Considering how easy it is order almost anything online and have it delivered, one would think that getting alcohol delivered to you shouldn't be an issue.
Unfortunately, for small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in selling alcohol online, shipping alcohol domestically within the United States can be challenging - even more so if you're interested in shipping alcohol internationally.
We're not saying it's impossible to ship or export alcohol - just know that there are lots of technical and legal aspects to consider, and that you'll have to make an effort to be compliant with the laws and regulations of the state or country you want to ship to.
The challenges of shipping alcohol within the United States
Origin and destination state laws
Even if you are shipping a bottle of wine within your own state, there are restrictions that you will have to follow.
You may need to pay attention to how many shipments you are sending to customers, as some states have laws in place that allow only a certain amount of bottles to be sent to a single customer in a year.
There are also some states where selling alcohol is prohibited if you don’t have a license; without a license, you may only be allowed to ship one bottle of wine.
Shipping between two different states is even harder than within a state, as you will have to consider the laws and regulations of both the origin and destination states.
For example, there are many states where you can’t import alcohol at all. States like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah prohibit direct alcohol shipments. In states like Delaware, direct alcohol shipment can be done through a licensed wholesaler. Some of the states accept shipments only if they are done online by the customer.
Basically, to avoid breaking the law, it's best to research each state you would like to ship to and be aware of their state laws around liquor to ensure you are legally shipping alcoholic beverages.
Need for a license
As we mentioned above, many states and countries require you to have a license to ship alcohol. In order to run a proper alcohol business, especially online, you must start by having the proper licenses authorized by the state or country you want to ship to.
Applying and getting a license to import alcohol can be a lengthy and complicated process. You'd have to go through a set procedure fulfilling many government policies to get what you want.
Since you will have to go through a number of different government officials in the liquor control department, it's possible to get contradicting recommendations. People who have applied for the license in the past have complained about the bureaucracy making it a harder and more tedious procedure for them.
Getting an international license is even more difficult as you will have to go through at least two procedures - getting a license at both the origin and destination country you want to ship to.
Difficulty can also vary depending on country: some Islamic countries deny alcohol imports outright, while you may come across additional bureaucracies while importing and exporting from EU countries.
Don't forget courier regulations
Liquids are considered dangerous goods in the shipping world: meaning, if it's not handled with care, it could cause harm to those handling them in transit.
That being said, you can’t just put alcoholic beverages in a box and send them off. You must make sure that it's packaged to minimize chances of breakage.
Shipping bottles of liquid requires special handling, so you may come across a limited number of shipping solutions that allow you to ship beer, wine, and other liquor.
For example, postal couriers like USPS do not allow alcohol shipments at all.
UPS allows alcohol shipments, but you have to strictly follow their requirements. This includes having a proper license, a registered UPS account, proper packaging, clear shipping labels, and proper documentation.
UPS may not be able to deliver to every customer, and can only accept shipments for specific states. Another important thing to remember is that an adult signature is required for pickup or drop off at a given address. The shipping label should also specify that the package contains alcohol in order for it to get shipped.
FedEx, like UPS, lets you ship alcohol but has a strict policy about how you can ship. You must have registered an account with FedEx and they require having a signed agreement with them that you will be shipping alcohol. Other than, that the requirements are similar to UPS in terms of proper packaging, clear shipping label, license, proper documentation, and adult signature required.
How to properly pack alcohol shipments
The next important thing you should know before you ship alcohol is how to properly pack it so that the couriers will accept shipments from you. Here are some tips that can help:
- Get boxes with dividers especially made for packing wine or beer bottles
- Secure the bottom of the box with extra tape so bottles won’t fall out
- The bottles should be tightly corked or sealed
- Use bubble wrap around the bottle, and do it in such a way that the top and bottom of the bottle are also thoroughly covered. To this, put the bottle diagonally on the bubble wrap and roll it to cover all sides
- Place the bottle in the divider and fill the box with packing material or packing peanuts. Make sure you fill it to the top
- Seal the box by taping it generously
- Attach the shipping label with and clearly mention the package contains alcohol and is fragile
Importing and shipping alcohol
Here's what you should keep in mind:
- Make sure you know the quantities of alcohol you are allowed to ship to each destination
- Know what types of alcohol you can send to specific states or countries
- Know what import taxes and duties are applicable for the destinations you're shipping to
- When it comes to online pricing, make sure your customers are aware of any taxes, duties and shipping costs. Being upfront with all costs builds trusts with customers.
Running a wine, beer, or liquor business online is not impossible, but it definitely has its challenges. There are legal issues to consider, restrictions on selling between states and countries, and permits and licenses to acquire. And, with limited courier solutions, you may need to look outside household names and find a special delivery service that can handle alcohol shipments.
We hope you keep the above issues in mind, so if you do move forward with opening up your liquor businesses to online sales, you'll be able to successfully deliver happiness without a hitch!