Ecommerce Marketing

Wine Ecommerce in 2018: How To Successfully Sell Wine Online (Includes Shipping Regulations by State)

/ 9 min read

Since the late ‘90s, wine sales in the U.S. have steadily increased. And according to research by the Wine Institute, the U.S. has been the highest consumer of wine in the world since 2014.

When you look at the stats below, it makes sense why this is the case:

wine ecommerce industry

But the sector of the wine industry with the largest growth is direct-to-consumer sales (D2C).

Whether you compare it to grocery stores, convenience stores, or independent wine shops, winery D2C shipping continues to be the leading retail channel.

Why is this the case?

According to the 2018 Direct-to-Consumer Wine Shipping Report, there are two primary reasons for this growth.

  1. The first is that not only are new states entering the world of legal wine shipping, but they’re also thriving right out of the gate. For example, Pennsylvania received its first direct shipping permits in August 2016. And in terms of shipment volume, it is now among the top 10 states in the U.S.
  2. The second reason is the growing ecommerce market. In 2017, online sales of beer, liquor, and wine increased by more than ⅓ year-over-year (YoY). Wine was the most popular kind of alcohol, accounting for 65% of those sales. Taking a look at ecommerce in general, Forrester reports that 17% of all retail sales will be conducted online in less than five years.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the latter factor — the increase of online wine sales — and how ecommerce merchants can take advantage of this expansion.

Wine Ecommerce is Growing Rapidly

Thanks to apps like Uber Eats, Postmates, and Instacart, today’s consumers can have nearly any food or drink delivered directly to their door.

But what consistently remains missing from the list of these available products is alcohol.

Now, considering the regulations they have to contend with, it’s understandable for the average wine retailer to be slower to adopt D2C sales.

However, this isn’t to say that only a handful of wine sellers are embracing ecommerce. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Last year, the volume of DtC wine shipments totaled 5.78 million, representing a 15.3% YoY increase. And the value of these shipments came in at an all-time high of $2.69 billion in 2017.

wine ecommerce growth

Clearly, there are plenty of brands who recognize the potential of wine ecommerce and have begun taking advantage of this selling channel.

One of the major benefits of selling online is the ability to reach a much broader audience.

Not only that, wine ecommerce can also help companies increase the loyalty of their existing customers.

Traditional advertising — for example, TV commercials, print ads, and on-site events — substantially limit the number of wine drinkers you can market to. For the most part, the only people you can reach are local consumers.

But digital marketing allows wine sellers to connect with potential customers all over the world.

Plus, ecommerce software enables wine merchants to capture data about wine consumers that they can use to create hyper-targeted, customized emails and ads across multiple online channels. And personalized marketing is much more likely to attract new customers than generic content.

Just as personalized marketing can bring in new customers, it can also encourage past customers to buy from you again.

Customer relationship management software, when integrated with an ecommerce platform, gives you the power to get a complete profile of every customer. And with this profile, you can offer product recommendations and exclusive discounts based on the specific bottles of wine that each customer has previously purchased.

These marketing strategies simply aren’t possible for brick-and-mortar wine retailers.

Do I Need a License to Sell Wine Online?

The required documentation to sell wine from an online store depends on the state in which you operate as well as the states to which you ship.

Below is a list of the most common forms you’ll need to complete as well as the licenses you’ll likely need to obtain:

  • Alcohol Dealer Registration. This form is used to record your business and tax information, dealer class, and subclass and must be filed and approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) prior to initiating online sales.
  • A winery license from your state.
  • A retailer’s license from your state. IMPORTANT: Just because you can sell locally doesn’t necessarily mean you can sell online.
  • A shipper’s license for each state to which you plan on shipping. This proves you are a licensed and authorized alcohol seller.
  • Direct shipping agreements with all of your carriers.

In the next section, we’ll take a more thorough look at what it takes to legally sell wine online.

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Which States Allow You to Buy and Sell Wine Online?

Navigating each state’s specific laws can be challenging.

Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding the shipment of wine, and some are more strict than others.

For example, in some states, only wineries are allowed to offer D2C shipping. But in other states, retailers can engage in DtC shipping, as well. Additionally, some states have limits on the quantity of alcohol that can be shipped.

