It’s fair to say that alcohol ecommerce trends benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic. With people being asked to shelter at home and bars and restaurants closed indefinitely, inquiries on where to purchase alcohol online soared. Online alcohol sales increased by 42% in 2020 in 10 core markets, including Australia, China, and the U.S., as people tried to cope and celebrate key holidays indoors.
As vaccines become more readily available and we develop more solutions to treat different variants, customers will inevitably return to stores and their favorite watering holes again. However, the growth of ecommerce alcohol sales is still predicted to continue in 2023.
According to ISWR, global e-commerce sales are expected to grow 34% from 2021 to 2026, making this beverage sector worth watching. Whether you already sell alcohol online or are making a foray into ecommerce for the first time, here are five trends to take note of when planning your strategy for 2023 and beyond.
1. Customers are looking for variety
While it's true that consumers tend to stick with familiar flavors, mezcal, followed by soju and espresso martinis, were three of the most searched-for alcoholic drinks in 2022. Similar in taste to tequila, mezcal has more of a smoky flavor but is a much more versatile spirit. Since it can be made from over 30 varieties of agave, mezcal can have floral, fruity, or earthy notes depending on the drinker’s preference and is less of an acquired taste.
While soju has been popular in Korea for centuries, it’s gaining popularity worldwide for its similar taste to vodka. It has a very clean taste and many different fruit-flavored options. This is also a great option for those new to alcohol and who prefer something sweeter in flavor.
The espresso martini made quite a comeback in 2022. Popularized in the ‘90s as the go to choice for happy hours, this aesthetic drink has dominated TikTok videos with its blend of vodka, coffee liqueur, and a generous shot of espresso for a cocktail designed to keep you energized through the night hours.
Having distinct and multiple flavor options keeps things a little adventurous and give customers the freedom to choose. For example, White Claw sales rose 275% in 2020 with the continuous addition of new flavors.
In turn, tequila’s distinct añejo, blanco, and reposado variations give consumers a different taste to what they’re familiar with, while also bringing adventurous drinkers to the table who are more willing to try different variations of tequila.
Are there potential positives and negatives to these alcohol ecommerce trends? Will tequila solidify its position or go downhill from here?
- The positive potential for hard seltzer is that as consumers become more health-conscious, seltzers will meet expectations and reflect consumer trends by becoming the healthier drink option
- The negative is the outlook of agave supply in areas of tequila production. Even though over the next five years, Mexico is projected to generate the greatest incremental value in online alcohol sales, if tequila production continues to grow, we could see an increase in the pricing and rarity of certain brands.
Improving and adjusting to new ways to present tequila and seltzer such as ready-to-drink cocktail options, and creating tasty, healthy familiar flavors will prove who is going to thrive in this sub-category of ecommerce alcohol.
2. Staying cozy at home
As we move into 2023, we already know some post-pandemic alcohol ecommerce trends will persist.
Consumers are still less likely to shop in grocery and liquor stores. With continued coronavirus safety concerns, social drinking could still be off the table for consumers who aren’t comfortable interacting in close proximity.
In an NPR podcast, Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert, highlights one of the most determining risks of transmission:
The single greatest risk factor we have for transmitting this virus is largely indoor air where we're in large crowds where we are sharing that air with the people right around us.
Even though we will see more people rejoining the long-lost bar lifestyle, these new ecommerce consumer behaviors will continue to persist.
Leveraging data, adjusting to the volume thresholds, focusing on consumer favorites, as well as creating and leveraging omnichannel buying are just some of the ways to stay on top of this evolving online alcohol marketplace.
3. Technological transformation drives the industry
Convenience is huge, and staying on top of the ecommerce industry in the years to come will require bigger strides in seamless technology and customization for vendors and users alike.
Drizly’s chief executive put it best when he said:
In 2020, ecommerce and general technology adoption went from a progressive strategy to a business necessity.
Properly adapting to technological changes and building more seamless relationships is becoming more and more of a necessity to stand out. Here are a couple of stats that I’ll throw your way:
- 76% say convenience is their key priority in selecting a retailer, and nine in ten will prioritize using a retail site that offers a seamless experience.
- 81% of shoppers are looking for a frictionless, cross-device ecommerce experience. Guest checkout and storing shipping details are at the top of shoppers' convenience checklists.
