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 vendors. 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 (return merchandise authorization form)
- 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
Delivery Laws for Selling Alcohol Online
Again, there are two sets of laws for selling alcohol online. One for selling it, and one for shipping it. In addition to having a retailer’s license for your own state, you’ll have to abide by every destination state’s shipping laws.
Here’s a list that briefly summarizes the alcohol delivery laws of each U.S. state.
This information is not intended to be used as a legal reference. It is, instead, intended to be used as a springboard for businesses to do their own legal research to make sure they’re in full compliance with every federal, state, and local law.
Under existing law, the delivery of beer, wine, and liquor to a residence in Alabama is prohibited. At present, Alabama is the only state that specifically prohibits all direct shipment of alcohol to consumers. See Alabama Code §28-1-4.
But, as of this writing, bill SB126 is likely to pass that would provide for a delivery service license issued by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. It would allow for licensed retail establishments to delivery sealed beer, wine, and spirits directly to individuals in Alabama who are at least 21 or older.
Follow the passage of SB126 and you’ll be kept current on the state of online alcohol sales in Alabama.
Alaska provides a winery license that allows its holders to ship a maximum of five gallons of wine directly to consumers. See Alaska Stat. §04.11.140.
Arizona offers a direct shipment license for the sale and shipment of up to twelve nine-liter cases of wine per year per individual purchaser. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §4-203.04.
Licensed wineries may ship 1 case of vinous liquor per consumer per calendar quarter. Vinous liquor refers to fermented fruit juices containing between 5–21% alcohol by weight. See Ark. Stat. Ann. §3-5-1701 and §3-5-1705.
California allows for the direct shipment of wine to individual consumers. See Cal. Business & Professions Code §23661.3.
Colorado offers a winery direct shipper’s permit that allows the sale and delivery of wine produced or bottled by permittee direct to a Colorado consumer. See Colo. Rev. Stat. §12-47-104.
Wine, cider, and mead can be sold and delivered to Connecticut consumers with a permit. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §30-16.
Wine or beer may be sold and delivered with a direct shipper license. See Del. Code Ann. tit. 4, §526.
Wine, spirits, and beer can be sold and delivered directly to consumers in Washington D.C. See D.C. Code Ann. §25-772.
Most alcoholic beverages can be sold online and delivered in Florida with the correct manufacturer’s, wholesaler’s, or exporter’s license or registration. See Fla. Stat. §561.545.
Wine can be delivered directly to consumers in Georgia with a special order shipping license. See Ga. Code §3-6-30 et seq.
Liquor, beer, and wine may be shipped directly to consumers with certain permits in Hawaii. See Hawaii Rev. Stat. §281-33.1 and §281-33.6.
Wine can be sold online and delivered in Idaho with a direct shipper permit. Delivery cannot exceed 24 nine-liter cases of wine annually per individual. See Idaho Code §23-1309A.
Wine and other alcoholic liquor may be delivered in Illinois with a direct shipping license—wine at a quantity of not more than 12 cases of wine per year per consumer. See Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 235, §5/5-1 and §5/6-29.1
Owners of a direct wine seller’s permit may ship wine direct to Indiana consumers. See Ind. Code §7.1-3-26-1 et seq.
Class A wine permits are given to manufacturers of native wine’s to ship in closed containers to individuals in Iowa. See Iowa Code §123.56.
Any maker or producer of wine in or outside of Kansas that holds a federal basic wine manufacturing permit may receive a special order shipping license to deliver wine to individuals in Kansas. See Kan. Stat. Ann. §41-350.
Distilled spirits, wine, and malt beverages may be sold and shipped to consumers with licensing in Kentucky. See Ky. Rev. Stat. §243.027 et seq and §244.165.
Delivery of wine and sparkling wine is permitted in Louisiana with proper licensing. See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §26:85.
Wine may be shipped directly to consumers in Maine with a direct shipper’s license. See Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 28-A, §1403-A.
Wine and pomace brandy are permitted sold and delivered to Maryland consumers with a direct wine shipper’s permit. See Md. Alcoholic Beverages Code Ann. §2-142 et seq.
Wine may be sold and delivered directly to Massachusetts consumers with a direct wine shipper license. A direct wine shipper licensee can ship up to 12 cases of wine, containing a maximum of nine liters of wine per case, per year to a Massachusetts resident. See Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 138, §19F.
Wine may be sold directly to consumers in Michigan with a direct shipper license. No more than 1,500 nine-liter cases or 13,500 liters in total volume in a calendar year. See Mich. Comp. Laws §436.1203.
Wine may be sold and delivered directly to individuals in Minnesota at a quantity not more than 2 cases of wine per year per individual. See Minn. Stat. §340A.417.
