People have been brewing, fermenting, and producing alcoholic beverages for about 9,000 years. Ever since then, brewers and distillers have gotten creative with how a good drink can be made. There are now thousands of drink flavors throughout the world, including many wine names and wine varietals.
If you want to share your own delicious creations with the world, selling alcohol online is a viable business model. Selling liquor online as a B2B business or direct to consumer gives you the freedom to sell your own products while having the financial limits of traditional businesses.
You can sell beer online, sell whiskey online, and sell wine online with the right tools and entrepreneurial knowledge. As your business grows, consider adding other products to your catalog. Selling coffee online is a great pair to selling cookies online, which people love to eat together.
You can build a successful eCommerce business around your favorite brews with critical know-how and the right licensing. Let’s dive right in.
Can You Sell Alcohol Online?
It’s no surprise that alcoholic beverages are age-restricted, so your business needs to provide relevant paperwork to the government. eCommerce-related laws will differ based on the state you live in.
Some states simply want to see that you’re a licensed business owner. Other local governments impose stricter regulations. Referring to your state’s revenue office will provide all details your type of business needs to be mindful of.
Laws for Selling Alcohol Online
In order to sell alcohol online legally, you need relevant licensure. The government requires business owners to complete this paperwork to track sales properly and protect them against unnecessary consumer litigation. You’ll need to follow your state’s delivery laws for selling alcohol online even after your licensing arrives.
Here are the most common forms of licensing your eCommerce alcohol business needs:
- A manufacturer’s license. Having an alcohol manufacturer’s license means you’re legally permitted to produce your own alcoholic beverages. Most states allow individuals to create their own drinks for private consumption, but you need a license to sell commercially. This paperwork is also used to track which manufacturer different sellers and distributors work with.
- An employer identification number (EIN) or federal tax ID (FTID). EINs are required to open business bank accounts, hire employees, track taxes, and complete business paperwork. It’s often the first document you must obtain as a business owner because everything is tied back to it.
- An eCommerce business license. Your eCommerce license shows the government that you’re permitted to do business online. Individual state laws vary as some states don’t require licensing until your business reaches a specified revenue level. The main purpose of an eCommerce business license is to clarify the primary sales tax channel of your company.
- A shipping license. States require eCommerce shipping licenses to track which businesses are selling products into other states. It assists sales tax reporting and also ensures each business that wants to ship products to other states is allowed to do so. Make sure the eCommerce packaging you use is sufficient for glass or aluminum, too.
- A retail license. Depending on how your business is structured, you may or may not need a retail license. This is usually only necessary for selling alcoholic beverages at stores and retail outlets. If your online business is paired with a physical storefront, you’ll need to apply for a retail license. Review your state’s commerce requirements for all licensing details.
Do I Need A Premises Licence to Sell Alcohol Online?
Wondering whether or not you need a premises license to sell alcohol online is a valid question. The answer is, it depends. It helps to have a basic understanding of what a premises license is before you research whether or not you need one.
A premises license is a legal document describing the nature in which a business can sell alcohol to consumers. If a business holds an on-premise license, this means alcohol can be sold to customers who will consume it on the business’s property. A company holding an off-premise license means they’re selling alcohol to customers who won’t consume it on the business’s property.
It’s important to research premise licensing for your type of establishment. If your eCommerce alcohol business is coupled with a brick-and-mortar location where customers can drink, you will need a premises license. If you sell alcohol strictly through the Internet, you likely won’t need a premises license.
State and federal laws differ when it comes to premise licensing. Some states allow any licensed business to ship directly to 21+ consumers; other states have more stringent requirements. Refer to your state’s revenue or tax office for all of the details your business will need.
How to Sell Alcohol Online
Whether you’ve tried your hand at eCommerce before or this is your first time setting up an online business, you need foundational skills. If you’re wondering, “Where do bars buy liquor?” or how physical businesses go about getting their goods, it’s almost always online. More than 75% of all B2B sales happen via the Internet, and for good reason (see what is B2B sales).
Modern consumers, including other businesses, have come to expect convenience, speed, and customizability from the brands they buy from. It’s no longer enough to have a simple website with an order form and your contact information. You need to cultivate a noticeable brand that sells knockout products to target customers.
