Why read this? : We share key lessons from the e-Commerce alcohol sales category. Learn why alcohol and e-Commerce make such a strong mix. Then, soak up the lessons from our CX and martech audits of leading online alcohol sellers. Read this for online selling ideas from the e-Commerce alcohol sales category.
As Covid lockdowns continue, and nobody can go out to the pub, Australians are drinking far more booze at home.
In fact, e-Commerce alcohol sales tripled in 2020.
We’ll say that again.
That’s a major shift in e-Commerce alcohol sales which gave us a thirst to learn more.
That’s why this week focuses on doing category research around e-commerce alcohol sales. Looking at other categories is always great for finding new ideas and inspiration. (e.g., see our online fashion and grocery shopping articles). If you run your own online store, you should make a point of doing this regularly.
Let’s start with why alcohol works well in e-Commerce.
Why alcohol works well for e-Commerce
The first reason e-Commerce alcohol sales work is convenience. It’s easier to get someone else to deliver this heavy product, than to go to a shop and carry it home yourself.
Research shows that convenience is one of the most common reasons people shop online.
Online alcohol delivery is clearly convenient. Someone else carries the weight of the product. And you can order any time of day. From anywhere. Delivered at a time which suits you.
Next up is range. The alcohol category has many products. Traditional stores are limited in how much they can carry by what they can fit on the shelf.
Online stores, on the other hand, are only limited by how much space they have in the warehouse. They can sell a far wider range than a traditional store could carry.
Example - Absorbing the delivery cost
Let’s say the average delivery cost is $15.
For a low-value product, say a $3 bottle of Coke, the cost to the online customer is $18 ($3 + $15 delivery). That’s 6x the cost of the product. And you only clear a sixth of the value ($3 / $18).
Not great for you or the customer, is it? Only the delivery company wins in that scenario.
But look at the difference when you sell a high-value product, say a $90 bottle of single malt scotch.
It’s still $15 to deliver. The total cost is $105 ($90 + $15 delivery). But, now the customer’s only paying a 17% delivery premium for the product ($105/$90). And you make 86% of the value ($90 / $105).
Those numbers are a bit easier to swallow, right?
Mix in the wider benefits of selling online, like direct customer connection and supply chain control, and it’s clear why the e-Commerce alcohol sales business works so well.
Challenges with e-Commerce alcohol sales
But it’s not quite cheers all round. There are challenges with e-Commerce alcohol sales.
For example, you need a liquor license to sell it. That takes training and qualifications. Those take time, money and effort.
Then there’s the delivery challenges. Heavy products mean delivery drivers need the right training and equipment to transport products safely. Most alcohol comes in glass bottles, so you need the right packaging to minimise breakages.
Also, alcohol is a tempting target for thieves. You can deliver many online products with “permission to leave”. However, alcohol normally needs a signature. This increases delivery costs because you’ll need to redeliver if the customer isn’t in to sign for it.
So, now we know the pros and cons of e-Commerce alcohol sales, let’s check out how it’s done.
Testing process - Customer Experience
User orientation reviews the experience of first-time visitors. We’ve used 5 basic questions from Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think :-
- Where am I?
- Where do I begin?
- What are the most important things on this page?
- Where did they put …? (key elements like the home page / logo, search and the shopping cart)
- Why did they call (any confusing terms) that?
(See our 52 ways to start testing e-Commerce websites article for more on these questions).
We’ll also consider how people scan the page.
Website eye-tracking studies show most people scan in a Z shape. First, along the top of the page left to right. Then from top right to bottom left. And finally, left to right across the bottom.
We’ll look at where each site puts key content to see if it fits this Z-shape.
Ease of purchase
To test ease of purchase, we’ll try to buy something. We’ll look at the information shared during the buying process. For example, the clarity of payment and delivery options and the overall number of clicks. We’ll also look for anything that gets in the purchase’s way.
Testing process - Marketing Technology
Next, we’ll review the marketing technology on each site. We’ll look at some performance measures, and which platforms the site uses, including :-
- Domain Authority – using Moz’s toolbar plug-in to review search performance.
