Pedants' Paradise

@lapin_rouge for PM!


I received a TWS email today, a bit of a puff for their pricing versus that of competitors.

It includes a graph showing relative pricing over the last few months, and appears to show huge increases by the competition. On closer inspection I realised that the y axis doesn’t start at zero, which of course exaggerates the difference. When I was learning maths (long ago) I was taught that there should be something to emphasise that the y axis didn’t start at zero.

A trick beloved of newspapers when they are trying to make a point…



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Hold on, TWS are trying to pull the wool over our eyes with regards to pricing?

That is of course feigned surprise, they have been trying to deflect from their price rises with all manner of statements and guff over the last few months.

There have been countless examples of this, and it is rather depressing they think people have not spotted the rises and are gullible enough to fall for it.


The graph is more for the purposes of comparison, but it does have a pretty flat line for TWS, for a typical basket of wines.

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This is my favourite example of that trick

Just spotted that bars are totally out of proportion for the data (ie exaggerated), even aside from the crazy baseline of 37,500-odd.


“Simply the best season for years.”… seems to only cover 3 years.

But as you say the variation is around 200 tickets, so 0.5% ish. Stunning.

I think you are missing a rather vital point: TWS cannot make a profit - genuinely they have zero motivation to increase prices except when forced by market increases beyond their control.


Very true, but they can fritter away money that could be better spent elsewhere

As can any business fritter away money. But You or I have no evidence of that.

EXCEPT tws does not have to factor in 10% (or whatever) for the shareholder’s dividend. And as a Mutual, the books are ‘open’ for any member to inspect and comment upon.

I might add that TWS members include a fair number of retired economists, accountants, Lawyers etc so I doubt they woud miss much.


I would like to know which wines make up the typical member basket of 14. My typical basket is nearly always 6 or 12, or multiples thereof.
And I am asking myself whether the chosen competitors could produce a similar graph with 14 of their typical purchases. It all seems a bit unnecessary and a bit unedifying


Huzzah - I salute a very fine Pedant’s comment. Lkewise I never buy 14,

Did you know that they have 15 bottle boxes?

For completeness, I’ve also received an 18 bottle box in the past :grinning:

The placard clearly needs to go about 100 feet underground for that to be accurate!

This was of course the previous Rangers FC :rofl:

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I think that the other point they are trying to make is that prices are not all over the place on a weekly or even daily basis with promotions and ‘discounts’. Yes, TWS does discount end of season or bin end lines, and offers producer promoted discounts but it does tend to keep a price the same for a reasonable period of time for most wines.

I clearly exclude ‘vintage of the century’ EP in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo from the above statement…where 50% price rises are of course richly merited…!


Actually I didn’t know that, but it still leaves me wondering about the “typical” 14, and why 14? A slightly odd number to highlight I think - one might even think 14 was not just a random choice.

14 will be more representative. Really, you’d like a “basket” with as many comparable items as possible, which in some cases the same wines or in other cases price-adjusted equivalent items. Even better would be to turn these into price indices, but a monetary value basket is easy to understand in this case.

Also, to note, given the low total value of the basket it will be unlikely to track items in the £10-20, £20-35, £35-60, £60+ price bands, so you might want to consider some separate analyses for that.

Well, TWS can and does make a profit, the only difference is that as a not-for-profit mutual, the profits are not returned directly to shareholders as dividends. Instead, it uses the profits to provide member benefits. Theoretically it only needs enough profit to stay in positive cash flow, but the reality is that it has to operate as a commercial entity to achieve this, and it has a duty to ensure there is enough money made for the Society to be financially sustainable.

In the case of TWS, the use of profit ranges from subsidising lower prices to paying for new warehouses, IT etc, since it doesn’t borrow money for capital expenditure and its only real sources of cash are trading and issuing shares to new members. Profits were in fact substantial for a couple of years during the pandemic, as cash was stored up to pay for the new warehouse (and probably some IT investment).

TWS has been operating at between 20-22% gross margin for the last few years, so average markup on buying price has been in the region of 25-28%. Gross margin was actually increasing year on year for a few years until the last financial year, when it dropped back a bit (though still over 20%). Net margin varies, depending on whether they are in a building up reserves stage or spending them part of the cycle. Presumably the current effort to maintain prices will impact both gross and net margin for the 2023/24 financial year.

It’s possible other merchants operate at higher margins, but net profit margin in a lot of companies, especially retail trading organisations, isn’t as high as people often think. There are certainly few public companies returning anything like 10% to shareholders as dividends, though it may be more common in private companies, depending on sector.


Sign on now-decommissioned) cold-war bunker at Bentley Priory.