7 Tips for Mastering the PLCB Website


Although it seems that the latest round of privatization talks are heating up in Harrisburg once again, we’re not exactly getting our hopes up. (We’ve been down this road before.) Instead, we’re choosing to focus on life with the PLCB. Which, as it turns, out, is actually survivable, if you know the system. (This is not an argument for or against said system, by the way, just an attempt to make the best of what we have. So save your rants for another day.) That’s why we’re here. For you. To help you navigate the sometimes outdated, often draconian, occasionally misguided decisions of the PLCB.

Today we’re here to discuss the website. Remember a few years back when there was a big hullabaloo about the whole redesign and rebrand to Fine Wine and Good Spirits? Horrible name aside, they did a nice job with the visual design, but regular site users will have surely figured by now that they would’ve better spent whatever money they had on foundational technology and infrastructure issues instead of visual design. But, as much as I’d love to sit here from my comfy desk chair and point out all the flaws with the site as it stands today, I realize that wouldn’t serve much point, since what’s done is done and the budget probably doesn’t exist to make the changes that actually need to be made. (If it does, Jane knows where to find me.)

So, instead, I’ve decided to share the list of tips & tricks over the years that help me better utilize the site. (Since I can’t fully resist the urge to pick, I’ll couch them with suggestions for how the site could be improved.)

Problem: Location Searching

Wouldn’t the site be better if you could narrow to results that were available near you? Who cares if a bottle of something is available in 1 store in Erie if you live in Scranton? By putting the ability to search by location at the item level, the designers have crippled their customers’ ability to use the system to its fullest potential. In addition, organizing search by county is just as absurd. Who thinks about where they live in terms of county (other than people from DelCo)? Personally, I live near stores that are in 3 counties, so every time I have to check inventory, I have to click on one county, click back, select the next county, click back, and then click the third county. Almost every other site on the internet uses a zip code search for the same function.

Solution: Search the State
On the select a county page, underneath the map, it says “Or try a statewide search”, followed by a green button that says “Search the State”. ALWAYS click this button. Then, it’ll show you a list of all stores, with the counties listed at the very top. You can then jump through the counties without having to go back to change your selection.

Problem: Too Few Items Per Page

Why is the default 15 items per page, and why does it never remember (on return visits) that I changed it to 45? And why is 45 the max? Wouldn’t the site be better if you could see all items, or at least a few hundred? Zappos figured out years ago that people want to see the most items possible per page (without killing the server, obviously), and just about every major eCommerce site has followed that guideline since.

Solution: Change the URL (does require small amount of tech knowledge)
This is also something you have to do every time, which is annoying, but it is helpful if you are looking at a large list of items (like a sale). Go into the URL in the browser bar (which are WAY too long, but that’s another story), and find the part that says listSize=  (it might be blank or have a 15, 30 or 45 after it). Add/change the number to something of your choice, say 500 or 1000. Hit return. Enjoy browsing. (Hat Tip to Dontime.)

Problem: Search Precision

Ever notice that keyword search is about as precise as stick of dynamite? Problem is, the search engine, by default, searches for every term you type in, independent of each other. So, for example, if you type in “Fetzer Mendo” into the in-store search, you’ll get every wine with “Fetzer” in the name AND every item with “Mendo”. In this case it is only 16, which isn’t too many to go through, but still, you typed in a specific wine, didn’t you? On the other hand, if you type in just “Mendo”, you get just five wines, the Fetzer and a few from Mendoza Vineyards. Lucky that Mendoza Vineyards only has 4 items in stock, or that it isn’t searching location Mendoza, otherwise you could be searching for days. Wouldn’t the site be better if it found the wine you were looking for more consistently?

Solution: Practice; Trial and Error
Unfortunately there isn’t always a solution here, but understanding that the system works this way can help you figure out how to better search for the wine you are looking for. In other words, always try to find the most unique single term you can, and use that.

Problem: Dropdowns on Touch

How about those fancy dropdowns that they implemented on the newly designed website? Pretty cool huh? But wouldn’t the site be even better if these actually worked on your tablet, phone or touch device?

Solution: The Second Tap
For whatever reason, if you touch one menu – not the one you want to use, but a different one – first, then go to the one you want to use, it works, at least on iOS. A somewhat annoying but effective trick.

Problem: Mobile Usability

Wouldn’t it be better if the site was optimized for my mobile device? Either via responsive design or an m-dot site? Yes, that would be better.

Solution: Apps
There is a iOS and an Android app. Both are generally usable and worth having. It amazes me that, at least on the iOS app, online shopping is still the default (I am mobile, so the in-store use case should be favored), and there are still no location services to find wine (though the store finder is handy). The UPC scan is also useful.

Problem: Age Overlay

Seriously. How annoying is that age overlay? First of all, do I have to be 21 to read information about alcohol online? I don’t recall that being a law. Second, has anyone in the history of the internet clicked “no” on one of these age overlay boxes? Um, no. And it comes back every freaking day! You can’t remember me??? Wouldn’t the site be better if they just did away with this all together?

Solution: Cookie Manipulation (geeks only)
If you use Firefox, there’s an Add-on called Cookies Manager+. (In Chrome the Extension is called EditThisCookie.) Install it. Then go to FWaGS. Open Cookies Manager+. Find the cookie called AGEVERIFY. Click Edit. Change the expiration date to sometime far in the future, after your computer will have died already, say 2020. Done. (Sadly there’s no way to do this, that I have found, on iPads.)

Problem: Wish List Only Saves Online Items

Wouldn’t it be better if the wish list stored in-store items as well as online items? Why aren’t the catalogs integrated anyway? (This is much larger issue that affects just about everything, but that’s another issue entirely.) What if I don’t want to shop online at FWaGS? Regardless of the reason, an in-store customer should have access to the same services as an online one.

Solution: Use PA Wine Talk’s My List & Newsletter Feature
This requires going to a different website, but on PA Wine Talk (an independent site run by our friend Mark out in the Pgh area), you can set up a list of up to 5 (10 if you contribute) wines, and get a daily reminder about the inventory of these items in up to 5 local stores (10 if you contribute). Now that’s what I call customer-friendly functionality!

What else annoys you about the site? Do you have any tips or tricks to add? Comment below.

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