Other than the pandemic, alcohol ecommerce has been the dominant trend of 2020. Customers forced home by lockdowns — and then later by fear of catching the virus — have increasingly embraced digital options for ordering beer, wine and spirits. This has coincided with the rise of digital delivery. Alcohol purchases now are no different — and no less convenient — than buying household items on Amazon.
Spurred by the pandemic, ecommerce has evolved rapidly. Trends that appeared years off are happening right now. Which begs the question: if we have fast-forwarded into the future, then what comes next?
How about TV shopping for alcohol? How about a QVC for booze?
That’s the idea behind the new innovation, Spirits Network. Launched in 2019, this is a shoppable OTT platform, with its own collection of programming and livestream content.
“Its Netflix meets The Food Network meets Amazon,” explains Founder and CEO Nick Buzzell, who was part of the startup team at Hulu.
Content includes the whiskey program Peggy Noes Best, starring legendary Master Bourbon Taster Peggy Noe Stevens. The weekly livestream show Home Bar Hero features liquid chef Rob Floyd, who makes three cocktails every Friday with readily available ingredients. Another program is hosted by leading whiskey writer Fred Minnick, while longer-form options include documentaries.
Consumers watching this content can purchase featured products in real time. A touch a box in the lower left-hand corner of the screen brings up the option to buy.
Spirits Network (of course) is three-tier compliant. The service partners with beverage alcohol retailers across the country: Big Box chains as well as smaller specialty stores, as featured products can be rare and difficult to acquire.
“Retailers are a big part of what we’re doing,” Buzzell says. “We want to be good long-term partners with our retail network. We’re continuing to expand that network.”
Currently, the Spirits Network operates in 50 cities, and ships to 30 states. It works with approximately 600 retailers nationwide.
After a customer places an order, the network’s technology finds the closest shop that carries the product. The digital delivery service Minibar then fills in the final gap between retailer and customer. In this way, people can buy alcohol from the programming they watch, and those items will show up at their door in rapid fashion. For New York residents, that time is under two hours.
“We are driven by story-telling and the instant gratification from buying what you want instantly,” Buzzell says. “We’re building a destination where you can go to find out about new brands, and how to make cocktails and understand the stories behind the bottles.”
“Obviously the distribution side is a challenge,” he adds. “Some products have limited distribution, but you have got to find them. Some craft products are only available in a handful of states, but you have got to find them. Some products are very rare, but you have got to find them. We’re now identifying demand in markets where there might not be supply, and looking into how do we fill in those gaps.”
Spirits Network collaborates with a variety of brands, from corporate to craft, such as Diageo, Campari, Moët Hennessy, WhistlePig and Kentucky Owl.
Anyone can order off of the programming. Also there are two levels of paid membership. These offer bottle services, highlighting products handpicked by network experts like Flavien Desoblin, owner of the popular Manhattan bar, The Brandy Library.
“Where we see a need is helping people discover and expand and refine their palate,” says Buzzell. “
Spirits Network does charge retailers a smaller fee than services like Drizly to cover transactions costs, but instead passes the savings along to customers, Buzzel adds. The company is focused on working with retailers to ensure product availability and best price.
One thing is for sure: the manner in which consumers purchase alcohol continues to change dramatically in 2020.