By Tony Bongiovanni, owner, Cellarbrations at Gisborne
Online retail may be the latest buzzword, but it’s important to remember that bricks & mortar remains the heartland for alcohol sales in Australia as the “shop local” trend accelerates.
Research from IBM’s US Retail Index suggests that the pandemic accelerated the shift to online shopping by as much as five years and a study conducted by Bazaarvoice on more than 9000 shoppers worldwide found 54% of global shoppers now prefer online window shopping to browsing in stores.
Those are compelling numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story. While there have been increases in online purchases over the past 18 months, due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, there have also been significant increases in sales to bricks & mortar.
Fulfilment of online orders remains expensive for retailers and there are significant issues with customer satisfaction, ranging from technology obstacles to delivery services struggling to keep up with demand.
The value of personalised service in-store should never be underestimated. One of the biggest negatives of online purchasing versus in store is that many customers prefer to talk to a human being and not a robot. They enjoy getting professional help in making their selection. All staff at liquor stores are fully vaccinated, have RSA certificates and are trained in answering any questions you may have.
When you purchase online, what you order is not necessarily what you get and it can be very difficult to track down someone to speak to about the problem. Orders may be cancelled due to unavailability, with customer not finding out for some time later. Deliveries can also take hours, days, or weeks later, with items sometimes arriving damaged. There can be a slow turnaround time to receive a credit and a painstaking process in returning a purchase.
At around 6.30pm on Christmas Eve last year, a man came to my store asking me if I could put together a dozen wines for him, as his “guaranteed” delivery before Christmas had not shown up. I helped him select wines to share with his family and friends, then later learned from him that his order didn’t turn up until New Year’s Day.
The costs of COVID-19
A recent Westpac survey of 1000 small to medium business leaders across Australia found that more than a third of business owners felt shopping local was one of the best ways to help them recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
While off-premise liquor sales have been strong during the pandemic, the cost of doing business has also risen due to supply chain and COVID safety issues.
The survey found 80% of small business leaders have experienced an increase in the cost of doing business over the last 12 months. The cost of goods topped the list with 36% of small businesses reporting an increase in prices, following by technology (33%) and operating expenses (30%).
Fortunately, at least four in five small business leaders have been encouraged by community support for businesses during lockdown and 82% have seen an increase in customers buying Australian made products and services.
Metcash’s FY21 results revealed that Australian consumers continue to prefer local liquor shopping during the 12 months after the initial lockdowns of March 2020. It is heartening for me as an independent liquor store owner to see customer preference for local neighbourhood shopping remain high.
It’s a critical time for small businesses as they prepare for the busy Christmas holiday season. My advice is to jump in the car and talk to your local liquor store professional about your personal purchase. Draw on their expertise to ensure both your gift giving and Christmas table offerings reflect how wonderful it is that we can celebrate together again after the challenges we’ve all faced during 2021.
The “new normal” for independent retailers
Data research supplied by Drinks Digest