How to Sell Alcohol on Amazon (2020 Edition)

Post by Tom Baker
04 Jul 2020

People drink alcohol at home. No great surprise there. But where they buy their alcohol has rapidly changed. Coronavirus has changed buying habits and accelerated the adoption of buying alcohol online. Amazon is one of the main beneficiaries. 

In this article I will show you how to capitalise on this shift. We’ll go through the different ways that you can sell beers, wines and spirits on Amazon and the pros and cons of each option.  We’ll then look in more detail about how to kickstart sales once your Amazon store has been set up.

Amazon offers the potential to reach a global audience. 150m Prime subscribers that once never considered buying alcohol from Amazon are now used to buying alcohol from Amazon. That is a game changer.

Done correctly Amazon will now become a major part of any alcohol brand’s distribution strategy.

Contents

Different Selling Options For Brand-Owners and Distributors
An Intro to Winning the Buy Box
How to Start on Vendor Central
5 Things You Need to Know About Negotiating Price with Amazon
Minimum Order Quantities
Delivery to the Customer
How to Sell Alcohol through Seller Central
Getting Approval to Sell Alcohol on Amazon
How to Fulfil Amazon Orders as a 3rd Party Seller
How to Fulfil Orders Directly from your Logistics Operation
What You Need to Know About Selling Alcohol in Europe
How to Set Up Product Listings
How to Improve Product Awareness
Marketing Alcohol Products on Amazon

How to Start Selling Alcohol on Amazon

How you sell your products on Amazon depends on your business model.

If you are the brand owner then the best approach is to sell via Amazon’s Vendor Central platform. More on this later.

If you are a distributor and do not own exclusive rights to a brand in your market then you will sell through the Seller Central platform.

Why the difference?

Vendor is Amazon’s version of a traditional trade relationship. Amazon buys the products and they are presented as ‘dispatched from and sold by Amazon’ on the website.

amazon buy box
Amazon’s All Important Buy Box

Amazon will only work on a trade relationship with the brand owner or an entity that has exclusive distribution rights.

quote 1

Their approach is; why deal with multiple wholesalers when we can deal directly with the brand. It’s an understandable position to take.

If you are a wholesaler then you can sell the products through Seller Central. This is Amazon’s 3rd party marketplace. It is open to any business entity. 

3rd party businesses create their own account and listings. Alternatively, if the product they are selling is already for sale on Amazon then they don’t need to create a listing. They simply create an offer on the existing listing.

In this example, there is one listing for Kraken Spiced Rum and 4 offers from 3rd parties. They are all competing to ‘win’ sales of that product.

Multiple Seller Offers
Multiple Sellers on One Listing

A Quick Intro into Winning the Buy Box

How do they ‘win’ the sale. Or in Amazon’s jargon; how do they win the buy box

In this scenario it comes down to a few things

  1. Price
  2. Delivery time
  3. Seller rating

The algorithm that decides which seller wins the sale is heavily weighted towards rewarding the lowest price and secondly, how quickly they can deliver. Then the seller rating.  If a seller performs poorly on any of these measurements then they will struggle to win the buy box. 

Even with a low price a seller will struggle if they have a very poor seller rating

In our example you can see that Click N Drink is priced at £26.95 but is ranked lower than the higher priced offer from Goods Digest. This is because Click N Drink’s seller rating is only 69% – nearly one third of people have given a negative rating. If their rating was above 90% then they would out-rank Goods Digest.

They are some of the basics of selling as a 3rd party on Amazon. If you believe that Seller Central is right for you then click here to jump down the article to our Seller Central guide.

If you’re a brand or exclusive distributor then you’ll need to follow the steps in the next section.

How to Get Started on Vendor Central

The first and most important thing to know is that Vendor Central is invite-only.

There are two ways to get an invite

  1. Amazon has a business development team that are regularly reaching out to brands. You may already have an email from them asking whether you are interested in selling on Amazon. The downside is that unless you’ve received this email there’s nothing you can do to start this process
  2. Speak with an Amazon marketing agency like us. The good ones will have numerous contacts at Amazon and will be able to open the conversation with the appropriate buying team at Amazon

Being in contact with the buyer doesn’t automatically mean you can start selling on Amazon. 

The next step is to negotiate pricing with them. There’s more to it than meets the eye. 

5 Things You Need to Know About Negotiating Prices with Amazon

  1. Contribution Fee – Amazon will charge a Vendor around 13% of the sales price for each unit sold. Amazon states that this fee is used to advertise the products, often on Google, and as a contribution to the ongoing improvement of the Amazon platform. Yes it’s a decent-sized chunk of margin but this is the cost of doing business with Amazon. To tap into such a large audience does mean some margin sacrifice is required.
  2. Transparency – we find that being very open about the cost of goods and other factors is the best way to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with Amazon. Each Amazon buyer has limits that they can go to. Being able to justify your trade prices means the buyer will consider you more trustworthy and be more open to adjusting their buy prices
  3. Buy pricing – Once you’ve given Amazon your trade prices they will come in with a much lower buy price.  Do not be fearful of their buying power. There is alway room for negotiation.  Explain why their initial offer isn’t feasible and suggest a more acceptable middle-ground. The buyer has room for manoeuvre. 
  4. Use Marketing as a Bargaining Tool – just because Amazon is buying the products from you doesn’t mean that they will cover advertising and promotional costs. Use this to your advantage. Tell the buyer that you are committed to investing in Amazon advertising campaigns but to do that you need more margin. If the buyer understands that the money is being reinvested in order to grow sales on Amazon then they will be more prepared to buy at a higher price. 
  5. Flexible Margins – the buyer will be prepared to accept different margins for different products, even within the same category. Maybe you can accept lower margins on your more popular products and use that as leverage to protect margin in other areas.

Once you’ve agreed pricing the Vendor Manager will start the onboarding process.

This includes

  • Account creation
  • Providing trademark information for an Amazon program called Brand Registry
  • Uploading product information to your Amazon account
  • Arranging the first shipments

Minimum Order Quantities

Amazon will be respectful of your MOQs and case sizes. It’s important to explain your processes as part of the price negotiation. 

If order quantities influence your pricing then explain this to the buyer.  They will discuss this with you and create an initial ordering plan that reflects your requirements.

It’s important that they understand case-packing too. 

Amazon’s replenishment systems will send out purchase orders up to twice a week depending on the range and sales volumes. If you don’t specify your case packs then you will receive orders for random quantities that may not suit your warehouse.

Specify your requirements in the negotiation phase and the buyer will ensure the systems only send order requests in multiples of your case sizes.

How are Products Fulfilled to the Customer

One of the big perks of using the Vendor Central program is that Amazon handles delivery to the customer.

You will ship units as per the weekly purchase orders to Amazon’s fulfilment centres. Amazon handles everything from that point until it reaches the customer.

This process is called Fulfillment by Amazon or FBA. All products on the FBA program will be eligible for next today delivery for Prime subscribers.

Amazon is well known for it’s speedy delivery. For you as the brand-owner it provides three benefits

benefits of amazon prime

If you get to this point in the process then you’ve done everything you need to do in order to start selling on Amazon.

Your Vendor Manager will introduce you to a range of training modules. These will help you to understand how to market your products on Amazon. 

We’ll come back to this in more detail later on but for now, it’s important to get into the mindset that Amazon is both a point of sale and a marketing platform. You must engage with both sides to become a successful Amazon seller.

Next, we’re going to walk you through options for businesses that either don’t want to use Vendor Central or are unable to use it because of their business status.

How to Sell Alcohol on Amazon via Seller Central

Let’s quickly recap on why you might sell through Seller Central.

Vendor Central is only open to brand owners or exclusive distributors. If you don’t fall into those two groups then the only other option is to use the 3rd party marketplace platform.

Brands and exclusive distributors can also use Seller Central but we don’t recommend taking this option.

I’ll explain why when we come onto fulfilment for 3rd party sellers a bit later on.

Opening a Seller Central account is very easy. You don’t need Amazon’s permission.  Before we get into the details it’s important that you are aware of the administrative hurdles that you will have to jump before you can start selling.  

Review these regulations before going through the time and effort of creating your Amazon account.

How to Set Up an Amazon Account to Sell Alcohol

The initial set up is pretty straightforward.

Simply go to https://sellercentral.amazon.com if you want to sell in the United States or if you’re selling in another country head to the local version of this domain (.co.uk, .de etc.)

Creating an account can be done in two simple steps

  1. Choose a selling plan – either a $39.99/£30 monthly subscription or a small fee per unit sold. 99.99% of you will go with the first option
  2. Create your account – you’ll need to enter your business and bank information

Getting Approval to Sell Alcohol on Amazon

Let’s assume for now that you have an Amazon Seller Central account.  Your first job is to pull together all of the necessary documentation and request approval from Amazon to start selling.

As you might expect there are specific administrative tasks that you have to complete before Amazon will allow you to sell alcohol. Vendor and Seller Central sellers have to meet all of the following requirements.  

  • Provide a return delivery address in the local country or offer free delivery.
  • Provide local language support for Customer Service in the marketplace in which the sale will take place.
  • You must not sell alcohol to buyers under the minimum drinking age governed under the applicable laws.
  • Supply acceptable documentation and any other information we request about the products you intend to sell, including information to demonstrate payment of excise duties in the local country.

Meeting these requirements is on top of general selling requirements as explained in this Amazon article.  Amazon also assumes that you are adhering to all local, state and national laws.  

It will not check that you are, but if for any reason Amazon suspects you are not complying with the law your account will be shut down. 

Amazon is very cautious and will act to suspend an account and then ask the seller to prove they are compliant. It’s a huge pain to resolve these situations. You have been warned!

As you’re waiting for approval you can start to plan how you will fulfil customer orders.

There are a number of options. You will need to weigh up the pros and cons carefully.

How to Fulfil Amazon Orders as a 3rd Party Seller

This question is a no-brainer in most product categories. You have a choice between 3 options

amazon fulfilment options

For a more detailed explanation we’ve created this in-depth comparison of FBA V FBM V SFP Amazon fulfilment options.

Most sellers will choose to sell via FBA. Generally, it’s cheaper with far fewer operational overheads. FBA sellers are eligible for Prime next day or 2-day delivery which is a huge plus point for customers. 

However, things are different in the alcohol sector. Most alcohol sellers choose to sell through FBM. This means slower delivery times and the need for a warehouse fulfilment operation. 

The reason most sellers choose this option is that Amazon’s rules around how to package and deliver products to the fulfilment centres can be prohibitive for most organisations.  There is also an inherent risk of shipping delicate items to an Amazon warehouse that is not necessarily geared up to deal with the specific requirements of handling your products.

Here’s what you will need to do if you want to use FBA. 

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  • A company can sell through FBA on all marketplaces, except Amazon.it.
  • Amazon Logistics (Amazon’s FBA courier service) can’t ship alcohol products across borders. Products that are shipped to a fulfilment centre in Germany can only fulfil orders coming from Germany shipping addresses.
  • When shipments are delivered to addresses in Spain, France and Italy, all bottles must be properly prepared. This means that bottles sold individually must be packaged in a box approved for e-commerce. If bottles are sold as a set, they must be packaged in an e-commerce approved carton with dividers.

In the UK and Germany there are additional regulations that you will need to comply with.

  • Units do not need to be individually prepared/conditioned. If units are received prepared, they will be re-packaged and prepared at the fulfilment centre where they do not meet carrier requirements.
  • Units should be sent in pallets (and meet the general shipping and routing requirements), or another method that ensures that individual units will not break during transport to the fulfilment centre or during inbound (this is the seller’s responsibility).
  • If units are to be sent in cartons, Amazon requires cartons to be closed and not include units with two different products
  • With regards to bundles (both mono-product and multi-product), sellers are responsible for sending the bundled units together in a carton or other packaging with the FNSKU sticker for the bundle ASIN on the packaging (not on each bottle). Preparation services do not include picking and assembling bundles. The packaging doesn’t need to be prepared for delivery to the customer (but should follow the requirements in the second point above) and will be re-packaged and prepared at the fulfilment centre.
  • Each unit needs to be labelled with the FNSKU linked to the country-specific SKU (e.g. For Germany: FNSKU X000000000/MSKU DE-FBA-SKU1). Labelling needs to be done on the product itself, covering the original product barcode. For a better customer experience, we recommend that bottles are labelled with the FNSKU sticker not overlapping any information on the product label.

It’s worth explaining what a FNSKU is at this juncture;

Fulfilment Network Stock Keeping Unit (FNSKU) is an Amazon-specific term.  The unit is unique to the seller and product and allows Amazon to keep track of your inventory. When a seller creates an offer the FNSKU is created. This code is printed on product-level labelling.

For more information about meeting Amazon’s criteria for packaging liquids and fragile items review these two help pages;

How to Fulfil Alcohol Orders on Amazon via FBM

If you want more control over how products are warehoused and shipped to customers then you can fulfil orders from your own warehouse.

This process is called Fulfilled by Merchant or FBM.

FBM means the seller is processing and delivery orders. In a nutshell, that entails

  • Processing the order in Seller Central
  • Printing Amazon packaging labels
  • Packaging the goods
  • Shipping to the customer

FBM sellers are not eligible for the Prime badge. This makes it extremely difficult to compete for sales against Amazon.

In this example you can see that Amazon and a 3rd party seller called Drink Specialist are selling at the same price but ;

  • Amazon delivery at least 5 days before Drink Specialist
  • Drink Specialist have a £4.95 delivery fee on top of the sales price
Compete Against Amazon
Competing Against Amazon is an Uphill Struggle

In that circumstance, the buy box algorithm is always going to favour Amazon.

You could try to offer free delivery and beat Amazon on the sales price but given Amazon’s buying power and market dominance they aren’t afraid to drop prices. 

Bottom line is you’ll never out-price Amazon.

My advice is to not expect too much revenue in these circumstances. By all means keep your offer live in case Amazon runs out of stock or ends the Vendor relationship but this approach is never going to lead to significant revenue.

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Selling Alcohol in Different Countries on Amazon

Each country has their own very specific laws relating to the sale of alcohol. This is reflected in Amazon’s own policies. Expect to see very different rules and different requests for official documentation in each country.

Regulations in the United States are much more stringent than Europe. 

Examples of Permitted Listings in the US

  • Wine sold by pre-approved sellers
  • Wine and beer making kits and products that do not contain alcohol

Examples of Prohibited Listings in the US

  • Alcoholic beverages (except from pre-approved wine sellers)
  • Any product marketed for customers over 21 years of age
  • Any product that encapsulates raw alcohol

In Europe, sellers are free to sell any type of beer, wine or spirit as long as they can meet these requirements

  • Product packaging must be in the local language
  • The products must be new
  • Each product must have one of the following:
  • Alcohol by volume (ABV) values displayed on all product pages.
  • All food products (including alcohol) offered for sale on a European Amazon website must be intended for sale in the EU and comply with all applicable EU and local laws and regulations, including but not limited to food information and labelling regulations (such as Regulation 1169/2011/EC).
  • All food products (including alcohol) offered for sale on a European Amazon website must (as a minimum) be labelled in the language of that website. For example, all food products offered for sale on Amazon.de must (at a minimum) be in German.

To comply with EU policy in Germany, all products that are listed by weight, volume or length must be marked with a base price (the so-called base price policy). To display the base price correctly, Amazon will require information about your product’s weight, volume or length.

sell alcohol in europe

If you are able to meet the general and country-specific requirements then you can move onto the next step which is opening your Amazon account, requesting approval and creating listings.

To request approval, log into your Seller Central account and then head to this page. Scroll to the bottom and you will see a ‘Request Approval’ link.

A word of caution regarding account approvals.

Amazon is a big, slow moving beast. The approval process can take a few weeks. Amazon may ask for additional information or documentation.

The person you’re speaking to at Amazon may not be a specialist in this area. My advice is to provide lots of details and explain in the most explicit manner possible. Going this extra-mile to give more context will help you to get set up much quicker.  

Take that from someone that deals with Amazon’s Seller Support on a daily basis! 

How to Create Amazon Listings: A Brief Guide

Now that you have an account, it’s been approved and you’ve chosen your fulfilment method you can start to create your listings.

First, two quick definitions to help us through this process

  • Listing – this is the page on Amazon’s website which hosts the product. There is only ever one listing per product. Multiple sellers compete on that one listing
  • Offer – to compete on a listing a seller must have an offer for that product. This simply means they have inventory, are able to fulfil and have set the sales price.
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To find out whether the product is already in Amazon’s catalogue login to your Seller Central account. 

Go to Catalogue > Add Products. 

Add product to amazon

Search for the product name, EAN, UPC or ASIN. ASIN is Amazon’s catalogue number. 

Search amazon catalogue

You’ll find the ASIN in the URL of every listing on Amazon’s website.  For example, the ASIN for this product is B00FU9BLKY – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Guinness-Draught-Surger-24-520ml/dp/B00FU9BLKY/

If the product is already on sale then you will be prompted to create an offer on that listing.  Those of you who have already received approval to sell alcohol then you can create your offer. If not, you will be prompted to ‘apply to sell’.