- Page Speed Index – using Google’s Lighthouse page speed test to review site load speeds. (Note, we only analysed the home page for each site. To analyse the whole site, we’d have used a bulk page speed tool like the one at experte.com).
- Tracking audit – using the Ghostery app plug-in to review trackers and digital data capture.
- Platform audit – using the Wapplyzer app plug-in to review each site’s martech platforms.
Dan Murphy’s - Customer experience
Overall, Dan Murphy’s home page did a good job of answering the basic user orientation questions.
What the page was and how it worked was all clear.
We found very few issues getting started with using the site, or finding what we needed.
Dan Murphy’s - where am I?
The brand name and logo were clear. It’s where we expected to find it. The URL was also clear.
Good start. We knew where we were.
Dan Murphy’s - where do I begin?
The first element we saw after the logo was the search box in the middle of the top navigation bar. For a site with a wide range, and many customers looking for specific products, making search so visible makes a lot of sense.
No need to explain who Dan Murphy’s is, or what they stand for. Most customers already know that.
We noted they add – search 1000s of products – but you can’t search for non-product related terms. So, no results for “delivery charge” or “refund policy”, for example. A minor friction point for some customers.
Dan Murphy’s - What are the most important things?
The largest page element was a video offering to “meet the wineries, breweries and distilleries that are proving why we’re the lucky country”. But interestingly, we didn’t take this away as the most important thing.
With the Z-shape eye scan, we first saw search, delivery and account at the top of the page. Plus, the secondary navigation bar with alcohol categories.
Then we scanned to the bottom of the page where we found 4 choices – Deliver now, 30-minute pickup, Shop in-store, Drink Inspiration.
These felt like the most important things on the page.
Dan Murphy’s - Where did they put …?
Search, delivery and account information were all in the top navigation bar. Very clear.
Secondary navigation with specific categories sat immediately below the top bar. Again, very clear.
Other shopper experience links were dropped down to the footer menu.
It’s common to include guides, delivery details and terms and conditions in the footer. So from an orientation point of view, no issues.
Dan Murphy’s - Why did they call it that?
We couldn’t spot any confusing terms on the page. For example, the category navigation terms were all clear. Hard to be confused by New, Wine, Spirits, Beer, Premix, Non & Low Alcohol, Gifts & Occasions or Offers.
Ease of purchase
Next, we tried to buy something. Our shopper “mission” here was to buy a nice bottle of Shiraz for around $20.
Clicking on wine pulled up a sub-menu with filter options by type, region, Decoded Red Wine winners, popular brands, and what’s trending.
Good initial selection, although we had to guess what Decoded meant.
But we knew we wanted Shiraz, so we picked that.
Our first issue.
The site didn’t like our tracking and ad blockers. It wouldn’t display the search filter results on Shiraz, so we had to switch to another browser to continue.
(We did all these visits on Chrome by the way, with Safari as back-up if something went wrong – like it did here).
There was a lot of choice – 2,315 items. So, we went to the side navigation bar where we could narrow choice by price and category.
Price was a helpful filter here, but the category less so, as it listed Red Wine and Shiraz which we’d already selected. We now had a further 10 choices :-
Current Offers, Brand A-Z, Country A-Z, Region A-Z, Award Winner, Customer Ratings, Cellar Release Wine, Organic, Vegan Friendly, Langton’s Classification and Direct from Supplier.
More choice is usually a good thing. But there’s a limit before it gets distracting. 10 options felt slightly too much. Though not enough to put us off.
We picked the $15-$25 price filter and while it worked, it weirdly still showed the total as 2,315 items. Which means we can’t share how well the price filter worked. But, there were some likely options in the first 4 products we saw, so we went with those.
These 4 were all sponsored placements. Suppliers paid Dan Murphy’s for those products to appear. The first 2 products were only on offer for members, so we picked the first “non-member” option – Wolf Blass Makers Project Reserve Shiraz.
Note the layout of this product range page. It’s very well done. Review links above the product. Halliday wine score where available. A clear product image and the price – per bottle or per case of 6.
