June 21: Our bureaucratic system did not allow online sales of alcohol for 20 years but it may soon become a reality, thanks to the long queues outside liquor shops on May 4 and 5 when the government allowed sale of liquor at these shops during the pandemic, with West Bengal taking the lead and soon to allow the likes of Amazon and Big Basket to start selling online, paving way for other States to follow suit, writes Subhash Arora, a strong proponent of online wine sales
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal with a population of 90 million, might be faulted for many of her policies but her government has shown vision and courage to allow the sale of wine and liquor online and authorise the sales monopoly, West Bengal State Beverages Corporation to work out an Agreement with companies like the US e-commerce giant Amazon to sell liquor online. Alibaba-partnered grocery chain Big Basket is another possible platform.
Once the platform is successful in handling online sales, a well-established platform in the US and China and wherever they have forayed, it will be a matter of time when other States will follow suit. More sales mean more revenues to their coffers and they would need to collect every rupee they can they their hands on Post-Covid-19.
In India, marketing and pricing of alcoholic products including taxation, is allowed as a State subject under Article 47 of the Indian Constitution. All the States have been using this as a platform to collect heavy revenues, but never allowed online sales or home delivery, being paranoid of things going out of their control. What might be elementary in most parts of the world has been impossible so far, as if the States were united in their efforts to oppose this platform vehemently. But the indiscipline seen due to the pent up demand and the possibility of a massive spread of Covid-19 virus made States to give it a rethink.
Many allowed Zomato and Swiggy with their existing delivery platforms to home-delivery of liquor in many cities. States like Maharashtra have allowed home delivery which has been going on smoothly, from various reports. Online platform is next in line and it might revolutionise wine and liquor marketing in India.
Amazon has been already selling non-alcoholic beverages in India but globally it has been selling alcoholic beverages including beer, wine, cocktail mixtures and spirits. Alibaba which has invested in the Indian online grocery chain Big Basket, revolutionised the sales of alcoholic products online in China and could be a successful platform. The customer can also be assured of more reasonable prices with a reduction of distribution costs and eventually private labels becoming more popular.
West Bengal State Beverages Corporation invited four companies to sign an MOA with them: Big Basket, Golden Goenka, Next Door Hub and Amazon who have been found eligible for empanelment on the list for electronic retail business of liquor. They would join the existing empanelled companies -Spencer’s Retail, Swiggy, Hip Bar and Zomato.
The state excise department in a notification on May 5, 2020, had allowed the provision of telephonic/home delivery of liquor and has subsequently launched an online portal for retail and doorstep delivery of liquor to legal-age consumers, according to Telegraph India. Amazon and other logistics hope to carve a small slice of the market worth an estimated $27 billion.
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