“Absolutely crazy”: Beer Cartel sales skyrocket as Aussies look online for booze amid coronavirus lockdowns

Beer Cartel

Beer Cartel founders Richard Kelsey (left) and Geoff Huens. Source: supplied.

Stories about firms laying off workers have become the norm in recent weeks as business owners across the country reckon with the COVID-19 pandemic. But amid the pain, there are those doing the opposite.

Richard Kelsey, co-founder of online alcohol retailers Beer Cartel and Brewquets, has been rushing to take on new staff in recent weeks after his e-commerce platforms, known for their range of craft beers, doubled average sales volumes.

“It’s a strange situation, but online has been going absolutely crazy,” Kelsey tells SmartCompany.

“We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep on top of it.”

Beer Cartel’s sales are tracking twice what they were last year in April, while Brewquets is up four-times over as Aussies adjust to life alongside unprecedented lockdown restrictions.

A structural shift

Kelsey is one entrepreneur experiencing a curious reality of the coronavirus crisis; while some firms have been completely ravaged, others are bringing in record sales as consumption patterns undergo a rapid and seismic shift.

In other words, beer is still very much within the consumption bundle for Aussie shoppers and online vendors like Beer Cartel and Brewquets are making hay while the sun shines.

“With everyone self-isolating at home, people are around to receive parcels, so from an ease point of view it makes things nice and simple,” Kelsey says.

Beer Cartel recently made use of leftover stock from its boozy 2019 advent calendar for a special edition quarantine advent, which sold out in just three days.

Kelsey says sales started to pick up in early March as Australia first began initiating social distancing and self-isolation requirements on returning travellers.

But he expects the increased volume to last for the foreseeable future, saying the alcohol retailing industry is undergoing a structural shift at the moment, and like many other retail categories, is quickly pivoting to online sales.

“We’re drawing quite a few people that have never shopped with us before … people who have probably never bought alcohol online before,” Kelsey says.

“When you look at online generally you’re going to see a continued increase in purchase rates after this. People are going to have good experiences with us and realise there’s benefit.”

Beer Cartel runs a survey of Aussie craft beer drinkers each year and in 2019 identified a 30% spike in people saying they had purchased beer online in the last six months, up 8% on 2018.

Kelsey expects an even bigger spike in 2020, as the online retail trend accelerates considerably on the back of the coronavirus outbreak.

There are no shortage of challenges though, with logistics emerging as a bottleneck amid increased demand for online retail across the economy.

Australia Post, the largest parcel delivery network in the country, is struggling to keep up at the moment, says Kelsey, and that’s making it hard for firms like Beer Cartel to get product out the door.

“It’s a new world with a new set of rules, we’ve got all these constraints being put in place, and at the same time the volume going through Australia Post has gone through the roof,” Kelsey says.

“For them, it’s like Christmas at the moment — it’s insane.”

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