No issues here.
Picking a product
We could pick up in-store, or choose delivery options.
We added to cart and then checked the cart for the price and delivery charge.
At this point, we had a slight “off” experience as we couldn’t arrange a home delivery as a guest. To continue the order, we had to log in as a member.
After doing this, next came a simple shopping cart and check-out form.
It automatically filled the delivery address from our membership details (helpful).
Then we got 3 delivery options – Now (within 2 hours) for $15, Just Say When (a specified 2-hour slot in the next 7 days) for $15 or Standard Delivery (2-4 Days) for $9.90.
There was also a permission to leave question, and the option to add delivery instructions.
We then went to Payment which was by Credit Card or Pay Pal. There was a final tick box to certify we’re over 18 and have read the Terms and Conditions and Collection Statement.
These options were all on the same page. They were clearly laid out in a mobile-friendly format.
Apart from the guest check-out challenge, everything else made it easy to purchase. It was a pleasant e-Commerce alcohol sales experience.
Branding on Dan Murphy’s was generally good. Brand assets were consistently used, like the colours (highlight buttons in green, for example) and the typography. The tone of voice fitted their brand identity. It was friendly, but professional and very straightforward. There were no intrusive or pushy messages. For example, member offers and sponsored placements were subtle rather than overt.
Dan Murphy’s - Marketing Technology
Moz Domain Authority - 59
Page Speed Index - 19
The speed test on this page showed it failing 3 out of the 4 core web vital scores. An overall score of 19 is below average.
Where it was good was on First Input Delay. This links to the location and speed of the server which hosts the site. This was good in 94% of loads.
However, on First Contentful Paint, Largest Contentful Paint and Cumulative Layout Shift, the site scores below Google’s speed benchmark. A slight surprise.
We guess they’ve chosen to live with the search speed impact of adding customer experience elements like the home page video which slows down the page load speed. They clearly believe the strength of their brand name, and scope and experience of their site will minimise any search impact from slow page speeds.
Ghostery - 14 trackers
The slow page speed could also be linked to the 14 trackers running on the site. For comparison, JB HiFi had 10, and The Good Guys 9.
We wondered about the overlap with these trackers. 7 advertising trackers and 4 analytics trackers seems a lot. It’s hard to believe there’s no duplication. Removing duplication would improve the site’s speed.
Wapplyzer - 53 applications
There are 53 software applications on this site. (More than double what was on JB Hifi and The Good Guys).
These cover analytics, social media, advertising, e-Commerce, marketing automation, payments, tagging, CRM and more. As per our martech challenges article, 2 of the big 3 martech suppliers – Salesforce and Adobe – feature heavily.
We get why they’d have these systems. But it seems like a lot of software to manage and pay for. Lots of added complexity – especially in how they work together – and cost. We assume they have rigorous e-Commerce testing processes to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Dan Murphy’s Summary
Overall, it’s clear Dan Murphy’s has invested heavily in their e-Commerce alcohol sales experience for their shoppers.
Customer experience – Very smooth e-Commerce alcohol sales experience. Few complaints, other than the lack of guest check-out for delivery.
Marketing Technology -Clearly a large investment in technology. We suspect the large number of systems slows down their site though. We’re curious why they need so many, and if they see a good return on investment.
Like Dan Murphy’s, Liquorland’s home page also scored well on user orientation.
Liquorland - where am I?
The brand name and logo were clear. Top left where you’d expect it. The URL was also clear. No confusion about where we were.
Welcome to Liquorland.
Liquorland - where do I begin?
The first element we saw after the logo was corporate orders. This seemed odd. Though we know there’s a lot of business-to-business shopping in other categories, so assume alcohol is the same. (we know lots of online biscuit shopping comes from nurseries, hospitals and prisons, for example).
It didn’t put us off. But it’s on a very prominent position which most shoppers will skip over.
That aside, next there’s a store selector, the shopping basket and a menu of alcohol categories.
Our eye was then caught by the search bar in the middle of the page. This was where we started.
