Amazon In Hot Water Over California Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Enforcement

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Did you know that Amazon has a liquor license? Many people probably don’t, but it should come as no surprise to those of us who are paying attention to the way in which alcohol distribution and sales are changing. Many alcohol sales are conducted online these days, which means the potential for underage law-breaking and other deviant behavior has only increased. What is Amazon doing to ensure that its warehouses comply with alcoholic beverage control (ABC) laws in California? Apparently not much.

Amazon has been previously granted seven similar liquor licenses so that it may conduct business at brick-and-mortar locations directly adjacent to several of the company’s warehouses. Why would Amazon bother to sell wine and spirits at a physical location when the company is so successful in online sales?

The answer is simple: to deliver wine and spirits in California, the law requires that you have a brick-and-mortar location as well.

Many opponents of Amazon’s “stores” contend that these laws were designed to prevent a gargantuan company like Amazon from dominating the wine and spirits industry, and that Amazon isn’t really serious about selling at these physical locations — in fact, it’s all just an attempt to circumvent the California law. For now, the loophole seems to be working just fine for Amazon.

Undercover consumers quickly discovered the limits to supply at Amazon’s physical locations. Only a few bottles of wine were available at most of them, and one would be lucky to find any spirits at all.

Why should this make traditional store owners angry?

Because Amazon sells hundreds and hundreds and wines online — all of which are available for quick delivery via Prime Now. 

One of Amazon’s warehouse “stores” is located in Sacramento, but you won’t find much for sale there. On the other hand, you can get online in the very same zip code as the store and be treated to lightning-fast delivery of approximately 230 wines. Looking for something a little bit stronger? Fear not: you can also purchase a whopping 82 brands of whisky. The numbers are similar in Sunnyvale: 220 wines and 70 brands of whisky. 

Don’t forget that Amazon also controls Whole Foods and Sousa’s Wine Beer Spirits, and so has other avenues of selling as well. 

Asked about the small offerings at its warehouse store locations, an Amazon official commented: “We are not required to offer the full selection for sale in person. We are in compliance with the law.”
In other words, Amazon isn’t exactly playing coy about trying to do the bare minimum in order to remain in compliance. The online retailer doesn’t really want to sell alcohol to you in person — it wants you to tap a few keys online and deliver it directly to your door. Will California do anything to change this behavior in the future? Time will tell.