Barley Mowat 

Liquor Stores Go Mobile

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It was only a matter of time before the LDB decided to spend a chunk of their government funding and pay some local schmuck a metric assload of hard currency to crap out an iPhone app. I guess the only real surprise here is that it took them so long to do it.

The app is out, and it’s free. And thus ends the long list of positive things I can say about it, really. It makes a grand total of zero changes from their website, although I suppose storing the LDB database locally for faster searching is kind of nice, and the use of the location API on your phone to display local stores is also swell, but then again both of these things are available in desktop web browsers, so it really just points out the absence on the regular site.

Exactly like the website, the app is a portal into the LDB’s inventory database. A database that is helpfully updated Every. Single. Day–in its entirety–despite any changes very very likely having nothing to do with the products you’re after.

“But Chuck!” you say, “It’s just what you say it is. A mini-database of all cheap liquor available in the province… IN YOUR POCKET! Why don’t you love this?” Good question. Let me get my ranting cap on. Huh. Could have sworn I was keeping it by my pontificating pants… ah there it is.

And here we go. In list form, of course.

  1. First, and foremost, the inventory numbers are 2-3 (or more) days old. See that list of 3 bottles of Saison Dupont remaining? Well, that’s probable zero now, sucker.
  2. It doesn’t improve on the website in any measurable way. The website was already in my pocket, so I’m not 100% convinced of the benefit. Sure, the speed improvements that come from a native app will keep me using it in lieu of the website, but they could have done so much more. Perhaps they will, but somehow I doubt it.
  3. Since it’s just a raw viewer of the LDB’s database, it really lays bare their nigh contemptible attitude towards beer. Aside from the staples like producer, country, bottle size and price, wine has the following meta data attached:
    • Type (7 values)
    • Colour (3 values)
    • Varietal (>30 values)

    Beer, however, suffers from a lack of such attention. It has a lonely single form of meta-data (Type), which has one value (De-alcoholized). This is beer, after all, I guess the LDB figures the only information we’re really after is whether it’ll get us loaded or not, how much is it, and where do I get some.

  4. Again, much like the website, it focuses on a product-first approach to search. Find your product, get a price, then find out where to buy it. Now, this is is not always a bad idea.

    Hmmm…. $9.99 you say?

    However, I don’t always shop for beer like I shop for clothes (need jeans, go to jeans store, buy jeans, get the hell out of mall). I sometimes like to browse, and that means lingering in a store seeing what they have for sale that I might not thought of. However, the e-equivalent of this is not possible on the app. You can’t select a store and then see what beer they have available. Not possible.
  5. Again, because this is a raw view into the LDB’s database, we also suffer from their rather flat data structure. For instance, products are not grouped into hierarchical categories, e.g. Booze -> Beer -> Wheat Ales -> Driftwood -> White Bark. Rather, the db is sadly organized around their SKU, kind of like a SIN for booze. Thus instead of the human friendly and informative list above, we get: Booze -> 186718. And this is apparent.
  6. The “Showcase” button there is just a summary of the current banner promotions on the website, and you will likely never click it more than once. Again, their current “Craft Beer” button is pretty indicative of their view on the matter. While I do appreciate that this is very likely the first time they’ve ever highlighted craft beer, doing so by shining the spot light solely on mixer boxes is a bit insane.

Huh. I just realized that every single one of those points is a fault with the LDB’s system, and not the app itself. So I guess I don’t really have a huge problem with the app, aside from it only providing a thin venire on a weak backend.

There *is* one iPhone-y feature worth talking about, if only to point out how sucky it is. The app has the ability to scan a bar code of a liquor product, and display that item’s page, if found. At first blush, this sounds like a great feature with lots of wow-factor, and I’m 100% positive that this is how it was sold at the kick-off meeting for the project.

That no one pointed out the obvious saddens me. The prerequisite for using this feature to find the liquor is holding the fucking bottle in your hand. You’ve already found it, and presumably drunk most of it. You have enough information in your bloody hand to find the LDB’s entry without resorting to a flashy camera-based scanner that, in all likelihood, won’t work given the typical lighting under which I am normally intrigued by liquor products I haven’t heard of before.

There is lots of info on the website that somehow never make it into the app: Tasting events at the 39th store, drink and food recipes, and even wine and mixed-drink reviews (notably no beer reviews). The website also has a list of consultants, which stores they work in, and a nice little quote from each on how much they love The Sauce. (Again, this page uses the word “wine” 32 times, and “beer” twice). All of this is saved for people with computers.

Then there’s the info that is missing from both places. What about new arrivals? In-store product samples? Marked down specials? Rare or seasonal items that are about to go out of stock? How about an ability to do bulk orders without involving a remote meat puppet in order to type six numbers into the computer at 30-odd dollars an hour? Or any slight improvement over the treatment of beer as a bulk commodity product that no serious connoisseur could possibly take seriously. LDB, BC is one of the foremost areas in North America when it comes to craft beer, perhaps it’s time you took the segment seriously and hired someone to promote it (in completely unrelated news, I’m available. Wink. Wink. Ok, fine, Bribe. Bribe.)

Alas, this app is as good as it’s going to get. I know how these contracts work: it’s a one-off budget item in a single fiscal year with perhaps a rider for small maintenance/bug fixes. A second revision is many years out, as any suggestions will just be met with “but we just did that” in the budget review.

Written by chuck

August 12th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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