Apply to sell alcohol on amazon
  1. Enter your sales prices and confirm your order handling and delivery times

Assuming you’ve priced competitively your products are ready to be sold.

How to Improve Product Awareness on Amazon

Setting up listings on Amazon is only stage one of the process. Don’t expect the sales to immediately come flooding in.

The biggest challenge with online distribution is awareness. Amazon provides the opportunity to access millions of customers but it does so for 1000s of brands.

Getting discovered amongst that vast ocean is the difference between good and great sales. Before I delve into how to increase sales it’s important to understand some core principles of Amazon marketing;

  1. Amazon is ‘pay to play’ – do not expect to accelerate sales if you don’t invest in paid advertising
  2. Amazon is a ‘purchase engine’ – it rewards products that have high sell-through rates with more organic visibility. 
  3. Use paid advertising to drive more traffic and increase sell-through. In turn that will create more non-paid traffic and sales.

As you can see each marketing activity accelerates the next stage in the process. We call this the Amazon Revenue Flywheel. 

amazon revenue flywheel

What Marketing Options Does Amazon Provide

Now that we understand the underlying principles let’s walk through the marketing tools that are at your disposal.

These topics are long blog posts in their own right but for now its sufficient to understand the basics

Amazon SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It is the practice of understanding how people search for your type of product and optimising your listing to reflect that customer behaviour. 

From a practical point of view it means

  • Researching how customers search on Amazon
  • Using those keywords in your listing – primarily in the title and bullet points
  • Adding additional keywords into the ‘back-end’ – there’s a section in the listing editor which allows you to add supplementary keywords that haven’t been used on the listing

Amazon Advertising

When people search on Amazon the top of the search results is usually taken-up by ads. Amazon calls these ‘sponsored products’ or ‘sponsored brand’ ads. 

Any Amazon seller can use ads. Amazon advertising should be an integral part of every seller’s toolkit. 

To say there is a lot of search traffic on Amazon is an understatement. It’s important to appreciate that the majority of that traffic is non-brand (searches that don’t include a brand name) – upto 80% according to this study. That means millions of searches from people that know what they want but are undecided about which specific product to buy.

Ads are based on keyword targeting. You can decide which keywords you want to target or you can let Amazon’s algorithm decide for you.

Often at the start of a campaign it is better to let Amazon decide. This is because the algorithm will pick up any type of relevant keyword. If you pre-empt what those keywords are you may miss out keywords you’re not aware of and lose out on lots of traffic.

To quickly summarise

  • Automatic targeting – Amazon decides which keywords to target based on the keywords on your listing and in the ‘back-end’
  • Manual Targeting – the seller decides which keywords to target. This option is mainly used when an advertiser has data from other search engine marketing activity – they’re running ads on Google for example. Secondly, it is good practice to move successful keywords (keywords that are delivering sales) from automatic to manual targeting as this allows you to control your budget and further optimise those keywords.

Promotions

Increasing sales on Amazon does not have to be a linear process – sales increasing in proportion to the amount you spend on advertising.

Promotions will drive short term sales which in turn improves sales rank. Do this consistently over a period of months and you’ll build up a sustainable Amazon store.

Spikes of promotional activity particularly preceding and during seasonal events will enable you to accelerate sales. This is so important that we often recommend that clients treat some events as loss-leaders.  A short-term loss is worth it for the long term benefit of increased exposure.

Here are the main promotions you can run

amazon promotions

The most successful Amazon sellers understand all of the levers at their disposal. Knowing how they interact to increase sales is the boss move that takes an Amazon seller from good to great.

In Conclusion

Customer behaviour is changing rapidly. The forced acceleration to buying online means that brands have to react quickly.

In the rush to move online it’s important to understand the nuances of each platform. Amazon comes with a huge ‘ready-to-buy’ audience but that also means serious competition.

Choose the right selling method (Vendor or Seller) and invest in Amazon advertising to kickstart and sustain sales.

It’s a pretty simple combination but the difference between the bestsellers and the long tail of also-rans is monumental. 

Brands succeed by having a team of people that understand the system, how to leverage the marketing options and how to do all of this in the most profitable manner.

Don’t expect overnight success but by committing to these principles Amazon can be a lucrative new channel for alcohol brands.

Tom Baker

The guy writing this stuff. Previously worked in-house doing all sorts of marketing for start-ups and large brands. Now helping business to sell on Amazon and building a full service Amazon agency

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