To help make it easier, we put together the chart below which specifies which states allow or prohibit winery direct shipping and retailer direct shipping. It also lists volume limitations as well as any special rules about D2C shipping.

wine ecommerce winery direct shipping laws

wine ecommerce Out of State retailer shipping rights

(Source)

StateWinery Direct Shipping Permitted?Vol. LimitsNotesRetailer Shipping Permitted?
AlabamaN*N/AConsumers may order wines from out-of-state wineries but must obtain permission from the state liquor authority and have the wine sent to an ABC store for pickup and payment of taxes.N
AlaskaYN/ARetailer shipping permitted, except to dry communitiesY*
ArizonaYN/AN
ArkansasN*Up to (1) case/qtr.On-site exception: Consumers must visit the winery in person to have wine shipped to their home, up to 1 case per calendar quarter.N
CaliforniaYN/AReciprocal retailer shipping permittedY*
ColoradoYN/AN
ConnecticutYUp to (5) gal./(2) mos.N
DelawareY*N/AResidents may visit an out-of-state winery and bring or ship wine back to their homes. However, common carriers (FedEx, UPS) will not deliver to Delaware.N
District of ColumbiaYUp to (1) case/mo.Y
FloridaYN/AN
GeorgiaYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
HawaiiYUp to (6) cases/yr.N
IdahoYUp to (24) cases/yr.N
IllinoisYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
IndianaYUp to (24) cases/yr.N
IowaYN/AN
KansasYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
KentuckyY*N/AKentucky residents may have wine shipped to them from small wineries making ≤50,000 gal./yr. except in dry counties. However, common carriers (FedEx, UPS) will not deliver to Kentucky.N
LouisianaY*Up to (12) cases/yr.Wineries may ship wines that are not carried by a Louisiana distributorY
MaineYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
MarylandYUp to (18) cases/yr.N
MassachusettsY (as of Jan 2015)Up to (12) cases/yr.N
MichiganYN/AN
MinnesotaYUp to (2) cases/yr.N
MississippiNN/AN
MissouriYUp to (2) cases/mo.N
MontanaYUp to (18) cases/yr.N
NebraskaYUp to (1) case/mo.Y
NevadaYUp to (12) cases/yr.Y
New HampshireYUp to (12) cases/yr.Y
New JerseyY*Up to (12) cases/yr.New Jersey residents may have up to 12 cases of wine per year shipped to their home from small wineries making ≤250,000 gal./yr.N
New MexicoYUp to (2) cases/mo.Reciprocal retailer shipping permittedY*
New YorkYUp to (36) cases/yr.N
North CarolinaYUp to (2) cases/mo.N
North DakotaYN/AY
OhioY*Up to (24) cases/yr.Ohio residents may have up to 24 cases of wine per year shipped to their home from small wineries making ≤250,000 gal./yr.N
OklahomaY (as of Oct 2018)N/AN
OregonYUp to (2) cases/mo.Y
PennsylvaniaYUp to (36) cases/yr.N
Rhode IslandN*N/AOn-site exception: Rhode Island residents may visit an out-of-state winery and have wine shipped to them. However, it is illegal for a common carrier (FedEx, UPS) to deliver wine in Rhode Island to anyone who does not have a valid wholesaler license.N
South CarolinaYUp to (2) cases/mo.N
South DakotaY (as of Jan 2016)Up to (12) cases/yr.N
TennesseeYUp to (3) cases/yr.N
TexasYUp to (4) cases/yr.N
UtahNN/AN
VermontYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
VirginiaYUp to (2) cases/mo.Y
WashingtonYN/AN
West VirginiaYUp to (2) cases/mo.Y
WisconsinYUp to (12) cases/yr.N
WyomingYUp to (2) cases/yr.Y

Can I Sell Wine Internationally?

Expanding your online sales to include the global wine market can be a great way to grow your business and increase your revenue flow.

However, there are a few things you need to consider before you go down that road:

wine ecommerce internationally

1. Confirm product shippability.

While you may know the package restrictions for your domestic shipments, when it comes to shipping overseas, weight and size limits will often vary by the destination.

And just as every state in the U.S. has its own restrictions, so does every country.

Therefore, you need to make sure you understand the exact shipping requirements for each country you want to ship to.

2. Prepare packages.

Your international shipments will go through multiple processing centers as well as travel in several different types of vehicles.

This means you need to be extra careful about how you package your cross-border shipments in order to reduce the risk of damage.

3. Become familiar with customs documentation.

There are several different certifications and documents you must complete in order to export wine. The TTB website lists the following:

  • Certificate of Free Sale.
  • Certificate of Origin and/or Age.
  • Certificate of Health.
  • Certificate of Sanitation.
  • Certificate of Authenticity.
  • Sanitary Statement/Certificate.
  • Certificate of Manufacturing Process.

It’s the responsibility of the seller to confirm which of the above certificates are required for the country to which they want to import wine.

Selling wine internationally definitely represents a great opportunity for established businesses. But it’s important to know for sure whether or not the investment will justify the return.

What Shipping Carriers Can I Use To Ship Wine?

Unfortunately, not every carrier will ship alcohol, and others have a few requirements you must meet.

For example, you cannot ship alcohol via USPS, but you can ship wine, beer, and liquor using UPS and FedEx. Interestingly enough, the reason you can’t use USPS to ship alcohol is due to a 1909 law that is still in effect.

In order to ship wine with FedEx or UPS, you must do the following:

  1. Register an account.
  2. Sign an alcohol transportation contract (For FedEx, this is called a “FedEx Alcohol Shipping Agreement”, and for UPS it’s called a “UPS Agreement for Approved Wine Shippers”).
  3. Create your shipping label using the carrier’s electronic shipping solution or an approved third-party platform.
  4. Abide by the packaging requirements for wine.
  5. Choose the adult signature service option (I.e. An adult must be present to sign for the package).
  6. Affix an alcohol shipping label.
  7. And ship!

You can visit the UPS and FedEx websites to learn more about each carrier’s shipping requirements.

How to Incentivize Customers to Buy Wine Online

Engaging in wine ecommerce can offer a lot of benefits for sellers. But in order to reap those benefits, you need to convince customers to buy from you.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Allow customers to return online orders to your brick-and-mortar wine store.
  • Provide free or flat-rate shipping — whichever makes the most sense for your wine business.
  • Send loyal customers exclusive coupons and invites for early access to special online sales.
  • Email customers personalized recommendations for related products based on their past purchases.
  • Connect with customers on your social media accounts and ask for their feedback about products, sales, and your brand in general.
  • Encourage customers to place an online order for wine they’d previously bought at the store or tried in your tasting room by offering them a discount.
  • Create educational content about wine — for example, a how-to guide that helps novice wine drinkers choose between red wine and white wine or a blog a wine enthusiast can use to find similar wines they might like.

A quick note: the two things that tie all of these strategies together are data and research.

Collecting data about your audience and researching their specific wants and needs will help you make confident decisions about how to best attract and retain customers.

Examples of Wine Ecommerce Websites

When it comes to ecommerce, your homepage is your digital welcome mat. And for higher-end merchandise like wine, first impressions are especially important.

Because the culture and tradition of wine drinking has a unique influence on the decisions of wine buyers. And wine drinkers have particular expectations about the merchants with whom they shop.

The first time a shopper visits your website, they don’t necessarily have to be blown away (although that would certainly be beneficial).

But they shouldn’t be completely unimpressed, either. And they absolutely cannot be disappointed or irritated by an unaesthetic design or non-user-friendly navigation.

Your wine ecommerce website should tell the story of your brand and invite customers to become part of your community.

The design of your site should demonstrate your commitment to providing an exceptional shopping experience for every shopper — from wine novices to wine connoisseurs to non-wine drinkers shopping for a gift.

There should be no barriers between the customer and what they’re looking for.

For a little inspiration, here are three wine ecommerce websites built with the customer experience in mind.

1. Crown Wine & Spirits.

Crown Wine & Spirits

Originally a small corner liquor store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Crown Wine & Spirits has been selling alcoholic beverages for over 60 years.

Rather than jumping straight into a pitch, the header image on Crown Wine & Spirits’ website promotes the company’s wine tasting events. This shows they’re interested in connecting with their audience, not just pushing for a sales transaction.

