Alcohol ecommerce has grown in almost every market this past year. Even in the U.S., where regulations previously have held back the digitalization of this industry, the online wine and beer business is booming.

And while easing up on legal constraints and the increase in online alcohol purchases were primarily driven by necessity, it’s safe to assume this change in consumer behavior is here to stay. This means alcohol brands and vendors need to adapt their strategies to the landscape of ecommerce.

U.S. Alcohol Ecommerce After the Pandemic

The pandemic hasn’t just increased the consumption of alcohol. It has changed the way people purchase it. The global ecommerce market for alcohol is predicted to almost double in 2021, with close to a 42% increase since 2020. And as the coronavirus spread across the United States, total ecommerce penetration went through the equivalent of 10 years of growth in just three months (March-May).

China, where alcohol ecommerce has been available for years, is still at the top for digital alcohol sales. But the growth in alcohol ecommerce in the U.S. shows colossal momentum, and the U.S. is today on track to become the biggest alcohol ecommerce market by the end of 2021. Surprisingly, research shows that almost half (44%) of the people in the US who purchased alcohol online this year were first-timers.

D2C in Alcohol Ecommerce

With the combination of deregulation and increased demand for digital services, this new landscape represents an interesting opportunity for alcohol brands to choose the D2C (direct to consumer) route.

Most alcohol brands today still rely on third-party distributors. But owning your own D2C channel in the form of an ecommerce website enables companies to capture more demand, increase their margins, and control every part of the customer and brand experience.

Below are three benefits a D2C business model may offer alcohol brands going digital:

1. Lower Barriers to Entry

Even before COVID, startups were finding ways to make it easier to order alcohol. Drizly, Saucy, Thirsty, and Instacart are all players who’ve gained popularity by helping consumers find retailers. These services allow buyers to shop by brand instead of having to rely on a specific retailer.

2. More Control Over the Customer Experience

Going D2C is an efficient way to reclaim and brand the customer experience. A website and ecommerce store allows you to share your brand story and unique selling points in much more detail than if you’re working with a retailer. Seventy-nine percent of consumers state that the shopping experience a company provides is equally important as its products. A D2C channel will give you access to valuable customer data so that you can provide outstanding experiences.

3. Optimized Distribution and Increased Access

In the U.S., alcohol home delivery varies on a state-by-state basis. In fact, some states like Oklahoma eased their alcohol home delivery regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Software like Sovos ShipCompliant can help with tax calculations and get products to customers while complying with the different laws in every state. An advanced D2C ecommerce site will also help you handle these complexities and cater to a larger audience.

Related reading: D2C eCommerce in 2021 – Trends, Growth, and How to Succeed 

Alcohol and Home Delivery in Different States – a Legal Perspective

The alcohol industry in the U.S. is built on a three-tier system of alcohol distribution. This is the system that was set up after the repeal of Prohibition. The three tiers include the importers or producers, the distributors, and the retailers. The basic system is that the producers can only sell their products to distributors, who then sell to retailers, and only they are allowed to sell to consumers.

Producers include the brewers, distillers, winemakers, and importers. The purpose of the three-tier system is to avoid tied houses and “disorderly marketing conditions.” Some states became alcoholic beverage control jurisdictions after Prohibition, meaning the state has an alcohol monopoly. In these states, the distribution tier and sometimes the retailing tier are mainly operated by the state itself. There is only one state with an entirely private-owned retail and distribution system, and that’s the State of Washington. Here, retailers can purchase alcoholic beverages directly from producers, negotiate discounts, and warehouse their inventory.

Related reading: What Is Digital Commerce?

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Is Ecommerce a Good Fit for Your Alcohol Brand?

Is it always a good idea to invest in your own D2C ecommerce store? Well, it depends. The U.S. is a complicated market in many ways, with the differing regulations between the states. It really comes down to what product you’re offering.

For those selling beer and wine, great news, an increasing number of states are loosening their restrictions around online sales. So if you are a wine or beer brand, you should consider building an online store for your products. There’s never been a hotter opportunity to get into an emerging sector of a market than now.

For some, though, if you are a distillery for example, you are more limited in what you can do. Here, the recommendation would be to focus on making sure that your products, your brand identity, and your brand story are accurately and well represented in retailers’ online stores.

For many distillers, this means that instead of investing in a robust ecommerce platform, other digitally-driven solutions may be better suited to help you systemize your online business. Technologies to look into here include Product Information Management (PIM), Digital Asset Management (DAM), and Customer Data Management solutions.

4 Important Alcohol Ecommerce Trends

At the core, buying alcohol online isn’t that different from other fast-moving consumer goods. And customers’ expectations related to the experience are very much the same for alcohol as for buying groceries or electronics. Here are 4 essential insights that alcohol brands should leverage:

1. People Prefer Digital Shopping

COVID-19 forced us all into a rapid digital adoption. But forced or not, during the past year, many have come to realize they actually prefer the convenience of picking out their wine from the couch, and most people have now fully embraced the new, digital way of doing things.

2. Personalization is key

When people start buying alcohol online, they’re already accustomed to highly personalized and seamless shopping experiences from purchasing other types of goods. So while the alcohol industry is relatively new to the digital scene, it’s essential to deliver the level of personalization and service that consumers have come to expect online elsewhere.

3. Ecommerce requires digital marketing strategies

Alcohol brands will need to reinvent their branding and marketing strategies and adapt to the digital way of selling. Before, most people bought wine and spirits in physical stores, but those days are history. This rapid transformation requires brands to innovate and evolve to stay relevant and visible.

4. First-party data will help you win

By adopting a digital-first mindset and building a solid infrastructure for collecting and leveraging first-party data, alcohol brands will be able to make giant growth leaps. This is a race where the most digital-savvy businesses will see great returns, and those who keep doing things the old way will risk being left hopelessly behind.

Related reading: First-Party Data Strategy – 2021 Trends

How Vaimo Can Help

If the past pandemic year has taught us anything, it’s that you cannot predict the future. To survive, you must be able to adapt to rapid changes, both in demand and in consumer behavior. A constantly changing environment requires constant learning and adaptation.

Brands that can build the right capabilities to adapt to a fast-changing environment will stand out, attract new customers, and out-pace the competition. As the dust of a new, post-COVID reality begins to settle, the organizations willing to experiment, research, and innovate will have far more opportunities in the year ahead than those that remained unwilling to change.

At Vaimo, we’re experts in digital commerce. As a full-service omnichannel partner, we can help you with every part of the process—from strategy, design, development, and managed services to brands, retailers, and manufacturers worldwide.

If you’re looking for a partner to guide you through this digital transformation journey and help you understand how to make the most of the new ecommerce landscape, we’re here for you.

We can help you build and finetune your ecommerce strategy, implement the technical changes required, and redesign and improve the digital customer experience and buying journey. Get in touch to talk to one of our experts.

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At Vaimo we help brands, retailers and manufacturers all over the world to drive success in digital commerce. Reach out to us if you want to hear more about how we can improve your customer experience strategy, go to market plan or explore how technology can enable success.