Australian beer company Carton & United Breweries (CUB) is unashamedly pursuing growth opportunities in e-commerce, creating tension among its traditional retail partners.

Carlton & United Breweries online

CUB, now a division of AB-InBev, trialled a direct-to-consumer approach in November 2018 when it began selling some of its most popular brands on eBay Australia. This followed the August 2018 acquisition of online alcohol business BoozeBud. As part of the eBay trial, many of the products were initially heavily discounted, undercutting established retailers by up to 25% (discounts have dropped significantly since then).

The move predictably drew ire among local pub, hotel and bottle shop owners, many of whom perceived the tactic as one that deliberately bypassed them in order to expand market share. This was particularly so when the products were sold at discounted prices.

CUB has since met with the Australian Hotels Association, and most recently in March this year with Retail Drinks Australia – the national industry body for Australia’s packaged retail liquor stores – to discuss the concerns raised by its members regarding its overt foray into online liquor retailing and the potential impact on its retail partners.

Nurturing relationships with retailers

While CUB has communicated its support and ongoing commitment to nurturing its relationships with existing retailers, it is evident that the beer company will continue to explore the relatively untapped potential of direct-to-consumer liquor sales in Australia.

Indeed, with the number of on-demand alcohol delivery services, the launch of alcohol delivery via UberEATS and the imminent rise of Amazon, the retail landscape for alcohol is making more room for the online channel, and traditional retailers have little choice but to adapt to this shift.

Online, it is vital for traditional retailers to build their e-commerce platforms in a way that does not just display products for sale but offers media-rich content that is relevant and engaging. However, it is the offline environment in which these retailers have the best opportunity to stand out.

Enhancing the in-store purchasing experience, whether through guided tastings, expert-led workshops or interactive displays, recognises that the process of purchasing alcohol can and should be enjoyable. While brick and mortar stores will never match the convenience of online, they have an undeniable competitive advantage when it comes to experiential retail.

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