Where to begin???
Hving been, for a long time, a buyer for one of those large retail chains, and then involved with a fine wine independent store operation, the restaurant biz, the wholesale side of things, and now the big supplier/importer/vineyard owner side as well, I have some thoughts.
The weaknesses of the "one size fits all" approach that the chain retailers use is their weakness. Dedicated wine geeks want a full selection that suits them (apropos Jenise's comments just now) and they are disappointed when they get neither the selection they want nor the attention/level of response that they feel they deserve. Yet the fact of the matter is that the wine geek is pretty much the least important person---monetarily and profit-wise--of any customer that walks in the door.
If it is a true full service beverage store, then we're talking spirits, beer, non-alcoholic beverages, sundries, snack foods, possibly gourment foods/cheeses, cigarettes, and the proliferation of wine brands, from synthetic 'pop' wines to the boxes to the mega-jugs to the 'fighting varietals' to the fine wines.
Add to that the incredible explosion of brands in wine for the last several years, and you've got a situation where they centralized owner/manager has to look at what's best for the overall store. And when it comes to fine wines, huge investments are required, with usuall slow returns---because there are more drinkers of casual wines, everyday wines, value wines, than there ever will be in the fine wine segment. So inventories are kept lean, slow movers are weeded out, the ideal shelf spaces go to those wines that are supported, advertised, promoted, discounted and put on the quota system for the salesperson (at whatever level).
All that means that when the wine geek comes in, they get little attention. And when the profit monster raises its head, little things like customer service and response go by the wayside. It takes TIME and MANPOWER (often the highest paid manpower too) to seek and find the best wines, and it takes money to buy them...when most of the wine geeks want one bottle of something esoteric, which doesn't generate any return (except in good will, and you can't put good will in your bank ledger at the end of the workday, or find it on the profit sheet). It's easier, frankly, from the owner's point of view, to send that customer to some other store...on paper, anyway.
And, let's talk truth here: I've seen so many times where a store would bend over backwards to do all the things necessary to satisfy a wine geek customer---then lose that customer to another store on the other side of town that offered a wine at a slightly greater discount. Any retailer will tell you the same too.
What the chains work on is location, convenience, efficiency, cost control, and offering the widest range of products possible at any given time. Some of the managers are enlightened enough to realize that it is in their best interests to keep the truly fine wines in stock....but then they are stymied by their own wholesaler suppliers and the wineries themselves!
Take Ridge for interest: as a chain buyer, I might well be able to get the current release of the basic level Ridge wines. Might even be able to get a few meager bottles of some of the best Ridge wines. But it wouldn't be easy, because the fact is that Ridge and their wholesalers exert lots of control over where their product goes, and when their product is in demand, they don't WANT it in the mega-chains, because they prefer to send it to the more profitable fine wine purveyors and restaurants (drives the price of the wine up, and thus the profit and prestige of the winery).
So even if I wanted the product, and was willing to invest in it, I likely couldn't get it. If I could, it would be in such small amounts that I'd have to put in a few select better stores where there's clientele for it.
Another case in point to illustrate the problem: when the wine mixed with fruit juice fad started (Arbor Mist, Wild Vines, etc.), or before that, the wine coolers craze, the big retailers were forced by created customer demand to devote huge amounts of floor, shelf, and inventory space, along with diverting dollars to purchase, for those products, simply because the suppliers had invested tons of money to promote the sales. That space, and those dolllars, have to come from somewhere, and the inexorability of economics says it has to come from the section that generates the lowest return...and that is usually fine wine.
What can the big retailers do to earn respect? No secrets there. Hire good knowlegeable people (and pay them a decent wage so they stay around or are incentified to learn their trade), allow them the time they need to build up the right inventory and to schmooze the customers on the floor---because as others have said, one of the things wine geek customers need is someone to either talk to or talk at about this obsession they have. Then they have to build their customer base over a long period of time. It can happen...but often doesn't because their is always the head accountant showing the ledger to the manager. That's why the fine wine game often falls to the independent, who is in it as much for love as for money. Or in any case, more love than the big chain retailers feel.