Liquor Bored

To say that the PLCB is not known for embracing innovative technology would be a rather large understatement. They did, however, recently launch an iPhone app (with Android coming soon), so, there’s that. On the surface, if it were not for my inherent skepticism of anything coming from the PLCB, this sounds like something that might actually be useful, being a Pennsylvania resident and all. And, as surprising as it may sound, the result is a flawed but ultimately usable app that most PA wine lovers should probably have on their iPhones.

In general, the app is nicely designed and easy to navigate. It being a mobile app, the best use for it is, not surprisingly, while mobile. A bottle scanner, which allows customers to scan bottle barcodes and bring up the product page for a wine while in store, may help deal with the lack of information typically offered on the shelves (assuming there is info on the website – not always a safe assumption).  Combined with our own website, which automatically formats correctly on your phone, it’s a vital tool for wine lovers in Pennsylvania.

For those looking for a nearby store, there’s a handy feature which uses geo-location to bring up directions to the nearest one, or directions to the store of your choice. In addition, the nearest store that carries a wine (or all nearby stores) can be accessed from any in-store wine’s product page.

The App’s biggest issues are duplicates of flaws from the LCB website, most of which relate to the lack of a quality inventory system. To find the availability of a single wine, for example, one must search online, in-store, and SLO (special order) separately – there is no way to search across the three options. Perhaps even more egregious is the inability to view wines that are available nearby. A bottle only available in Pittsburgh stores, for example, does not help Philadelphians, yet it clutters the search results. Especially with the geo-location capabilities of the phone, this lack of refinement is ridiculous.

These, of course, are systematic issues that plague the website as well and thus aren’t really the fault of the app designers. That said, the app is not without little bugs and annoyances:

  • An alert notifying users that they need an account to place an order comes up every time the app is used (and often multiple times per session
  • Online products are the default in search, as if online ordering should take precedence over in-store for a mobile app.
  • Though there are some powerful refinement tools for product listings, the system offers choices that aren’t available – for example, region before a country is selected – without any messaging as to why the choices are blank.
  • Most iOS menus (the black buttons at the bottom of the app) contain a “more” button that brings up a full-screen list of additional menu choices. In this app, “more” is actually a toggle between two menus, hiding choices in a seemingly haphazard manner.
  • Lastly, it does have a penchant for crashing whenever I try to do anything complex.

Despite these gripes, I do find myself using the app regularly, and think anyone with an iPhone who shops for wine in PA should give it a whirl… at least until there’s an app for privatizing liquor sales.

Note: this was originally posted on The Wine School of Philadelphia’s Epikur Magazine.

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