Bigger corporations are starting to take note and heavily invest in this sectorーeven Uber jumped into the game and acquired Drizly, an online platform where you can order alcohol and get it delivered in under 60 minutes.
Those who use the latest technologies—think headless commerce, personalization, and data analytics—to connect the dots between platform development, marketing, and new products, will put themselves at a significant advantage.
4. New connections are formed on all fronts
Similar to forming connections with local vendors and specific types of comfort foods, in 2022, customers grew closer to certain alcohol brands, vendors, and specific types of alcoholic beverages that helped them to get through the past year.
Let’s look at some strong social influences on the alcohol ecommerce market and how they will shape the future and solidify connections between vendors and consumers within this sector.
Wait—we can buy alcohol online?
According to IWSR, nearly half (44%) of American e-shoppers began buying their booze online this year. Another quote by Cory Rellas (CEO of Drizly) highlights that most people didn't know they could purchase alcohol like this.
The most significant difference in ecommerce for 2020 was simply the increase of consumer awareness as to the ability of buying alcohol online.
Supermarkets and their influence on alcohol ecommerce sales
Although Drizly remains a big player in the market, we will see grocers like Kroger, Amazon Fresh, and Walmart dominate this sector due to convenience, popularity, and consumer familiarity.
Nearly half of all online alcohol consumers have purchased something from an online grocery website or application compared to a third who have ordered from an immediate delivery service such as Drizly or Minibar.
As I mentioned earlier, this past year has helped to form connections between vendors and consumers. People want to buy from someone who can deliver unique experiences to them.
Brands should be doubling down on tastings, new flavors, new ways to present their product, classes, etc., to stand out and connect with those who want to become more familiar with what they’re drinking and who is behind the brand.
The power of the influencer
Influencer marketing will continue to play a huge role in improving overall brand recognition. Even companies with teams dedicated to driving traffic to their ecommerce site will take advantage of influencer marketing.
Collaborating with influencers allows your business to reach outside the box and connect with customers familiar with the influencer to build trust within your brand.
Brands will leverage TikTok as a point of discovery for unique cocktails
After a clip of Emma D’Arcy’s smoky voice stating that their favorite drink was a negroni sbagliato with a hint of prosecco, curious social media users tried to replicate the drink themselves and offer their thoughts on their unique beverage of choice.
Seeing this viral TikTok clip's cultural impact on social media, brands will think of ways to engage their audience and educate them with lesser-known but surprisingly delightful drink combinations.
5. Consumer consciousness
Appealing to customer values is key in retaining them long-term. Focusing on dietary options and unique, eco-friendly packaging can help your business connect with your audience.
IWSR research also shows that emotional benefits, particularly sensorial attributes—such as refreshment, flavor, and lightness—are highly important to consumers.
On the other hand, beverage companies Diageo and Pernod Ricard are starting to launch spirits in paper-based bottles and using an rPET material for packaging. Consciousness and awareness of what brands present and do will continue to be a huge trend throughout 2023 and beyond. Caleb Bryant at Mintel suggests that:
Brands need to communicate to consumers why glass-alternative packaging is sustainable, as consumers are largely unaware of the advantages and disadvantages of different packaging materials.
Other innovative packaging companies like TopPop also store wine and cocktails in ready-to-drink and freeze pouches or sachets. This packaging is more sustainable in the long run since it reduces your carbon footprint by 80% compared to glass or aluminum packaging.
These trends, influenced by changes in customer wants and convenience from COVID-19, has sparked awareness through our connections to food and drinkーadaptation is key in standing out and showing what your business has to offer.
Related: The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook
Final Thoughts On Alcohol Ecommerce Trends
The future looks bright for beverage alcohol companies taking advantage of the ecommerce channel.
Understanding how to act on the above alcohol ecommerce trends will help your business, startup, or marketing team in their efforts to leverage this exciting new arena.
There’s certainly a lot of untapped potential with the opportunity to sell directly and through retailers (depending on location).
If you’re interested in going it alone, a good place to start is our guide to creating the perfect ecommerce business plan. If you’re already operating and wondering how to continue boosting sales, read this insightful gem by industry guru Colleen Romero.
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