Chinese ecommerce market (pic: iStock)

Chinese ecommerce market (pic: iStock)

E-commerce will significantly surpass sales of global travel retail over the next five years, according to a new report by International Wine & Spirits Research (IWSR), driven by China’s mammoth e-commerce market.

In 2019, the e-commerce channel of alcohol beverage sales in the ten core markets studied by the IWSR is estimated to be almost US$21 billion, twice the size of the global travel retail channel.

By 2024, IWSR forecasts that e-commerce for alcohol beverage will be worth US$45.5billion, significantly outpacing the growth rate of total trade over the next five years.

Of the ten core markets studied as part of the IWSR’s Global Ecommerce 2019 Strategic Study, China is the biggest online market for alcohol drinks by some distance, followed by France and the US, says the research institute.

China’s e-commerce market ranks the biggest in the world, worth about US$1.94 trillion, according to eMarketer, contributing to more than half of the global online sales.


China’s e-commerce alcohol sales are driven by imported wine and baijiu, China’s national spirit, which together account for over 80% of sales values online, according to the IWSR report, though imported wine only took a meagre share.

“Looking at just imported spirits, Cognac dominates, with a 74% share of value, which is unsurprising given that it is the most popular international spirit in China and sells at a relatively premium price point. However, when looking at share of volumes, Cognac’s online penetration is lower than that of imported white spirits,” remarks Tommy Keeling, IWSR’s Research Director for Asia Pacific.

The US is forecast to grow fastest overall between 2019 and 2024. Currently in the US, wine drives the largest share of the e-commerce channel, reflecting the looser regulatory environment for online wine sales as compared to that for spirits and beer.

Although each beverage alcohol category is faced with different state-level regulations, specific e-commerce channels provide different distribution opportunities by category. Adam Rogers, IWSR’s Research Director for North America, advises, “within wine, small-to-medium sized wineries focus on leveraging online sales, especially direct-to-consumer, to overcome distribution challenges. Beer benefits from being sold in the online grocery delivery channel alongside food delivery. And spirits are mostly ordered online via marketplace delivery platforms where retailers actually fulfil the orders.”

France, currently the second largest market in e-commerce after China, sees wine as the dominant category in ecommerce. Jose Luis Hermoso, IWSR’s Research Director covering France, notes, “There are just under 500 specialist wine e-commerce sites in France, although the category is less dependent on the fast-growing click-and-collect model.” Although wine is the country’s largest e-commerce category, there’s a lot of interesting movement in beer, which is growing fast from a small base.

Across the ten countries studied (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and the USA), beverage alcohol sales online are growing at a rate of 15% per year, versus total trade growth of 1% per year, over the next five years.

As we see more innovation and uptake in this channel, with retailers such as Amazon launching an own-brand gin and its own branded wine, for example, “this is a channel that cannot be ignored. Brand owners, as well as retailers, need to have a clear ecommerce strategy in place,” IWSR concluded.

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