Wine may be shipped to individuals in Mississippi. Purchasers are limited to no more than 10 cases of wine per year. See 2020 HB 1088.
Wine may be shipped directly to consumers with a wine direct shipper licenses—up to two cases of wine per month. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §311.185.
Direct shipment endorsements are available in Montana that allow licensed and registered wineries to ship up to 18 nine-liter cases of table wine annually. See Mont. Code Ann. §16-4-1101 et seq. Additionally, Mont. Code Ann. §16-4-901 et seq. allows for direct beer shipment with a connoisseur’s license.
The Nebraska statute provides that “alcoholic liquor” can be delivered directly to consumers with a manufacture direct sales shipping license. See Neb. Rev. Stat. §53-123.15.
Nevada allows for wine sales and shipments of up to 12 cases per year per household. See Nev. Rev. Stat. §369.464.
Beer, wine, and liquor may be sold and delivered in New Hampshire with a direct shipper permit. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §178:27.
Wine, cider, and mead with proper licensing may be delivered to residents of New Jersey. See N.J. Rev. Stat. §33:1-10.
New Mexico allows for the direct shipment of wine and cider with a direct wine shipping permit. See N.M. Stat. Ann. §60-6A-11.
Wine may be shipped directly to consumers in New York up to a quantity of no more than 36 cases per year by each direct shipper’s license holder. See N.Y. Alcoholic Beverage Control Law §79-c.
A wine shipper permit is available in North Carolina for the sale and delivery of up to two cases of wine per month per individual. See N.C. Gen. Stat. §18B-109.
Wine and beer can be shipped directly with a direct shipping license. The shipments cannot exceed 7.13 gallons or less of wine, 288 fluid ounces or less of beer, or 2.38 gallons or less of any other alcoholic beverages per month. See N.D. Cent. Code §5-01-16.
Permit S allows beer and wine sale and delivery directly to Ohio residents. No household may purchase more than 24 cases of 12 bottles of 750ml per year. See Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §4303.232.
A direct wine shipper’s permit is available in Oklahoma. It allows for a licensed winery to ship up to six nine-liter cases of wine annually. See Okla. Stat. tit. 37A, §3-106.
Malt beverages, wine, and cider can be delivered directly to Oregon residents. Amount may not exceed two cases—containing no more than nine liters per case—to any resident per month. See Or. Rev. Stat. §471.223.
Up to 36 cases of wine of up to nine liters in a calendar year may be shipped to Pennsylvania residents with a direct wine shipper license. See Pa. Stat. tit. 47, §4-488.
Any resident in Rhode Island who does not hold a wholesaler license may not receive a shipment of alcoholic beverages. See R.I. Gen. Laws §3-4-8.
Up to 24 bottles of wine per month may be shipped directly to consumers in South Carolina with a winery permit. See S.C. Code Ann. §61-4-720.
A wine direct shipping license is required to sell wine online and deliver it directly to South Dakota residents. Direct shippers may not ship more than 12 cases of wine—at a max of nine liters per case of wine—in any calendar year to any person. See S.D. Codified Laws Ann. §35-12B-1 et seq.
Wine may be shipped directly to residents of Tennessee with a direct shipper’s license. Cannot exceed a total of nine liters of wine per month per individual. See Tenn. Code Ann. §57-3-217.
A winery permit allows for the shipment of wine to Texas residents not in excess of nine gallons per month per individual or 36 gallons per year per individual. See Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §16.09.
Utah allows for the home delivery of wine under wine subscription programs. See Utah Code Ann. §32B-2-701 et seq.
Malt beverages and wine may be shipped directly to consumers. See Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 7, §277.
Wine and beer may be shipped directly to consumers in Virginia with a wine shipper’s or beer shipper’s license. Not more than two cases of wine or two cases of beer per month. See Va. Code §4.1-209.1.
Wine may be delivered to Washington residents with a wine shipper’s permit. See Wash. Rev. Code §66.20.360 et seq.
Wine may be sold and shipped directly to West Virginia consumers with a direct shipper’s license. Amount may not exceed two cases of wine per month per person. See W. Va. Code §60-8-1 et seq.
Wisconsin allows for direct delivery of wine with a direct wine shipper’s permit. No individual in Wisconsin may receive more than 108 liters of wine delivered annually. See Wis. Stat. §125.535.
Wine can be delivered directly to consumers in Wyoming. No more than a total of 36 liters of wine may be delivered to any one household throughout a 12-month period. See Wyo. Stat. §12-2-204.
All state information taken from NCSL.org and intended for reference only. Please verify state statutes and regulations independently before selling and shipping alcoholic beverages.
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.