This one offers a friendly prompt – “Hi, what are you looking for today?”.
But like Dan Murphy’s, the search function only lets us search on products, not site features like “delivery charges” or “returns policy”.
Again, a friction point for some customers.
Delivery information was down in the footer, though it’s quite a long home page. We had to scroll quite far to find it.
The returns policy wasn’t a direct link, and we had to go into FAQs to find it. It’d be clearer to have this as a separate link in the footer.
It wasn’t impossible to find, but took more work.
Liquorland - What are the most important things?
The first things we saw after the search bar were “Popular Drinks”, “Special Offers” and then “Trending searches” which included links to Father’s Day and Cocktails. These were clearly the most important things.
However, price also jumped out as important. Look at the large font size, for example (an example of priming – see our design psychology article) and note that 4 out of 6 products have visible price discounts. Good deals feel like an important thing at Liquorland.
Liquorland - Where did they put …?
Search, we already covered, and the basket is top right where you’d expect.
There’s a store selector which popped out in a side menu. But we could only select a store location with click and collect. We assume deliveries come from a warehouse and not from stores.
We had to scroll to the footer bar to find FAQs, delivery details, terms and conditions. That’s generally OK, although the FAQs were text-heavy. Better would be clearer navigation help such as a table of contents.
Liquorland - Why did they call it that?
Like Dan Murphy’s, Liquorland keeps the language simple. No confusion about red wine, rose, white wine, sparkling / spirits, premix, beer, cider and specials. It’s really only that “corporate orders” which might confuse. But if you’re not corporate, you’d just ignore it.
Ease of purchase
Following the same buying process as before, Shiraz comes up as the first option under Red Wine. There are 236 bottles to choose from this time.
There were filter options like price, region, country and brand similar to Dan Murphy’s. But interestingly also “Goes with” and “Tastes Like”. These were welcome additions.
They felt very customer-friendly.
We noted there were only 6 filter options (rather than the 10 of Dan Murphy’s) but found this a positive rather than a negative.
For example, in the well-known jam experiment, more choice actually reduced people’s ability to make a choice. Too much choice turns people off.
But 6 filter options didn’t feel like an overload here.
Picking a product
We chose the $20-$30 filter to narrow the choice and picked the first one which sounded good. Winton Road Barossa Valley Shiraz at $20.
The product page had everything you’d expect.
There was a clear product name and image, tasting notes, customer reviews and product information (like best occasions to use it, and what it pairs with).
Unlike Dan Murphy’s you could check out as a guest.
Filling out our details was relatively smooth (it found our address with Google Maps look-up, for example), and it also added an optional “gift wrap” service.
There were 3 delivery options. Standard (up to a week) for $6.95, Same Day for $14.95, and Next Business Day for $9.95.
Payment was by credit card, Paypal or FlyPay – linked to FlyBuys points.
Overall, it was a slick check-out process and made it an easy e-Commerce alcohol sales experience.
Liquorland brand assets were clear on the page. Check the vibrant red and yellow colours. The tone of voice was warm, friendly and concise.
We understand Liquorland’s focus to be on price and value. Their site is consistent with this e-Commerce positioning. Overall though, there felt like a missed opportunity to add more brand connection on the page.
A tagline or simple purpose statement, for example. More personality in the writing. Maybe some images which aren’t products or blurred-out generic lifestyle photos. Nothing intrusive obviously. But from a brand connection viewpoint, the site felt a little flat.
Liquorland - Marketing Technology
Moz Domain Authority - 45
Not as high as Dan Murphy’s, but still respectable. It seems unlikely they’d have too many search issues with a 45 Domain Authority score.
Page Speed Index - 41
Their 41 speed score was better than Dan Murphy’s.
But it’s still below Google’s target score.
It had a good score for First Input Delay (92% green).
But it had amber scores for First Contentful Paint, Largest Contentful Paint and Cumulative Layout Shift.
Amber’s not bad. But there’s clearly still room for improvement on the speed.
Ghostery - 13 trackers
Almost as many trackers as Dan Murphy’s. Clearly a thing with online alcohol sellers.
