Interview: Bacardi NA’s VP of Digital Commerce Talks Alcohol Ecommerce Trends

The COVID-19 crisis has fast-forwarded many emerging trends. This includes ecommerce, which was expanding into newer terrain like spirits sales at the beginning of this year. Now, with so many people hesitant to leave home, the ability to buy alcohol online has suddenly shifted from novel to necessary

Businesses prepared for this evolution in consumer behavior have prospered. Others have had to catch up. Not Bacardi. The global alcohol company has invested in ecommerce for years, believing the trend would take hold in the later 2020s. Instead, the business landscape of tomorrow arrived today, and Bacardi was ready.

For a deeper dive into how the company has leveraged ecommerce this year for growth, we recently spoke with Lorran Brown Cosby, Bacardi North America’s VP of Digital Commerce.

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Beverage Dynamics: What is your take on alcohol ecommerce in 2020?

Lorran Brown Cosby, Bacardi North America’s VP of Digital Commerce.

Lorran Brown Cosby: Ecommerce has been a great story this year. In the 17 weeks from the middle of March through now [late July] we’ve seen exponential growth across the spirits category.

You have to remember, spirits was one of the last categories to be accepted by consumers in terms of ecommerce. A lot of it was about driving awareness. People had wondered, ‘Can I actually buy spirits online?’ Then COVID-19 comes along and everyone is locked down and they’re discovering that they can still enjoy cocktails at home. Consumer awareness of spirits went up significantly.

During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in our online sales of around 800%. That’s growth, activity and engagement. We’ve gotten past a huge hurdle: people wondering whether they can buy spirits online. All of our brands are now seeing triple-digital growth online.

BD: What’s that growth look like, category-wide?

LBC: I saw a statistic this morning from Nielsen that, over the last three months of the pandemic, the spirits category was up 300% in ecommerce. It’s already done a billion dollars, and that used to be an annual number. As online shopping continues to grow, 35% of Americans say they look forward to purchasing ingredients and creating cocktails for their own outdoor drinking experiences with friends and family.

A lot of this has to do with the category’s ecommerce capturing new users. For our own brands, we estimate 40-50% of our online growth is from new users.

BD: Would you agree that the spirits ecommerce trend arrived early because of the pandemic?

LBC: Absolutely. Before all this we thought that it would take us five, seven or even ten years to generate consumer awareness of our spirits ecommerce. And then it would have taken even more time to convince people to purchase these products online. Now we say, what we were looking to do in three years we have done in three weeks.

Of course, it helps that we had a great digital foundation already in place. We already had our core strategies, like great Instagram ads that inspire people to think, ‘How can I get that cocktail now?’ And we already had great partnerships with Drizly, Instacart, Reserve Bar and Saucey.

BD: How do you use these platforms?

LBC: All have different strategies, so we leverage the different platforms for our different brands.

Reserve Bar does an amazing job with spirits brands that most people have never had before. They have a very unique audience.

Drizly has done an amazing job at capturing users. This is exactly where we need to play with our core brands. Patron and Grey Goose are absolutely on fire right now on Drizly. We’re using Drizly to scale and for core brands.

Saucey has created very strong relationships on the west coast.

Bacardi already had the digital infrastructure in place to take advantage of the boom in alcohol ecommerce in 2020.

BD: Will these trends stay in place after the pandemic?

LBC: I do see them staying in place. The new online customers are the customers who are locked up at home. Their lifestyle right now is all about entertain me now, teach me now, send this product to me now. Now that we know that this lifestyle is possible, I think we’re going to see a significant amount of it continue after the pandemic.

There will be people who split their purchases between online and in-person after the pandemic, and there will be others who return to only buying things in-person. But we absolutely believe that there is a legitimate ecommerce trend here.

BD: What’s your take on the recent rise of virtual tastings?

LBC: We’ve done a lot, including with Caskers. Online tastings are about education. They’re about connecting dots for consumers and letting them know how they can get the product now.

When we do tastings we lean into the expertise of our ambassadors and brand reps. With the lockdowns, we have a captive audience, so we bring in an expert who can share something unique about the brand. We’re driving awareness that you can enjoy these products at home now, and you can order them now. We’re driving consumers all the way through to the point of online purchase, and it’s working.

The tastings start with social media, letting people know how they can easily access the events through Zoom. In fifteen minutes we teach people how to mix the spirit, how to enjoy it and how they can buy it now on Reserve Bar and have it shipped to you the next day. People now see a great cocktail idea online and know that they can make it tomorrow.

Our online tastings have really captured consumer attention, and resonated. We’re seeing lots of growth with our smaller brands.

BD: Another newer trend is brands producing digital content for retailers. Has Bacardi done this?

LBC: Yes. I define this as ‘Beautiful Basics’. We’re continuing to partner with retailers to provide them with that content, those beautiful basics. I’m talking about the right product showcases, like showcasing a beautiful piña colada, showing that it’s inspired by Bacardi.

We’re also keeping retailers up to date on trends — how people are consuming — and creating micro moments that matter, along with content calendars that are easy for retailers to access. We’re making sure that retailers can easily connect with our technology. We’re creating beautiful artwork and content, and giving retailers every resource they need to showcase our products online. Retailers are embracing it 100%.

We’re proactively building this content so that we can easily push things out. We’re making it seamless. Retailers never have to track us down for info. For instance, we recently launched a new Bacardi RTD line, and we sent out visuals and descriptions to every retail partner we have.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece COVID-19 is Fueling a Home Mixology Movement.

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