Selling Alcohol Online in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide for Startups

Unlocking the Digital Tavern: Understanding the Licences, Costs, and Legal Requirements for UK Startups to Sell Alcohol Online

4 mins read

Key Takeaways

  • Selling alcohol online in the UK requires both a personal and premises licence.
  • Compliance with UK law, particularly ensuring no sales to under-18s, is crucial.
  • Alcohol licence costs vary, with premises licence application fees ranging from £100 to £1,905 and personal licence application costing £37.
  • Selecting the right ecommerce platform that allows alcohol sales is crucial.
  • There are proven strategies to tackle challenges faced when selling alcohol online, such as product reviews and age verification processes.

The Digital Landscape of Alcohol Sales in the UK

With the effects of the pandemic, Brexit, rising energy bills, and a cost of living crisis, the hospitality and retail sector is continuously seeking innovative solutions to maintain sales and business continuity. One such method is venturing into online alcohol sales, a digital domain that many businesses with licensed premises are considering for the first time.

Whether you’re a microbrewery looking to digitise your sales or a gin distillery interested in delivering its boozy botanics via an online platform, this guide will provide comprehensive insights on the licences, costs, and legal requirements for selling alcohol online in the UK.

Licences for Online Alcohol Sales

Personal Licence and Premises Licence: A Dynamic Duo

Just like selling alcohol from physical premises, selling it online requires legal permissions in the form of licences. Two types of licences are needed for legal online alcohol retail in the UK: a personal licence and a premises licence.

A personal licence grants permission to manage and sell alcohol, while a premises licence designates the business premises as a place where alcohol dispatch can legally occur. Both licences are required to proceed with your business.

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Getting a Personal Licence

The process to acquire a personal licence includes two steps: training and application. The training involves undertaking a short course and earning a licensing qualification, such as the Award for Personal Licence Holders. After this, you can apply for a personal licence through the licensing department of your local authority or council.

Getting a Premises Licence

Following the acquisition of a personal licence, a premises licence application should be made with the local authority, aligning with The Licensing Act 2003. This licence can be granted to any fixed commercial property, including warehouses, storage facilities, shop floors, and more, where alcohol handling and dispatch occur.

When applying, a floorplan highlighting the areas where alcohol will be kept and handled should be included, and a clear description of how your business will comply with the four licensing objectives is needed.

The Importance of Wholesaler Registration

When buying alcohol from wholesalers, ensure that they have been approved by HMRC under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS). Always verify the legitimacy of any wholesaler to avoid potential legal issues and seizure of your alcohol stock.

Alcohol Licence Costs and Fees

Application fees for your premises licence will depend on the rateable value of your business premises, ranging from £100 to £1,905. A personal licence application costs £37, with an additional £25 fee for a basic criminal background check. Be prepared for annual licensing fees, charged by the local authority to maintain your licences.

Complying with UK law

Beyond acquiring the correct licences, maintaining ongoing legal compliance is paramount, especially regarding sales to under-18s. Measures include an over-18 declaration on your website, age verification at the point of purchase, and delivery drivers asking for ID during package delivery. It’s essential to regularly check with your local authority to keep up with specific requirements.

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Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform

The selection of the right ecommerce platform is vital to successfully launching an online alcohol store. You need to choose a platform that is not only user-friendly and customizable but also compliant with selling age-restricted products like alcohol.

Some of the most popular platforms include Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Magento, each with their pros and cons.

Shopify: Known for its ease of use, excellent customer service, and vast app marketplace, Shopify is a reliable choice. However, note that Shopify has restrictions on selling alcohol in certain regions, so it’s crucial to review their alcohol sales policy before committing.

WooCommerce: A WordPress plugin, WooCommerce offers highly customizable features, making it suitable for those wanting full control of their store’s look and feel. It’s free, but additional costs may apply for hosting, themes, plugins, and more. WooCommerce allows the sale of alcoholic beverages, but you must comply with all relevant local laws.

BigCommerce: A robust platform with an array of built-in features and tools. BigCommerce is great for businesses that require advanced functionalities right out of the box. The platform allows alcohol sales, but you must ensure you’re in compliance with local laws and restrictions.

Magento: Magento is a powerful and scalable platform suitable for larger businesses with a dedicated technical team. It allows the sale of alcoholic beverages, but you need to be compliant with all relevant laws.

Remember, the chosen platform should also integrate smoothly with other important aspects of your business, such as inventory management, logistics, and payment gateways.

Marketing and Promoting Your Online Alcohol Business

Like any online business, digital marketing is a vital component of success. This can range from SEO optimization to ensure your store appears in search engine results, to social media marketing to create a buzz around your products.

Consider engaging in content marketing strategies, like running a blog on your website to share cocktail recipes, or perhaps the history and process behind your beverages. This can provide value to your customers, strengthen your brand’s identity, and boost your site’s SEO ranking.

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Moreover, email marketing can help you stay connected with your customers, share product updates, promotional offers, and more.

Tackling the Challenges of Selling Alcohol Online

Selling alcohol online does come with its unique set of challenges. Here are some ways to tackle them:

Product Reviews and Ratings: It’s no secret that customers rely heavily on product reviews and ratings when purchasing online. Encourage your customers to leave reviews and ratings for your products to build trust and credibility.

Age Verification: Implementing strict age verification methods is crucial to prevent sales to under-18s. Consider using age verification software or plugins that are integrated with your ecommerce platform. You can also set up a mandatory age verification at the point of delivery.

Shipping and Fulfilment: Partnering with a reliable courier or delivery partner is crucial, as they should also adhere to checking IDs upon delivery. Offering different delivery options, such as next-day delivery or click-and-collect, can improve customer satisfaction.

Selling alcohol online in the UK comes with specific legalities and responsibilities, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it can become a profitable venture. As always, do your due diligence, seek professional advice when needed, and keep up with changes in laws and regulations to ensure your online alcohol business thrives.


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