Books, clothes, even toilet paper can be bought online — and now, it looks like a case of cabernet is just a click away.
Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a slew of changes Thursday to how alcohol will be sold in Ontario.
Among them was that the LCBO would start to sell alcohol online, to be delivered or picked up in store.
“The announcement we made today regarding the alcohol distribution system is the biggest shake-up to the sale of alcohol in Ontario in nearly 90 years,” Kelsey Ingram, a spokesperson for Minister of Finance Charles Sousa, said in an email.
“By introducing online sales to the LCBO, we are expanding convenience and choice for consumers but not at the expense of social responsibility.”
Details are slim — it doesn’t outline what products will be available, who will be delivering the products, or when it will roll out. But the Ministry said that Ed Clark and the Council will stay in place to help the government develop their approach.
“A number of logistics are still under consideration,” Ingram said.
But online alcohol sales have been growing for a number of years, and many consumers in Ontario are already purchasing at least some of their bottles through online intermediaries.
The LCBO actually already sells some products online, through Vintages, its high-end wine retailer. But bottles are pricey, and the customer base small compared to the LCBO’s mass appeal.
Robert Jackiewicz founded Brew Box, a subscription-based craft beer delivery service. Armed with a manufacturer’s representative license from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, Jackiewicz is allowed to buy directly from manufactures and sell to customers. Like a wine merchant who specializes in fine wines, the license allows him to offer rare beers that aren’t on offer in the LCBO or Beer Store.
“The wine industry has been doing this for decades,” he said.
Jackiewicz said that he started the business in Sept. 2014 because he wanted to provide a better beer selection and connect customers with local brewers online. Now, they have 300 monthly subscribers.
In the United States, some states have allowed online sales of alcohol for a number of years.
“It’s growing rapidly, but right now it’s a relatively small part of the market,” said David Ozgo, chief economist with the Distilled Spirits Council in the U.S.
Jeffrey Nadel is the CEO of Klink, an American online delivery service that delivers alcohol purchased from local liquor stores to people’s homes within hours.
“There aren’t many people who get super excited about going to the liquor store,” Nadel said. “There’s got to be a way to improve that experience.
In 2013, when Klink launched, online sales in the U.S. of beer, wine and spirits was $2.7 billion (U.S.), Nadel said. Although that’s just a fraction of the $87 billion (U.S.) market for consumer alcohol, it’s growing at a much faster rate of about 9 per cent, Nadel said.
Jackiewicz said he’s not worried about an online LCBO stealing business, since he specializes in bottles you can’t find at just any store. But he anticipates the provincial liquor store will find the move to online sales challenging.
“It’s co-ordinating this whole dance of home delivery,” he said. Unlike a box of books, alcohol must be delivered in person in order to verify that the purchaser is over the age limit.
Nadel agrees delivery can be tricky, and but that success in the online market depends on upholding every law.
“You have to make sure when you’re selling things in a completely different way . . . that you’re doing things in a very careful and responsible way.”
Ingram, the spokesperson for the Minister of Finance, said the government will ensure that communities across the province are served and that the new service will meet the “principles of social responsibility.”