Here are the essentials of how to sell alcohol online:
Get Your Website Created
A website is the first building block of any eCommerce venture. It’s where your customers go to learn about your business, products, content, branding, alcohol pricing, and contact information.
Your website needs to look professional, load quickly, provide simple navigation, and be mobile-responsive. All of these factors are responsible for customer experience, which is a key component in buyers’ decision making.
You can get a website set up with a hosting service, your preferred content management system (CMS), and some free time. Some hosting companies will install your website for you for a small fee.
As your sales grow in number, invest in eCommerce software tools that will demystify data and simplify important decisions. You don’t need every tool in the world to have a profitable business, but software relevant to your business saves you hours each month.
If you’re still considering options for a website, here are some of the best B2B eCommerce platforms:
- BlueCart eCommerce
- Headless eCommerce platforms like Shopify
- Dedicated resellers
- Auction houses (CellarBid, Bonhams, Hart Davis Hart, etc.)
Nurture An Authentic Brand
The competition among alcoholic beverages is stiff. If your brand isn’t one customers feel an instant connection with, it will be challenging to gain traction.
Branding takes time to perfect, but much of it is visual. The human mind processes visual information much faster than written or auditory information, which is why graphic design is so important.
Set aside time to think about how you want to come across to customers. Are your products trendy, raw, and youthful? Or, are they refined, elegant, and stately? Neither kind of product is wrong--you just need to match the visuals of your product to its personality.
Develop a Marketing Plan
Needless to say, every online business needs an eCommerce marketing strategy. Gone are the days of setting up your website and hoping people click on it.
Even with great moves like eCommerce SEO, eCommerce PPC, and eCommerce content marketing, you still need a detailed roadmap to reach customers. Otherwise, you will be unnoticeable in the sea that is today’s Internet.
Leveraging both your finances and resources well is a critical part of eCommerce marketing. You could have $10,000 to drop on ads and promotions, but if they aren’t executed well, that money will have gone to waste.
Instead, start small. Using what you have, educate yourself on the necessary components of any ad or content campaign. Then create a single campaign or a few pieces of content, and see what works. Repeat more of what works over time, and you will be on the path to success.
Establish Business Relationships
Successful businesses are run by people who understand the significance of developing mutual relationships. As a new business owner, you can get further by having compelling reasons for other people to work with you.
If you make your own alcoholic drinks and want them to be sold in stores, you should research how to find wholesalers. Selling your manufactured beverages to distributors or retailers creates an entire new revenue stream solely from wholesale sales. Discover all the details you need about this business channel in our wholesale management guide.
Make Customers a Top Priority
Your customers should always be your top priority in regards to public-facing obligations. Shoppers can sense when a company is going the extra mile to give them a great experience. This makes them more likely to make a purchase and recommend you to their friends.
Customers are more likely to be loyal if you offer the following:
- A smooth shopping experience
- Great customer service and shipping policy
- Relevant products, each with a packing slip
- Bulk order discounts
- Efficient order processing
- Subscribe and save option (like BlueCart’s subscription boxes)
- RMA form (return merchandise authorization)
- Quality, original content
Where Can I Sell Alcohol Online?
Thanks to current eCommerce growth trends and the number of tools available, there are numerous ways and places to sell alcohol online. While you can expand your operations over time, it’s wise to start selling through a channel that positions you for success.
Each business owner has different goals and different customers. If you make your own drinks or have a strong, DIY vibe, using your own website is a great move. If you’re a reseller of an established brand, using an existing eCommerce marketplace could be your best move.
Here are some popular online marketplaces for selling alcohol online:
- eCommerce Marketplace
- BlueCart eCommerce
- The Drink Shop
- The Whiskey Exchange
- Wine Insiders
You Had Me At Merlot
Once you have a great product list, the right digital tools, and a marketing campaign underway, running your own business becomes a thrill. You can make beverage recipes, sell your goods to retailers, resell other companies’ products, and more.
Selling food online offers the opportunity to do what you love and make a great living at it. And who knows, you may be selling baked goods online or learning how to sell products online as your business expands. Continue putting customers and their needs first and you’ll have a thriving eCommerce business.
Disclaimer: This information does not function or serve as a replacement to legal reference materials. It is intended for educational or informational purposes for personal use only. Conduct your own research or consult with a lawyer to make sure your business is in full compliance with every federal, state, and local law.