There were advertising trackers, a customer interaction tracker, and tagging and analytics trackers. As with Dan Murphy’s, we’d question whether all these are necessary. (Though Liquorland didn’t trigger any browser tracking issues for us unlike Dan Murphy’s).
Wapplyzer - 22 applications
Significantly fewer software platforms than Dan Murphy’s, but still uses plenty of marketing technology. Less tech normally means faster load speeds.
We can see they run several analytics tools, so they clearly use digital data a lot.
Other applications cover tagging, caching, personalisation, marketing automation, advertising and more. This is similar in scope to Dan Murphy’s. But interestingly, Liquorland only has 1 or 2 applications per function, whereas Dan Murphy’s has multiple applications.
Overall, another positive e-Commerce alcohol sales experience with the most noticeable difference being the martech used on the site.
Customer experience – Very positive experience with few complaints. The “corporate orders” and the need to search the FAQs for the returns policy were the only elements we’d change.
Good that they allow guest check-out, which gives them an edge over Dan Murphy’s. We also liked the customer-friendly filters.
Marketing Technology – Overall, less applications than Dan Murphy’s. But still good coverage across multiple martech platforms. Everything you’d expect from a martech point of view, and faster page speeds than Dan Murphy’s.
We’d guess they spend less on martech, but probably get higher ROI levels per dollar spent, as there seems to be much less duplication.
Unlike the first 2 sites, we had to verify our age to enter the site. This is standard practice for alcohol manufacturers. They want to make sure they don’t promote alcohol to minors.
Except, of course, minors can just lie about their age. There’s no way to check the actual age of people viewing the site. We know the legal folks like to include this to protect the company, but it adds an annoying extra click for the vast majority of legitimate over-age customers. (though it gives them some insight into the ages of those customers, assuming they don’t lie).
Bundaberg - where am I?
The brand name and logo were clear. Unusually it was in the centre of the top navigation bar rather than the top left. This was a minor friction point when the norm is top left. But not enough to put us off.
Still, there was lots of clear Bundaberg branding in terms of logos, colours and products. We definitely knew where we were.
Bundaberg - where do I begin?
There was less choice here versus the previous sites, but obviously, because it only sells one brand. The experience still felt fine though.
Products gave us the option to go the bottle shop (what we were here for), but also to look at merchandise or specific products like Rum Ball liqueur or Lazy Bear premix.
There were also options to visit “our story”, the “distillery” and “recipes” – both food and drink.
The search function was in the top navigation bar – good. Though again it focussed on products. And again, you can’t search on “delivery charge” or “returns policy”. Less good.
Bundaberg - What are the most important things?
On the shop page, there was a large banner with free delivery for over $250. (This seems high for free delivery). It was clear this was on ALL BOTTLES because those 2 words are in CAPS.
Then we got a choice from 4 categories – Exclusive Range, Royal Liqueur, Master Distillers Collection and Bundle Offers.
It was a pretty simple layout.
Other than the $250 free delivery order the focus was on the products, not the e-Commerce service.
Bundaberg- Where did they put …?
Search was in the main navigation bar where we expected it.
On the shop page, there was an additional navigation bar above the main bar with a contact number plus the account and basket links and a wish list link.
To find key topics like delivery information and returns and refund policies, we had to go into the FAQ section in the footer. That was OK.
The site had everything we expected to find. And all in the places we’d expect to find them.
Bundaberg - Why did they call it that?
All clear on the language they used around e-Commerce itself, although if you don’t know the brand well, the product names were less clear.
For example, “Royal Liqueur” and “Master Distillers Collection” aren’t immediately obvious. When you clicked, there was no explanation, just the products themselves. These would be better with a short text explanation.
Ease of purchase
The product page was clear and had all the information we needed.
There’s the product name, the product images, the price and some product information.
Add to cart took us to the check-out, which was a 2 step process.
First, for Shipping and then Review and Payments.
The shipping address request had a Re-Captcha request (which we didn’t see on either of the online retailer sites) to check we’re not a bot.
