Merchants now are taking Web retailing very, very seriously and aggressively studying each other’s online presence. Customers, too, will push the transformation: While there will always be a market for people who want to order directly from a winery and geeks like us looking for rare stuff, our feeling is that, in the long run, online wine sales — similar to other online businesses — will rise or fall based on whether consumers use it as an everyday convenience for everyday wines, just as they use for books.

It’s impossible to know if you will have a bad experience with any merchant online. But the good news is that there are so many sites now that you never have to order a second time from a site that leaves you dissatisfied. So if you are thinking about ordering wine online, here is a mixed case of things to keep in mind:

* Look around the site first to see if it delivers to your state. Some stores tend to be coy about this because they’re skirting local laws. That’s why you will often see language like this: “The title to the wine you order passes to you as soon as it leaves our doors; it is up to you to know the relevant laws in your state.” Even if a site says a store cannot deliver to your state, you should call to make sure. Laws are changing rapidly and, in any case, stores often deliver to places they don’t publicly admit.

* While you are looking at online sites, sign up for every online newsletter you see. These are often interesting and, in some cases, marvelously chatty. They’re a great way to pass the time at work. (Don’t worry; your boss is probably reading them, too.)

* Be very careful to make sure you are ordering bottles in the size you want. On some sites, it’s hard to tell. We have ordered magnums or half-bottles — not to mention the giant Chianti — without knowing it.

* Similarly, check vintages carefully. Remember that most wines these days are meant to be drunk young, so you want to make sure, in those cases, that you get the newest vintage. If this is important to you, and if the site has a “comments” section, tell them that you don’t want vintage substitutions.

* Along the same lines, be sure to read the fine print about substitutions. Some sites say they can substitute a different wine if it’s under a certain price — say, $15. (You can often find this in the “FAQ” or “shipping information” sections.) If you don’t want substitutions, say so.

* Look for the return policy. Returning wine is a hassle in any event (and local laws sometimes govern such policies), but a store’s return policy is often a sign of its consumer-friendliness. Some charge significant “restocking” fees.

* Look around the site to see if there are case discounts. Good stores often offer them.

* Check the minimum purchase necessary for delivery. You don’t want to spend your time putting together a shopping cart only to discover that you don’t have enough in it to be delivered.

* Try to find shipping costs before you order. Some sites don’t tell you the price of shipping until you check out.

* See if you are being charged for “insurance” on your order. Some sites quietly charge a percentage to insure your shipment. That can be a significant hidden charge that you may not want. We pay for the insurance because it seems a small price and we’re nervous types, but the truth is that, in all of our years of shopping online, we have never suffered a broken bottle.

* Pay for expedited delivery. Warm or cold weather can wreak havoc on wines and faster shipping will help to minimize that danger. In any event, it’s a bad idea to have wine shipped at all in extremely hot or cold weather. Some stores simply won’t send wine until bad weather lets up.

* Work with the store or the shipping company to figure out when the wine will be delivered. Deliveries have to be accepted by someone who’s at least 21, so an adult needs to be home.

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Filed under: Buying Wine