California law stipulates that in order for a retailer to sell wine and spirits online, the company must first have a brick-and-mortar location. Because Amazon wants to sell as much alcohol online as possible, the internet giant went about securing liquor licenses in seven locations throughout the state. Where are the company’s new “stores” located? Directly next to seven of its giant warehouses. And you might be surprised what you’ll find there if you decide to go on a booze run.
Alcoholic beverage control (or ABC) laws exist for a number of reasons — like reducing the amount of under-age drinking or illegal alcohol purchases — but brick-and-mortar liquor stores contend that the aforementioned ABC law was actually designed specifically to eliminate online sales of alcohol for big companies like Amazon. The online retailer simply found a loophole and ran with it.
That might be why Amazon doesn’t seem to be taking the brick-and-mortar law very seriously. Many opponents of the company’s policies are intent of reining in its shady brick-and-mortar business practices.
One undercover consumer decided to take a look at Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores for himself. What did he find?
The store in Sacramento sold about four types of wine and a few spirits. That’s not much considering what you can buy online in the same Sacramento zip code. With a few clicks you can purchase 230 different bottles of wine and 82 kinds of whiskey, along with dozens of other kinds of spirits. The numbers are similar at other locations. You can always find more to buy online than in person.
What did Amazon have to say about this practice? “We are not required to offer the full selection for sale in person,” the spokesperson said. “We are in compliance with the law.”
Amazon is now the proud owner of Whole Foods and Sousa’s Wine Beer Spirits as well, which means the company really can sell alcohol at a brick-and-mortar location. Amazon Go in Seattle is a popular tourist destination, so why not set up a number of similar shops in California — with the attached liquor licenses to guarantee better compliance with the laws?
In the future, Amazon might just do that. But it’s easier for Amazon to do the bare minimum now, knowing that the company can still make a quick mountain of cash through online sales. Brick-and-mortar stores — real stores — require a lot of groundwork, and maybe Amazon just isn’t ready for the commitment. Especially since it does already have the ultra-popular Whole Foods.
Smaller alcohol retailers have made veiled threats of lawsuits, but likely nothing would come of them.