(Although if a bot wants to buy us a bottle of rum, we wouldn’t say no).
There was a flat $15 delivery charge unless we spent over $250. No options to speed up delivery. For Bundaberg, we’d imagine speedy delivery would be hard work for little return.
They won’t have the same distribution capability as the retailers. And most customers probably come here to buy the exclusive products, not the widely available main range.
Next came payment by Credit Card or Pay Pal, and options to apply Discount Codes and Gift Cards if we had them.
Nothing exciting as far as e-Commerce alcohol sales experiences are concerned. But did what they needed to so we could buy.
Branding’s strong, everything’s in the Bundaberg style. There’s a lot of yellow.
Given Bundaberg’s brand image, we felt they missed a trick to inject more “Bundy” personality into the experience. If you took away the logo and colours, it’s quite a generic shopping experience. (There’s more personality on the brand pages).
Maybe a more creative use of the bear logo? A bit more personality in the tone of voice? Nothing intrusive. But it’s definitely missing something.
Moz Domain Authority - 39
For a branded (non-retail) site, this is a reasonable score. It has a huge amount of links (almost 67k) which seem to be a mix of corporate links (e.g. from news sites and the local NRL club) and fan sites.
Page Speed Index - 63
Clearly, a better score than the 2 retailer sites.
This is due to it being a much simpler site. Simpler sites load faster.
It was green on both First Contentful Paint and First Input Delay, Amber on Cumulative Layout shift and only Red on Largest Contentful Paint.
It’s still not in the top Green rank from Google overall, but 63 isn’t too bad.
Ghostery - 2 trackers
Only 2 tagging links. This was clearly not an area of focus for Bundaberg compared to how much analysis, advertising and tagging goes on with the retailer sites.
Wapplyzer - 19 applications
A decent amount of software platforms are on the site, with the most noteworthy being e-Commerce done through Magento (now part of Adobe). There are basic analytics and tagging, though no other platforms you’d class as particularly advanced (or expensive).
Nothing as sophisticated as the retail stores. But enough martech to support a simple e-Commerce alcohol sales experience.
Overall, for a single-brand shop, it’s a good overall experience. A bit short of data capture on the martech front, but otherwise it does what it needs to.
Customer experience – A clunkier start than the other 2 sites with the Date of Birth sign-in.
But after that, it’s a nice simple e-Commerce alcohol sales experience. Nothing flashy.
If you want to buy the product, you can buy the product. The only challenge is you can’t get it delivered quickly.
Marketing Technology – Overall, the least technologically sophisticated of the 3 sites. Not that surprising.
For Diageo, this won’t be their main online sales channel. This will be a small addition to the Bundaberg business, so won’t get the same level of resource or investment. We’d be most interested in seeing if they actually do anything with the analytics and tracking they have.
Conclusion - e-Commerce alcohol sales
What we took from this brief e-Commerce alcohol sales experience, is how similar the journey to buy booze online was. No matter where you tried to buy it, the process followed almost the same steps.
That’s not a bad thing.
There were some minor differences. But for the most part, the actual steps and layouts to buy booze stayed consistent.
That’s good for customer experience.
It means the main competitive points of difference are other areas like price, range or exclusive products.
Dan Murphy’s and Liquorland seem to have invested heavily in their online stores.
Dan Murphy’s is particularly tech-heavy. We assume there’s no performance or integration issues with all that tech. We also assume they have solid data management processes and they’re happy with their ROI, as we felt they may have some duplication.
Liquorland has some nice additional customer experience touches like the “Order with” and “Pairs with” options. We liked these. Their martech approach to cover key functionality with 1 or 2 core applications seems sensible. It probably keeps their finance team happy too.
Bundaberg we applaud just for having a D2C site. We were originally going to use some wine examples in this article, but going to some of the big Australian wine brand sites, D2C was either not there or badly done. So fair play to Bundy for setting this up for customers.
Lots to learn from this customer experience and martech research into e-Commerce alcohol sales. Thirsty work, but someone has to do it.