Acquiring eCommerce customers is hard for any emerging retailer, requiring significant marketing investments to generate awareness and build up a following. The job becomes even harder for newcomers in budding categories, recovering an extra push not just to create brand affinity, but also to educate consumers nearly from scratch.
This is the situation that New York City nonalcoholic beverage retailer and e-tailer Boisson has faced since its mid-pandemic launch. To address the problem, the company has gone all-in on in-store education, using its physical presence to generate eCommerce customers.
“The nonalcoholic spirit space on its surface is just beginning to strike a chord with a number of people here in the United States and throughout the world,” Boisson Co-founder Nick Bodkins told PYMNTS in an interview. “This is a new space, and people want to be educated, and not all of that can be done online … those physical locations are where our customers find out about these products … we tend to see a significantly higher amount of repeat business, which includes local delivery and store pickup, than first orders.”
PYMNTS data shows that many consumers, especially the younger ones who may be more open to trying out new products and categories, reduced their alcoholic intake during the pandemic. Specifically, one in four consumers cut back on their booze intake following March 2020, and that number goes up for younger generations, with 31% of millennials and 29% of Gen Z-ers reporting drinking less. As social occasions come back, this shift leaves a gap in the market to meet the beverage needs of these less alcohol-focused consumers. After all, milk is not much of a party drink.
Even in the still very young nonalcoholic beverages category, it takes some work to stand out online. One way that Boisson has done this is by making its offerings available on leading third-party marketplaces, a push that involved incorporating a broad range of digital payment capabilities such as Google Pay and Facebook Pay, along with PayPal and Apple Pay.
“My background is in enterprise marketing, and so I knew from the very beginning that it would be a market differentiator for us to be able to feed all of our local inventory availability to Google [and Facebook],” said Bodkins.
Getting on these platforms was an uphill battle. With a lack of nonalcoholic spirits category on these marketplaces, Boisson continually has to bend over backward to manually input these products, clearing hurdles meant to bar alcoholic beverages.
Another way the company has made its offerings digitally available and generated consumer awareness is by putting a vinyl decal with a QR code on its shops even before they opened, a move that Bodkins said “made a huge difference,” bringing in around 500 email signups through the linked page.
Adoption of QR technology skyrocketed during the pandemic. PYMNTS’ January edition of the QR Code Payments report, created in collaboration with Citcon, highlighted the results of a 2020 poll by Mobilelron that found 84% of United States and United Kingdom consumers had scanned a QR code at least once, while 32% had done so within the past week.
See also: QR Code Payments
The Role of the Store
One benefit that the stores provide, Bodkins explained, is helping to bring the eCommerce shop to life in a more immersive way, creating a “connected experience of being able to bring what you’re viewing online into that instant gratification.”
Sampling has played a huge role in developing a following. Before the vaccine rollout, that included setting up stations outside and handing out samples to avoid the risks of being mask-less indoors. It also included individually packaged take-home samples, which the store called “dry tastings,” to mitigate contact altogether.
The stores also benefit from a New York State law prohibiting liquor stores from carrying non-alcoholic beverages and mixers. Bodkins noted that all three of the store’s locations are across the street from a wine and liquor store, a mutually beneficial relationship. When shoppers come into the store looking for liquor, Boisson associates direct them to the nearby stores, and when shoppers come into liquor stores looking for high-end mixers, liquor store associates direct them to Boisson.
The Amazon Expectation
Part of the reason that Boisson needs physical stores throughout New York to run a successful eCommerce business is that the rise of Amazon has made it impossible to succeed without them, Bodkins said.
“The Amazon experience of ‘I want it now,’ which everybody’s gotten used to, with that speed of delivery, is only possible for a small business like ours with physical locations,” he said. He added that when the company delivers to New York City consumers from its stores, “we can likely get it to you faster than anybody.”
The company also ships nationwide, though it does not offer the same on-demand convenience outside of New York City.
“I legitimately believe that [in one year], our eCommerce business will probably be doing three to five times what we’re doing right now,” Bodkins said, adding that the company’s suite of educational materials is central to its eCommerce strategy, making Boisson the go-to for those curious about nonalcoholic spirits. “We’re going to put content in front of people that they actually want to read, which then we end up being their source when they’re ready to buy.”