Amazon can revolutionize grocery stores, but it still can’t sell wine

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Nary a wine bottle in sight, because even Amazon can’t solve the three-tier system.

Amazon has invented a cash register-less supermarket, but it can’t beat the three-tier system

Amazon says it will open convenience stores that are actually convenient by eliminating the checkout process, using technology to make shopping quicker and easier.

The grocery store business is agog with the news; the blog’s grocery store consultant told me “The idea is not new, but I think the technological advances are what make it possible now. Getting rid of the most hated part of the shopping experience is brilliant.”

Perhaps, but the irony is not lost on the Wine Curmudgeon. Some seven years ago, Amazon killed a program to sell wine over the Internet. The pilot, called AmazonWine, would have allowed consumers to buy wine like we buy everything else from the Internet giant. Search, click, and wait for it to show up at the door – and likely with free delivery for Prime customers.

So consider this: The world’s largest Internet retailer, whose technology, efficiency, and clout have changed the way we shop, says it can open a store without an employee working a cash register. Which is mind boggling. But it has never been able to figure out how to sell wine given the antiquated, decades-old regulatory system that governs alcohol sales in the U.S. — 50 laws for 50 states, and the requirement that almost every bottle of wine pass through a distributor licensed to sell wine in that state.

Ain’t three-tier grand?

Amazon “sells” wine today, but it’s a tiny part of its business and is nothing more than a way for wineries to sell directly to consumers. All Amazon does is charge wineries a fee to appear on the Amazon website, and the wineries do the rest of the work, just like they do when selling directly from their own websites.

And, because I do appreciate irony so much, one last thought. Not only did Amazon give up trying to sell wine, it apparently never made an effort to change the laws. What does it say about three-tier is when it’s easier to invent a store without a cash register using technology that didn’t exist a decade ago than it is to change laws that are almost a century old and mostly obsolete?

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