Only 0.2 percent of beer sales took place online last year according to Heineken’s CEO.

Mike Pomranz
November 08, 2017

Last year, over 8 percent of all retail sales in North America happened online, and as should be expected, that number is continuing to grow each year. From groceries to takeout to everything else, often times the first place we turn to make a purchase are our digital devices. But when it comes to buying a six-pack, nearly all beer sales are happening the old fashioned way – in actual brick and mortar locations.

Only 0.2 percent of beer was purchased online last year according to numbers presented by Heineken CEO Ronald den Elzen this week at the Beer Marketer’s Insights seminar in New York City, as reported by Brewbound. And though del Elzen believes that, like all online sales, e-commerce sales of beer will continue to grow, that growth is still set to be slow compared to overall online shopping activity: By 2021, the Heineken CEO said that online beer sales are predicted to represent 2.4 percent of business. “Which is still nothing,” he pointed out. “But it’s growing 70 percent per year. And that 70 percent will keep on rising.”

Whereas the e-commerce share of total global retails sales is expected to eclipse 10 percent this year, den Elzen suggested that online off-premise beer sales won’t likely hit that percentage until 2025. Part of the issue is that, unlike other products, beer and alcoholic beverages are restricted in the ways they can be sold in the United States. For the most part, America utilizes a “three tier system” whereby brewers have to sell to distributors who then provide that beer to the retail market, with plenty of regulations along the way. But during the seminar, some suggested that one major competitor’s interest in selling beer online might provide the legal strength and lobbying power to finally let beer shed some of its sales’ struggles: Amazon.

“There’s going to be a big push by [Amazon] to make their life simple, and to order as simple as they can, to stock as simple as they can, and to distribute in one trip to the distributor,” suggested den Elzen. Chris Steffanci, president of Columbia Distributing in Washington, agreed about Amazon’s ability to disrupt the current system. “Amazon is here to stay, and they absolutely want to be in beverage alcohol,” he said. “I believe, if anything, they are going to fundamentally change the way the three-tier system looks over the next 10 years.”

Along the way, beer drinkers would have to shift their habits as well – though the idea of grabbing a six-pack on the way to a party will probably never die. But think of it this way: At just 0.2 percent, that means that only one out of every 500 beers is bought online. You’re not going to that many parties!

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