Internet Alcohol Sales now Permitted in British Columbia

Every day British Columbians head to the internet to do their shopping, even for perishable goods like groceries and flowers, and they expect to have the products they purchase delivered to their door. Now, (finally) they can do the same for all their beer, wine and spirits needs.

On October 17, 2016 the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch issued Policy Directive No. 16-13 that set out the Branch’s new policy with regard to the online sale and delivery of alcohol in British Columbia. Previously licensed establishments were permitted to “use the internet as part of their advertising and sales strategy” but “virtual liquor stores” were not permitted.  This new policy brings needed clarity to the industry for both retailers and consumers.

The policy statement can be read in full here.

Licensee Retail Stores (private liquor stores) and wine stores may now sell their products online and deliver them to customers.  The online store will be considered an “extension” of the licensee’s brick-and-mortar location so the store’s liquor licence number must appear prominently on the website (just like the licensee’s physical licence must be prominently displayed in the physical store), and deliveries must be made from inventory kept at the store and cannot be filled directly from off-site storage. This latter caveat prevents existing licensees from shifting to an internet-focused retailing strategy where they only maintain a minimal physical storefront and conduct the bulk of their business filling online orders from a warehouse.

Manufacturers who already enjoy on-site sales are also permitted to sell their products online, under the same conditions as retail stores (e.g. products must be delivered to the public from the retail store, not from a registered secondary storage site as may be permitted with licensee-to-licensee sales).

What does this all mean for the beer and wine industry in British Columbia?

Retailers and manufacturers should take note that under the new policy they may share a website with other licensees provided the website clearly sets out which store the products are coming from, and each store manages its own sales. The Branch’s decision to permit licensees to share online retail platforms may create opportunities for licensees with an existing internet sales presence to leverage that expertise and software into new relationships with other manufacturers or retailers.

The online sales and delivery policy also contemplates “unlicensed third parties” hosting websites that serve as portals for websites maintained by licensees. Though it is too soon to tell how the Branch’s Compliance and Enforcement Program will interpret the policy, Alcohol & Advocacy expects the gap in BC’s online market for alcohol, especially beer and wine direct from breweries and wineries, will be quickly filled by existing online retailers and delivery services, or by enterprising app developers.

The new policy is silent on what role government liquor stores will play in the new online retailing atmosphere.

The online marketplace for beer, wine and spirits is now open; if you or your business have questions about seizing this opportunity, or have any other concerns about British Columbia’s liquor laws contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.