So, you want to start selling alcohol online? That’s the spirit! It’s a wise business move after all, with US online alcohol sales reaching $2.6bn in 2019, and the US consuming more wine than any other country in the world since 2014.
However, you should know that starting an alcohol ecommerce business – or as we like to call it, an al-commerce business – involves some important legal steps that you can’t afford to skip.
But don’t panic. As always, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick preview of what’s to come…
Our 7 Steps to Selling Alcohol Online:
- Obtain the licences
- Find your niche
- Source a supplier
- Create your brand
- Build an online store
- Sort out shipping
- Market your products
As you can see, this article will cover everything you need to know about selling alcohol online, from understanding your local laws to marketing your products. We’ll also be uncorking some tasty tips to help your business make a splash online.
The most important step of all, you’ll need to get the proper licenses before you can start selling alcohol online. This can be done by visiting the TTB.gov website and following these steps:
Step 1: Visit the state alcohol control boards on the TTB.gov website
Step 2: Apply for a winery, brewery, or distillery licence from your state
Step 3: Apply for a Shipper’s Licence and ensure it enables you to sell online
Step 4: Enquire about an Importer’s Basic Permit if you want to import from overseas
It may take some time for the governing bodies to approve your applications, so make sure you get your applications done before you start building websites, designing logos, and calling alcohol suppliers. However, once you’re licensed and almost ready to sell, the fun stuff can begin!
Research your local state laws on shipping alcohol. For example, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah strictly prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers, so you might as well forget about selling online to those citizens. Sorry, folks!
The online alcohol industry is booming. In 2018, US ecommerce sales of wine reached $8bn, while worldwide ecommerce sales of liquor reached $6.5bn.
You’ll need to find your niche in order to get your business found more easily online. That’s particularly true if you’re from New Hampshire, the state with the highest alcohol consumption per capita.
Whether you want to sell whacky-tasting whisky or avant-garde vino, selling a niche product could be a risk that pays off – literally.
You don’t always need to go down the unique-selling-point route, though. Finding your niche might involve deciding whether to sell wine, gin, brandy, or beer – or all of them together! If you’re moving your brick-and-mortar shop online, then why not consider adding a greater variety of alcohol to your online shelves?
Do some competitor research to see which types of alcohol your would-be competitors are selling – or better yet, aren’t selling – and work from there to find your market niche.
Unless you’re brewing beer and growing grapes by yourself, you’ll need an alcohol wholesale supplier to ensure your online store never runs dry. These suppliers can produce and distribute alcohol for you (if you don’t want to organize your own shipping carrier), taking the hassle out of the logistical side to selling alcohol online.
Think of these suppliers as web developers – they keep everything running smoothly in the backend, and make improvements that aren’t physically seen by customers. In this scenario, you, the vendor, are more like a web designer focused on building your brand and fostering a positive user experience.
Some of the best alcohol suppliers in the US include:
- Southern Wine & Spirits of California
- Empire Merchants North LLC
- Henry Wine Group
- Youngs Market Company
- A. Hardy USA
To strike up a supplier relationship, you’ll normally need to upload your alcohol licences to the website and follow the respective steps to becoming a partner.
Some suppliers will specialize in producing different types of alcohol. If you’re looking to sell wine online, then use one of the California-based suppliers. That’s the wine country, after all!
When it comes to selling alcohol online, there’s a lot of stiff competition. You need your business to cut through the noise, and learning how to build your brand online will help you do so. But what does it take to build a brand identity?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when building a brand. More than just a logo, a brand represents the values that your business stands for, and is unique to each business. When building your alcohol brand, there are three steps that you don’t want to neglect:
- Develop brand values
Developing brand values will help customers to understand your business better, and if they can relate to your values, encourage them to purchase from you over the competition. For example, does your alcohol brand stand for environmental issues? Or do you value humor and puns as the best marketing policy?
- Design a killer logo
In the eyes of the consumer, a shoddy logo represents a shoddy business. Your logo is how customers will recognize your brand online, so you can’t afford to skimp on it! We’d recommend hiring a graphic designer, or using the affordable freelance site, Fiverr, if you’d like to save a bit of cash.
