Liquor stores were thought of as having a crucial role in businesses to play during the global pandemic, hiking not only the rise of alcohol e-commerce, but setting off a domino effect of recent venture capital investments, M&A, and companies entering the public markets. In figures, The share of alcohol sales made online was just 1 percent in 2019, compared to groceries at 3.4 percent and 38 percent of apparel sales during the same time. However, the trend changed and at platforms like Vivino, an online wine marketplace, growth was more than 100 percent in 2020. According to an investor of Vivino, people were not drinking more, just shifting consumption to home and enjoying the convenience of home delivery while restaurants and bars were closed.
International Wine & Spirit Research now anticipates the total value of alcohol e-commerce across 10 global markets, including the U.S., to exceed $40 billion by 2024.
Although COVID-19 fueled a rise in e-commerce alcohol sales, venture capital investment dollars and deals into space were down across the board between 2019 and 2020 owing to poor e-commerce strategies. Alcohol companies are able to advertise online, but not everyone knows how to effectively develop online strategies, so there is still limited exposure as claimed by Zac Brandenberg, the CEO of DRINKS. While, Catharine Dockery, a founding partner at Vice Ventures, mentioned in an interview that her firm hasn’t been super active in the space in the past few months due to inflated company valuations.
Considering the first quarter of 2021, the alcohol e-commerce market saw some major company activity, including:
- Uber agreed to acquire alcohol marketplace Drizly;
- Vivino raised a $155 million Series D;
- Vintage Wine Estates, a wine, and spirits company and its merger with special purpose acquisition company Bespoke Capital Acquisition Corp.; and
- GoPuff, an instant delivery platform for everyday items, fresh off of its acquisition of alcoholic beverage seller BevMo, raised $1.15 billion in Series G funding.
Wine and spirits are a large market, and one that is heavily regulated in many places, but startups are creating opportunities in e-commerce, digital experience, and better logistics to change the industry. Moreover, the alcohol and spirits category was one of the last product categories to shift online despite being a more than $167 billion market and quite popular. Putting U.S. liquor stores in the essential business column enabled retailers, delivery platforms, and direct-to-consumer brands to expand the way they reached consumers, including by curbside, speedy delivery, and ship to home.