Online wine purchases have surged over the past year, as wine purveyors across multiple channels have experienced unprecedented growth via direct-to-consumer sales. Will this trend continue? How will wine consumers be convinced to continue ordering online when it becomes easier to visit their local supermarket?
Ecommerce sales are surging for necessities like groceries as U.S. consumers continue to adjust to numerous state and local stay-at-home directives during the coronavirus crisis. For a lot of consumers, it appears wine is among the essentials they value.
Online wine marketplace Vivino and online retailers Wine.com Inc. and Benchmark Wine Group tell Digital Commerce 360 their U.S. sales are booming. And data shows a surge in online wine sales is industry-wide.
Vivino’s global sales grew about 300% year over year, making it the company’s second-best sales day ever after Black Friday 2019. For its U.S. sales, the increase was 220%.
At Wine.com (No. 259 in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), sales more than doubled in March compared with last year and are currently running at three-times last year’s pace, says CEO Rich Bergsund. He says the company is now shipping about 50,000 bottles—representing more than $1 million in sales—per day. The wine retailer, which ships from six warehouses across the country, has so far hired more than 300 people in six states to keep up with the increased demand, he says.
“New customers are trying us at five times our normal pace, and people are joining StewardShip—our annual free-shipping membership—at 10 times our normal pace,” Bergsund says. Also, consumers are currently downloading the Wine.com mobile app at five times the average pace and posting online ratings of their wine purchases at three times the usual pace, Bergsund says.
For Benchmark Wine, the first quarter of 2020 was the “best quarter in company history and at a higher margin,” compared with the first quarter of 2019, says David Parker, Benchmark’s CEO. He expects earnings to be roughly twice what they were for the same quarter in 2019 sales—despite lower sales to restaurants, many of which have shut down on-premises dining due to the pandemic.
According to data from research firms Nielsen and Rakuten Intelligence, online alcohol sales for the week ending March 21 were up 243% compared with the same period of a year ago. Total sales of alcoholic beverages (online and offline) for the period increased by 55% compared with the same period a year ago. The magnitude of the year-over-year increase in total alcohol sales was largest for spirits (up 75%), followed by wine (66%) and beer, flavored malt beverages (FMB) and hard cider (42%). Sales of beer (excluding FMB and hard cider) were up 34%.
“I suspect that the week ending March 21 will feature the strongest growth rates that we will see during this consumer pantry-loading time,” says Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol at Nielsen. “Data for the week ending March 28 will be very telling, and I think it will be a better indicator of the new normal in how consumers are responding to the crisis and their new normal, centered on the home.” Data for the week of March 28 is not yet available.
Wine continues to dominate online alcohol sales, with a 71% market share, according to Nielsen. However, spirits’ online growth (on a smaller base, at 20% share) was ahead of beer (9% share) and wine, and so gained four percentage points, compared with the latest 52-week trend, according to Nielsen. The data combines Nielsen’s online purchase data with Rakuten Intelligence’s consumer panel.
As wineries close their tasting rooms and sales to distributors are down amid restaurant closures, Benchmark’s Parker says it has been buying inventory from wineries and selling it online. Benchmark also has been working with struggling distributors and importers, buying wines that match its customers’ needs. All of this, he says, highlights the advantages of selling online nationwide.
Benchmark has been able to keep pace, even as it practices social distancing. All employees who can work from home—such as those in sales, marketing and accounting—are doing so, he says. Warehouse workers are practicing social distancing in the workplace and wearing gloves to minimize direct contact with the inventory.
Wine.com’s Bergsund says the retailer also has taken steps to keep workers safe. “Safety is our primary concern throughout this,” he says.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Wine.com has implemented CDC-recommended cleaning and social distancing protocols in all fulfillment centers and keeping in stock with cleaning and safety supplies, Bergsund says. Also, it has staffed additional hours of operation to avoid crowding. All office personnel, customer service representatives and live-chat sommeliers have been working remotely for the last several weeks, he says.
Online wine sales were booming even before the COVID-19 crisis boosted them to even higher levels. A January report from Rabobank, a global food and agribusiness bank, estimated that U.S. online sales reached $2.60 billion in 2019, growing 22% year over year. In a recent blog post, Rob McMillan, senior vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division, says he does not expect COVID-19 to hurt wine sales.
“Wine consumers won’t abstain from drinking because of a virus. Abstinence didn’t take place during Prohibition or during the Great Recession, and it won’t happen now,” McMillan wrote. “So you have plenty of consumers ready to buy your wine. The real question revolves around how you will reach the consumer in today’s economy.”
Please reach out to the BevCom Group today to discuss how you can take advantage of both direct-to-consumer shipping and extend your sales within traditional channels - we’ll work with you and grow your business beyond what you imagined was possible.