- Inspire trust
According to the 2019 Edelman Brand Trust Report, trust is almost as important to consumers as product quality and value, with 81% of respondents saying they ‘must be able to trust the brand’. This survey also found that if a brand displayed unethical behaviour, 40% of consumers would never use that brand again.
It takes more than just a fresh logo to inspire trust – you’ll need to respond to negative consumer reviews, be transparent on pricing, and stick to your word when it comes to things like delivery times and product quality. Inspiring trust will keep your customers happy, and coming back for more!
Color consistency is key. When designing your website, labels, or logo, you should ideally stick to using one primary color and a complimentary secondary color.
Whether you’re starting your business from scratch or moving your high-street store to the online market, you’ll need to build an online store. When it comes to building your website, you’ve got two options to choose from:
- An ecommerce website builder such as Shopify, Wix, or Square Online
- WordPress combined with an ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce
No matter which one you select, we can help you get started, covering all the major bases when learning how to build an online store. Below, we’ll dive a bit deeper into each of the options on offer.
Using an ecommerce builder
Ecommerce website builders are perfect for tech beginners, providing intuitive design tools, beautiful templates, and customer support, all in one place. Website builders come with fixed monthly pricing, which makes calculating the cost of building your website much easier.
When it comes to selling alcohol online, our favorites are Shopify, Wix, and Square Online. Each comes with a great set of features to help make your selling dreams a reality.
Best all-around ecommerce builder for businesses selling less than 10 products
Why do we like it?
- A good variety of templates specially designed for selling food and drink online
- Sell across Facebook and Instagram
- Easy to use, and the platform our users were most likely to recommend after Shopify
- Offer delivery to your customers’ doorsteps or curbside pick-up
- Set up subscriptions – ideal for starting a wine or beer club!
- Ability to add a blog to your store
- Build an online store for $28 per month
Who do we recommend it for?
- Sellers with an inventory of less than 10 items
- Those who want to add a blog to their store
- Beginners who aren’t familiar with building a website
Best if you have a large store and want a deeper insight into your data and product performance
Why do we like it?
- Purpose-built ecommerce solution – in our research, it came out on top for sales features
- Impressive inventory features capable of supporting large numbers of stock
- Create collections to split your alcohol products into different categories
- Excellent data features, giving store owners a deep insight into their performance
- The platform our users were most likely to recommend
- Build an online store for $29 per month
Who do we recommend it for?
- Sellers with a bigger inventory of products
- Those who want lots of ways to present their products e.g. in collections
- Sellers who don’t need a blog as part of their store
- Users who are somewhat familiar with building a website, or willing to invest time in learning to navigate Shopify’s interface
Best for selling in-person and online, without spending a cent
Why do we like it?
- Perfect for smaller sellers who still want a powerful inventory
- Square’s partnership with DoorDash means you can offer on-delivery for your customers
- Add age verification pop-ups when selling alcohol
- Take payments online and in-person, syncing your inventory as you go
- Rated the best value for money in our research
- Build an online store without spending a single cent thanks to Square’s free plan
Who do we recommend it for?
- Businesses with a smaller inventory
- Sellers who want to begin selling without paying a monthly fee
- Those who want to sell in-person and online
- Sellers who want to offer on-demand delivery
Using WordPress with an ecommerce plugin
Whereas an ecommerce builder sets some creative boundaries through its templates, WordPress – when equipped with its top ecommerce plugin, WooCommerce – offers unlimited creative freedom, but only if you know how to code. WooCommerce is less of a ‘ready-out-of-the-box’ solution than a website builder, but it does enable you to create a truly bespoke online store.
WooCommerce is known as an open source software – it’s free to install, but you’ll need to find and pay for your own web hosting, security, and website themes. That’s really simple to do, however.
If you like the sound of WordPress and WooCommerce, then you’ll need to find a hosting provider. WordPress itself recommends Bluehost as the best option, and we totally agree. It comes with WooCommerce-specific price plans to make your life much easier, and it boasts a brilliant server uptime to ensure your alcohol website never has any performance hiccups.
Do you wish someone would just tell you exactly which online store builder you should use? You’re in luck! Our quick and easy quiz gives you a personalized recommendation, so you’ll know exactly which one is best for your needs. Click below to get started…
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Ask friends, family, and colleagues to test your website before you publish it. That way, you’ll gain an outsider’s perspective on how your website looks and feels, which should help you create the perfect experience for your future customers.