Both the navigation menu and the homepage tiles are segmented by the most popular product categories. First-time visitors and returning customers can locate their desired item(s) quickly, without having to wander around the site.

2. Marquis Wine Cellars.

Marquis Wine Cellars

Vancouver-based Marquis Wine Cellars offers a wide selection of both inexpensive and premium wines.

Its website is bright, colorful, and inviting. And its customer service number is featured prominently at the top of the page.

The number is also click-to-call, so visitors to the mobile site can get in touch with just a tap. And although a relatively new addition to the site, Marquis’ blog features personal anecdotes from founder John Clerides, helping to give the site an even friendlier feel.

3. Estate Wine Brokers.

Estate Wine Brokers

Estate Wine Brokers shares the same hometown as both BigCommerce and ShipStation — Austin, Texas.

Its mission is to help wine enthusiasts navigate the secondary market for wine and support them as they collect, sell, and trade fine and rare wines.

Estate Wine Brokers’ website offers visitors several different helpful resources, including guides about investing in wine as well as collecting wine.

Its blog also has information about the wineries that produced the wine it sells and interesting facts and statistics about its extensive wine collection.

FAQs About Selling Wine Online

Can I sell wine on eBay?

Yes, but only if you’re an eBay-approved wine seller.

In order to become a licensed wine seller on eBay, you must first upload a copy of your alcohol license.

You must also abide by all requirements listed on eBay’s guidelines for selling wine.

Once approved, you must include the following in each listing:

  • A link to eBay’s Alcohol policy
  • Your shipping policy, including which states you can ship to as well as any shipment restrictions
  • Your state’s buyer eligibility requirements — e.g., whether or not buyers can receive shipments directly or have to pick up their order elsewhere
  • The buyer’s age requirement
  • Indication you have been approved by eBay to sell wine

Can I sell wine on Amazon?

As of December 31, 2017, Amazon no longer allows wine sales on the Amazon marketplace.

Is it legal to sell wine online?

Yes, as long as you abide by the laws in the state from which you’re shipping as well as the state(s) to which you’re shipping.

Every state has its own laws about selling wine online, including which certifications and licenses it requires as well as the maximum volume that can be shipped.

Note: just because you can sell locally does not mean you can sell online.

Can I sell alcohol online in Canada?

Yes, but only in certain provinces.

Similar to the policies for selling wine online in the U.S., every Canadian province has specific laws regarding which types of businesses can sell directly to consumers as well as the maximum volume that can be shipped.

It is your responsibility to ensure you abide by all regulations imposed by the province from which you’re shipping as well as the province to which you’re shipping.

WineLaw.ca is a regularly-updated source on selling wine in Canada.

Can you dropship wine?

Yes, you can dropship wine.

However, before dropshipping, make sure you are licensed to sell wine. Otherwise this is illegal.

Can I sell other types of alcohol online?

Yes, as long as you abide by the laws in the state from which you’re shipping as well as the state(s) to which you’re shipping.

Every state has its own laws about selling alcohol online, including which certifications and licenses it requires as well as which types of alcohol can be sold and the maximum volume that can be shipped.

Note: just because you can sell locally does not mean you can sell online.

What’s the best way to start a wine ecommerce website?

If you’re starting from scratch, your first step is to identify your target audience. Then, like any ecommerce business, you’ll need to determine which types of merchandise you’ll sell.

From there, you need to connect with a wholesaler.

Once you’ve built your website, select an online shopping cart and payment processing provider.

Next, decide how you’ll distribute your products and if it makes sense to invest in an online shipping software.

If you already have a brick-and-mortar location, then you only need to worry about building a user-friendly site, setting up an online shopping cart and payment system, and developing an efficient shipping process.

Executive Summary

Selling wine online can be a lucrative endeavor.

But your wine ecommerce ventures can only be successful if you know how to proceed sensibly, cost-effectively, and (most importantly) legally.

There is no one-size-fits-all option for selling wine online. Because every part of the process is awash with variables.

Not to mention the fact alcohol is one of the most highly regulated goods on the planet.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t break into the wine ecommerce game.

You just need to perform thorough research and take advantage of the advice in this guide.

Then you’ll be able to confidently navigate the (somewhat) complex world of wine ecommerce.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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