No wine from Amazon for now

by on October 27, 2009 · 0 comments

A recent article by Lisa Carley in the New York Wine Examiner reports that Amazon is suspending plans that would have allowed wine producers to sell direct to consumers.  The culprit? State regulations:

One of the main reasons why this program has been put on hold is the complexity of wine-shipping laws within the United States, and that fact that the major wholesalers spend millions of dollars on the state level to keep it difficult for the consumer to have access to wine they want at good prices.

About 35 states permit some form of direct shipment to consumers, but laws vary greatly. In Virginia, consumers can order wine from any winery or retailer licensed in any state, as long as the seller registers with the state of Virginia and collects taxes. In Maryland, direct shipment of wine to consumers is still a felony. Montana limits the total amount of wine any consumer can order to 12 cases per year, which means most wineries won’t ship there because an individual winery has no way of knowing how much wine the consumer has ordered from other sellers. I’m not making this stuff up; check the Wine Institute’s compendium of state laws.

In several studies, Alan Wiseman and I found that consumers can enjoy significant savings on higher-priced wines if they order online.  (The savings disappear for wines priced under $20 per bottle because of shipping costs.) The Internet also gives consumers access to wines that they might not find by simply walking into a store.   

It would be a shame to see Amazon’s idea die. Currently, a winery or retailer that wants to ship directly to consumers has to figure out and comply with each state’s laws. It makes a lot of sense that a single retail sales portal could consolidate and continuously update this information, then set up a system that lets any seller market its wine direct to consumers in states where that’s legal, in compliance with all state laws.

Previous post:

Next post: