Let me preface this post by saying that I spend a significant amount of time each week dealing with customer service emails, while listening to the customer service staff at K&L answer phone calls. A good portion of those letters and conversations finish with the words: sorry, we’re sold out. Yes, sir, you’re right: you did just get that email two days ago. Yes. I know. It’s crazy! People just went nuts for it. I’m not sure when we’ll get more. I’m very sorry, sir. If you need help picking something else out just let me know.

When you deal with customers each day who are saddened and upset about the fact that a wine or whisky they wanted is now gone forever, there’s a tendency to want to prevent similar conversations in the future. They’re typically not very enjoyable interactions because often times the customer voices a certain sense of dismay. It’s partially for that reason that stores like K&L now go out of their way to add captions to marketing emails explaining to customers the expected demand of each product. If you’re on my insider email list then you’ll know I often relate to readers the time sensitive nature of each product’s availability. On the flip side, I’ll also say when supplies are full. No hurry, we’ve got plenty. Just yesterday in the store a customer asked me: “Is there anything I need to buy now? Something good that won’t be here the next time I come?” That’s a totally normal thing for a whisky customer to ask these days because of the way certain quantities of stock seem to disappear. My response? “No, I think we’ve got pretty deep stocks on everything here right now. Just take what you need.” 

I’ve become very careful over the last few years when it comes to sales prognostication. If something’s going to fly, I’ll happily let people know. But if there’s no rush, I try not to fuel that fire anymore. As time continues to go by and I become more experienced at what I do, I’m realizing the potential damage that FOMO is having on our lives. What’s FOMO, you ask? FOMO is an abbreviation that the youngsters use these days to refer to anything as "fear of missing out," i.e. an anxiety that something exciting or interesting may be happening, but you might not get to experience it. It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with and something we’ve all experienced and it’s often now used as justification to never detach one’s self from social media or email communication. Why are you constantly checking your Twitter feed? FOMO. Why are you constantly checking your text messages? FOMO. Why are you anxiously looking for new K&L whiskey emails? FOMO. What if they send out an email about a new and exciting American whiskey and I miss it?!!! FOMO!!!!!!

If you think whiskey companies, whiskey importers, whiskey distributors, and whiskey retailers don’t realize the power of FOMO, think again. FOMO was co-opted by the whiskey industrial complex long ago, dissected in a lab, and genetically engineered before being unleashed as a super-FOMO on the global market. The reason FOMO is such an effective marketing tool for unique and interesting wine and spirits is because often times its based on reality. In many cases there ARE limited quantities, there ISN’T much to around, and we WILL sell out in seconds. That means if you want to get a bottle you’ll have to troll around on our website, slowly succumbing to hyper-paranoia as you refresh the product page over and over again, waiting for the bottle to become available. Does that sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But if you won’t do it, someone else will. There are guys willing to drop everything they’re doing each week, park themselves on klwines.com, and wait for hours just to get a $5 bottle of Pliny the Elder beer upon release. Imagine what those guys would do for a bottle of Pappy or Yamazaki Sherry Cask? 

But the real problem with using FOMO as your main marketing tool is that it isn’t a strategy built on actual desire. It’s based on fear. It’s based on one-upsmanship. It’s telling consumers that they should drink certain wines or whiskies because they’re rare rather than because they’re good. It creates a consumership that values exclusivity over quality. More importantly, it damages the equity of base brands and everyday labels, which are the backbone of the industry as we know it. Why drink something that anyone can drink when you can drink this incredible, limited edition expression that we only made twenty bottles of? But only if you act now!!! I wrote about this phenomenon years ago under the monicker "fear capitalism", but today it's moved from a burning desire to taste the best to a frenetic fear of being left behind. You don't want to be the only person who didn't get a bottle, right? 

Again, the problem for people like me in addressing FOMO and tackling it head on is that I'm here to help customers with their inquiries. That's my job. If I only have a certain amount of product and I know I have more customers than available bottles, I have to tell people to act quickly. Of course, I guess I could NOT tell them. But doing so means I'll be buried in angry emails from upset customers who didn't realize the time sensitivity of the deal (if you think those emails are few and far-between then I invite you to come sit by me for a day as we both work through these issues one by one). Let me also say this: FOMO works from the top down. The distributor comes to me each week and says: "David, the __________ just came back into stock, but we only have twenty cases. You need to tell me how many you want quickly." The importer tells the distributor the same thing. It's all FOMO from the initial creation of the product, through the supply chain, all the way to you the consumer. If you don't act now then you're going to miss out. 

But if you rely on FOMO, and all you have is FOMO, and you think FOMO is going to lead you to another year of increased profit, endless demand, and record sales, I would advise caution. The reason FOMO works for the moment is because it's real. Customers have seen the proof for themselves. The whiskies they used to buy readily are now absent from the shelf. Age statements are dropping off. Older expressions are being retired due to lack of supply. But what happens when supply catches up with demand and there's no longer a reason to scare customers into a quick sale? What happens when you continue to tell people: YOU'VE GOTTA BUY THIS NOW!, but they really don't?

I know what's going to happen. I know exactly what's going to happen. Which is why I told multiple people in the store yesterday: Relax, we've got plenty.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll