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Easy Drinking with Apps that Deliver Booze to Your Doorstep

An iphone screen is shown, on which a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and other spirits are displayed.
The Drizly app offers customers wine, beer and spirits delivered to their door. Photo courtesy of Drizly.

Apps like Drizly, Minibar, Thirstie, and Drinkfly, among others, allow imbibers to browse a full selection of beers, wines, and liquors currently available for delivery within their area code via the apps’ liquor retail partners. Minibar partners with over 100 liquor stores nationwide, and Drizly with more than 150, including major brands like Denver’s Applejack, Dallas’ Goody Goody, and Indianapolis-based Big Red.

Many states don’t allow liquor delivery of any kind, like Kentucky, where Drizly co-founder Nick Rellas says their company is eager to expand. But the laws seem to be changing at a steady pace — Iowa, for example, recently made the decision to allow licensed retailers to deliver alcohol to individuals’ homes until 10 p.m. This legislative shift is allowing Drizly to enter new territory. “So at this point, it’s about finding the right retailers,” Rellas says.

For a user becoming familiar with these platforms for the first time, it’s easy to assume that Minibar and Drizly stock and provide the alcohol themselves. But actually, they never touch a single bottle of alcohol throughout the buying process. They are a middleman for booze peddlers, like Etsy is for makers, and Airbnb is for homeowners and renters, making their profit in partnership with liquor stores. The app is merely the platform for the sale.

Likewise, the drivers making the delivery have no affiliation with the app; they’re typically employed by the liquor store. The drivers are responsible for carding, and as part of Minibar and Drizly’s policies, the deliverers charge a $20 restocking fee if no one is present at the time of delivery, or if no one over the age of 21 can come to the door with valid ID.

Drizly also provides their liquor partners with a special proprietary ID verification technology developed by Advanced ID Technology. It’s a mobile app created with the same software used by bars and venues (Advanced ID Technology boasts Applebee’s as one of its clients) to scan IDs to verify first, that they are real, and secondly, that the customer is at least 21 years old. It’s a one time $25 fee to purchase the app on the driver’s smartphone, and it includes a review function that saves customer transactions in a detailed report.

Rellas explains, “It was a stroke of luck that the ID company we use was located just 20 miles outside of Boston. We took their in-store system and put it inside the driver app. The law says this responsibility is on the store. We have a responsibility to the store to be sure they’re protected. Using this system is part of the reason why we can work with such big stores. This is the big difference between us and our competition.” With this system, Drizly covers the liability bases both for themselves and their retail partners.

Any way you slice it, running an alcohol delivery service is high-risk and an operational challenge — a worthy one, but a challenge nonetheless. The founders of these companies seem passionate about the connections their apps facilitate between business and consumer, as Minibar co-founder Lara Crystal said, “Liquor stores still operate the same as they did 25-50 years ago,” and, “Discovery is so important. Customers might want to talk to someone knowledgeable, and they’re looking for new ways to shop. We can help them, and provide that experience to consumers.”

They do this by going a step beyond simple purveying — creating something of a community for their users, keeping their website chock full of new cocktail recipes, pairing suggestions, and more. With responsive customer support teams, it’s not outlandish to email or call up (Minibar has a contact number listed on their website) the people behind these apps to talk through a liquor recommendation or find out how much alcohol they’ll need to order for a party.

For those who know their booze from A-Z, the insider knowledge and extra assistance may be irrelevant, but it’s still a largely untapped market with room for growth. Between Minibar and Drizly alone, they cover 250+ liquor stores, but there are more than 40,000 liquor stores in the nation, and with the delivery laws steadily turning over state by state, there’s an opportunity for liquor stores to have greater reach and room to educate their tech savvy customer base in a way they’re not always able to from their storefront.

All of these apps have been developed within the past three years, so it’s too soon to tell if the new model is here to stay, or if it will even be profitable in the long run, but according to Rellas, Drizly was able to raise over 20 million in funding in just over 18 months, so there’s clearly some desire for revolutionizing the booze business. According to TechCrunch, the takeout and delivery market is a $70 billion market, only about $9 billion of which is online. One day very soon, it may be just as just as commonplace to order a bottle of whiskey to your door as it is a pizza.

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