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Q&A: How ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Managed A 2,000% Spike in Ecommerce Demand

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The closure of bars and restaurants at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic meant demand at alcoholic beverage merchants, which were designated as essential retailers, spiked just as hard as it did for grocery retailers. These retailers also had to contend with a similarly sudden shift toward ecommerce — which in the case of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits meant a 2,000% YoY increase between early spring and mid-summer.

To manage the rapid jump in demand, the retailer created a new position and leaned into its partnership with Oracle to bring BOPIS, delivery and omnichannel capabilities up to speed in a hurry. The effort paid off, and ABC is continuing to refine its efforts amid positive customer response to its initial ecommerce pivot.

Sean Kelly, VP and Chief Marketing Officer at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, shares the steps the retailer took to quickly adapt its operations in this interview.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): The retail industry has seen much disruption in the last six months. Let’s start with a little background on your company.

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Sean Kelly: ABC Fine Wine and Spirits is a family-owned alcohol beverage company that began in 1936. ABC operates more than 123 stores from the Florida Panhandle to Miami. A typical store carries more than 10,000 different wines, spirits and beers, from popular brands to our exclusive items. Historically, the company strived to provide an exceptional in-store experience for our team members and guests by offering tastings, expert advice and camaraderie in the community. 

With the recent pandemic, bars closed on March 17 for almost six months. This shift propelled us into a new level of demand. We were deemed an essential retailer and never closed our doors. The safety of our team members and guests remained the top priority.

RTP: With COVID, what were the initial changes to your operations?

Kelly: We serve millions of guests in stores and through our concierge service for weddings, corporate events and large parties. This demand shifted online. Before COVID, ecommerce was part of our service offering but not our primary engagement with our guests. Between March and July, we saw a 2,000% YoY increase in ecommerce. 

RTP: How quickly were you able to respond to the change? What were the keys to your agility?

Kelly: Overnight, the operations needed to change and react to consumer demand safely. We took an all-hands-on-deck approach. We didn’t have time to research the details of the perfect curbside model. We had to test and try and refine as we went along. Sometimes you just have to get moving and do it.

RTP: How did you reallocate resources and change the roles inside your team to accommodate the changes?

Kelly: The entire company pivoted in this unique situation. The team began fulfilling the orders from the store; we needed to change simple things like signage. IT was on hand to make the necessary refinements, and marketing increased the frequency of communications to customers. The alignment was critical to us. ABC created a new role called an Online Order Captain to orchestrate the digital-to-physical experience in stores. This individual was responsible for watching the orders, then ensuring proper fulfillment happened at a swift pace.

RTP: How has the customer experience changed?

Kelly: Buy online, pick up in-store became the norm. This demand was fulfilled out of the store and available for curbside pickup with all the safety precautions. As a team, we created a more efficient process to support live inventory at all of our stores and refine it further as we execute. 

We demonstrated that safety is our highest priority. The response from our guests has been fantastic. People continue to be appreciative and vocal about the efforts put forth by the teams. For now, masks are still required inside the store by everyone. Regularly cleaning and sanitizing is a very important part of the everyday routine.

RTP: Do you believe that consumer purchase behavior habits have permanently changed as a result of COVID?

Kelly: Every day I see examples of how guests are more aware of online ordering, delivery choices and ways to engage our brand. However, we also see that many of our guests still prefer to come into the store to talk to wine experts and browse new products. Our online shopping experience has become an excellent way to browse available inventory and discover new products. We believe that curbside pickup is also here to stay. As the in-store operations resume, the signage continues to improve.

RTP: What role does technology play in this new customer experience?

Kelly: ABC leverages the full Omnichannel suite of solutions, including Oracle Retail Xstore Point of Service, Oracle Commerce Cloud, Order Broker, and Order Management. Combining these solutions provides our team with a 360-degree view of customers and transactions in real time. The technology also enables us to fulfill demand in multiple ways with real-time inventory visibility. We offer curbside, BOPIS and delivery through partners. By mid-October, we’re starting our own ABC Delivers service that will be powered by FedEx, and a second last-mile delivery company, ahead of the holiday season. This will allow us to accelerate our efforts in the same-day delivery space, and all operations will run through our website.

RTP: What are your key lessons learned from the experience?

Kelly: Get Started: Never waste a crisis, as our CEO likes to say. Misfires are frustrating but may result in the growth you were looking for. Don’t be so cautious. Most importantly, figure out what is viable, get going and adjust quickly to make it better.

Inventory: Don’t underestimate the importance of real-time inventory visibility. We were able to show real-time inventory availability to the consumer across the digital and in-store operations. Inventory is a huge advantage to meet consumer expectations. 

Partnership:Always push forward to innovate with technology and process. Oracle works closely with us to do more and keep pace with industry innovation.

Growth mindset: It’s easy to assume that you are behind the curve and chasing other retailers. Maintain a growth mindset and be curious. You are probably further in front of customers and competitors than you think.

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