Retailers warned to sharpen online offerings

Retailers have been warned to invest heavily in their digital offerings as online could soon overtake the convenience channel as the easiest way for shoppers to buy beers, wines and spirits. 

The UK already has Europe’s largest online market for alcohol and is behind only China and Japan on a global basis, according to research from Profitero and Nielsen.

Twenty-one per cent of UK adults have purchased alcohol online, compared to a global average of 8%.

And that is only set to grow as the rise in services that offer same-day or even same-hour delivery means that consumers can buy drinks without leaving their sofas and enjoy them chilled within a short period
of time. 

Craig Greenberg, head of strategic planning and insight at William Grant & Sons, said: “Online is becoming a much more convenient prospect for people doing something the same night and this might actually make online into an impulse channel, where it’s faster, easier and more convenient to have something sent to you within the hour.”

Services such as Deliveroo now bring consumers chilled beer and wine to the beach or the park, while it was delivering chilled Veuve Clicquot to customers’ doors within 20 minutes of ordering in the run-up to Christmas 2016.

Spirits have lagged behind but are now catching up, and online sales grew 18% to £184 million in the year to March 2017 (IGD).

“Spirits are catching up quickly, and there is a similar increase in Google searches for spirits,” said Greenberg. “One of the reasons spirits might have lagged behind is that the way we consume alcohol is just not well matched to some of the constraints of the channel. 

“If you have to pick a three-day delivery window, or wait a few days before something arrives, it’s not the most effective if you are trying to take a bottle to a party that night. The shifting digital landscape makes it much more relevant for spirits.”

The rise in shopping for BWS online makes it imperative that retailers fine-tune their online offering to move with the times. “Ultimately, creating seamless bridging between online and offline experiences is key, because this is how consumers are shopping and this is what they expect,” said Greenberg. 

“If you don’t have the ability to offer this seamlessness, you are just going to lose the sale to a channel that does. The reality is that getting this right has massive potential. If you look at the growth of click and collect in the past few years, a recent study found that 65% of consumers actually make traditional purchases when they go in store to pick up what they have ordered. So making your digital offer razor sharp is key to being able to get those incremental sales and not lose them to other channels.”

Tesco has partnered with web service IFTTT to give customers the ability to set up conditional rules for their shop. For example, if the weather passes 27°C the service will send you a bottle of gin, some tonic and some ice. This sort of thing will be crucial to staying ahead of the game, according to Greenberg.

While bricks and mortar retailers sharpen their digital offering, online retailers are going in the opposite direction to achieve the seamless transition between online and offline. Online beer retailer Honest Brew is opening a store in London and founder Andrew Reeve said: “We are not the only online retailer making this move into a multichannel approach. It’s almost a brand store.”

He added: “The UK is so right for e-commerce. We are a small country, which is perfect for shipping, but we also have a very high population density so it makes e-commerce work really well. One of the reasons beer works so well is it has such a wide range. We have 500 beers which change rapidly, and that’s really suited to online as we can carry a large amount of stock and we are not constrained to how much we can fit into a store.” 

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