, the smart money would have been on Oddy's being first out of the traps with a funky website aimed at their young-ish, wine savvy customer base. In fact, just about every man and his dog had a website before Oddbins, theirs appearing only towards the tail-end of 2000.


So has several years of gestation finally delivered a really cracking site to blow away the competition? Well, not quite I'm afraid, but it is a site that captures some of Oddbins playful cartoon style enthusiasm for wine.



The Wine List Over 600 wines are listed, as well another 100 or more sparkling and fortified bottles. True to Oddbins terrestrial roots, this is a globe-trotting range packed with interest. Many more unusual regions and wine types are represented, with over 40 South African wines for example, and over 30 offerings from Greece, including a highly unusual (and rather good) ruby-coloured sweetie made in the style of Tuscany's famous Vin Santo. There are also a dozen mixed cases on offer. At the upper end there are some serious First Growth Clarets, desirable Californian 'cult wines' and deluxe Champagnes all at Oddbins usual keen prices. Choose to view their stock by Wines, Spirits, Fizz, Gifts or Mixed Cases. Within each a search box allows you to specify criteria, and a pane on the right of screen will display results grouped six at a time, each with a little description and pricing information. This list is presented alphabetically, but may be re-ordered by price. Clicking on the wine title brings up a much fuller description and press comment on the wine. There's an 'Add to Shopping Basket' option against each item, and also an option to 'Add to Cellar'. If you register you can store details here of wines you have bought or in which you are interested. Some wines also have a little button marked 'Or try…' which suggests similar wines from the catalogue.



The Service Oddbins state: 'We have no intention of being any less vigilant when it comes to selling drinks on the Web - virtual customers have exactly the same rights as real ones!' which means faulty products can be returned, as can items found to be broken upon delivery. Customer service email and phone contacts are given and orders are covered by the BT 'Trustwise' scheme. Delivery is within four days for most of the UK, seven for some outlying districts. The cost is a flat £4.99 for any order, but since the site launch there has been a free delivery offer 'for a limited period only'.



Product Information is very good. For each wine there is a label image, tasting note and a press comment. Sometimes there is additional advice on ageability or food matching (Chateau Reynella Cabernet Merlot from Australia is, apparently, ideal with Kangaroo fillet and roast butternut squash). Many wines feature a little 'Tell me more' button that reveals quite low-level technical detail that is heaven for wine geeks.



The Ordering Process is nicely realised. Against each wine is a quantity box and an 'Add to Basket' button. Each time you buy, a running total of bottles and amount spent is shown in a colourful little shopping basket section to the bottom left of the screen. When you are ready to complete your order, click on the Basket icon and a page showing the current basket contents is displayed along with a total order value. You may alter quantities or hit the little trash icon against any wine to ditch it. Clicking on 'Checkout' pops up a separate screen where your name and delivery details are captured as well as credit card details (on a secure server). You may opt to complete your order by phone or post if you'd prefer.



More than the Hard Sell? The 'My cellar' option where you can store details of wines you have purchased or in which you have an interest also lets you save your own tasting notes and comments. Some people might find this useful as a 'virtual cellar book', though it is limited to Oddbins wines, so that usefulness is restricted. Access your Cellar by clicking the button bottom left of screen. There's a section called 'Wine Guide' which introduces the world's wine regions and grapes. Snippets of news information relating to Oddbins are presented on the home screen, and there are facilities to find your nearest Oddbins store or find out about career opportunities with the company.