“Clicks and Mortar” is the fast growing retail theory of allowing your customers the choice between shopping in your store or shopping from their sofa. E-commerce has exploded in the retail beverage industry and should be an integral part of every retailer’s arsenal even if they have a thriving bricks-and-mortar storefront.
E-commerce wasn’t even a consideration 20 years ago for an alcohol beverage retailer. Wine-centric stores in the northeast were dabbling in web technology, but otherwise the dot-com boom simply didn’t translate to day-to-day operations. In 2016, however, e-commerce is a vital component of retail liquor sales. With modern day industry trends such as craft spirits and the whiskey boom, e-commerce sites allow consumers from all over the world to locate and purchase specialty brands that might not be available in their immediate residential area.
A dynamic e-commerce site is even more important for independent retailers. The big box chains offer everything from online discounts to delivery options (see Drizly and Thirstie ). It’s all about convenience for shoppers, and small, independent retailers need to make sure they are offering similar services, especially if they are encouraging their customers to “shop small.”
A large percentage of retail beverage customers still want the in-store shopping experience; people still want to see, touch and sample the products they’re shopping for. Furthermore, most of the items sold in a retail liquor store are last minute or impulse items, and retailers should always relish the chance to engage the customers to up-sell or cross-sell the merchandise. However, the popularity of smart phones has brought e-commerce into the in-store shopping experience. Any observer of consumer habits will quickly point out that shoppers are price checking from their mobile device. What better way to gain new business than to have a consumer find your website while in your competitor’s store doing a price check from their phone!
E-commerce sites allow small retailers with a specific demographic for their bricks-and-mortar store to expand their target audience with a variety of services aimed at the online consumer. Consider some hypothetical scenarios:
- Your wine selection needs an overhaul. To get the best pricing it requires a 10-20 case purchase of specific brands, but it’s unclear as to whether the inventory will move quickly enough given your current foot traffic. Online wine sales and a simple shipping program with FedEx or UPS allow retailers to supplement in-store sales and justify a larger initial inventory investment.
- A couple from Maryland visits Florida for Spring Break and takes a tour of St. Augustine Distillery and falls in love with their Rum (who can blame them, right?). Once back home, they want some more for their summer pool party but St. Augustine Rum is not yet distributed in Maryland. A Google search of Florida liquors stores that carry St. Augustine Rum will only be populated by those retailers with an E-commerce site.
- A bourbon savvy professional wants to share her knowledge of brown water and gift a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye to her fellow board members. Is a person with this type of knowledge and disposable income more likely to stop at multiple stores until she finds 7 bottles of a hard-to-find whiskey, or is she more likely to go online, make the purchase (with individual gift bags) and have them delivered to her office?
Each of these hypotheticals is easy for every retailer to imagine. More importantly, they are clear examples of blending a bricks-and-mortar storefront with an effective online presence.
E-commerce is here to stay. Since 2000, fully three-quarters of retail growth has occurred through online channels (PWC, 2015 Retail Trends). The alcohol beverage industry has yet to see that type of growth, but the market is no longer “untapped.” Instead of dismissing the technology, retailers should dismiss the doom and gloom rhetoric for bricks-and-mortar stores and embrace online channels and let them breathe new life into existing operations.
The evidence from the data and anecdotes is simple: Consumers now have multiple touch points with brands (online, mobile, and in-store) and use all of them to inform and influence their purchases. They don’t care to draw the dividing line — and neither should retailers.