Your website, logo, and products are ready to go, with your licence taking pride of place at the center of your online store. But how can your customers go from clicking to sipping? The answer: shipping!
In the US, you can ship all types of alcohol via UPS and FedEx. To begin your shipping journey with either of these two shipping carriers, you must complete the following steps:
- Register an account
- Sign either the ‘FedEx Shipping Agreement’ or ‘UPS Agreement for Approved Wine and Alcoholic Beverage Shippers’
- Create your own shipping label, using the carrier’s own tool or a third party label designer
- Abide by the packaging requirements for your specific type of alcoholic beverage
- Select the adult signature service (because an adult must sign for the deliveries)
- Stick on your shipping labels to your products
What about USPS? Well, due to an old law from 1909, the USPS isn’t legally allowed to deliver alcohol!
Top Tip!Make sure you check the shipping regulations in your state or the states you’re planning to sell your products in. Some states prohibit the shipping of alcohol regardless of which delivery company you use. Luckily, ecommerce builders like Shopify allow you to set shipping exclusions so you can filter these states out to prevent any accidental orders!
If you choose to build your ecommerce store with Shopify, Wix, or Square Online, you’ll find plenty of shipping solutions to get your products on their way. Alongside the normal providers mentioned above, you can also offer curbside and in-store pickup. In fact, Square has recently partnered with DoorDash, allowing customers to place their order and have it delivered via a DoorDash delivery driver in minutes.
Offer free shipping to help turn website visitors into regular customers – as many as 79% of US consumers said that free shipping would make them more likely to shop online.
You now know how to sell alcohol online, but the hard work doesn’t stop here. Yes, you can now deliver your beautiful brand to doorsteps around the world, but you need to promote your website and get your business out there before you can start earning serious money. In order to reach new customers and increase sales, you must nail your digital marketing.
First of all, you should connect your online store to social media. This feature is offered on both Shopify, Wix, and Square Online, and enables social network users to click one button and jump straight to your online store.
Shopify is soon releasing the ‘Facebook Shops’ feature, which means Shopify will generate a Facebook store for you and seamlessly connect your Shopify inventory to a new Facebook storefront that looks stunning and creates a lovely shopping experience.
You can also set up a separate Facebook store. This means users can purchase your products directly from Facebook. Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth has over 2.6 billion active users? Think of all those untapped customers!
You should also compile a mailing list, so you can keep your brand fresh in the minds of consumers by sending regular newsletters and discount codes. Emails are like gold dust for digital marketers, so to start compiling your list, you could ask users to enter their email addresses in exchange for discounts, newsletters, or competition entries (if that’s how your alcohol delivery subscription service works).
Don’t forget to take your marketing efforts offline and visit any relevant roadshows or expos, such as the Big Apple Zinfandel Experience, the International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show in San Francisco, or the Digital Food and Beverage event on ecommerce.
Spend some time flicking through alcoholic beverage trade calendars, such as 10times, and see which events would offer the most reward for your business.
Add a promotional video to your website to keep your visitors engaged with your brand – users spend 88% more time on websites that feature a video than those without.
Selling alcohol online is like creating the perfect cocktail. Our steps are the ingredients, and your brand is the cocktail – you need to mix together all the components from the ingredients list in order to achieve delicious success. If you don’t follow each of our steps, then you’ll likely end up with unsavoury profit margins. With that in mind, let’s recap our steps.
How to Sell Alcohol Online In 7 Steps:
- Obtain the licences – visit TTB.gov and apply for your alcohol selling licence
- Find your niche – conduct competitor research to figure out which type of alcohol you’d like to sell
- Source a supplier – find a wholesale alcohol supplier that can keep your inventory from running out
- Create your brand – develop brand values and create a logo that inspire trust
- Build an online store – use WordPress or a website builder to create an online presence, depending on your skill level
- Sort out shipping – register with UPS or FedEx to get your products delivered around the country
- Market your products – connect your website to social media and collect customer emails to help your business grow
Congratulations! You’re now ready to build your al-commerce empire. That deserves a toast. Anyway, we know that learning how to sell alcohol online can cause headaches if you don’t know where to begin – but with our seven steps, we’ve got just the tonic. Cheers!