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Aug 31, 2020

The COVID-inspired boom in online wine and spirits sales appears to be on the wane, with latest figures showing a slowdown in searches for the end of July.

Overall, global wine searches were 17 percent up on the same period last year, while spirits rose by just 7 percent. That's a sharp contrast with the search surges of earlier in the pandemic. In June, wine searches were up 45 percent on the same period in 2019 and spirits were up 57 percent, while April saw wine searches up by 33 percent and spirits up by 111 percent against the previous year.

So, while searches are rising still, the rate of the rise is levelling off. This fall-off in the rate of increase of searches is in line with broader sales data for the FMCG sector from Nielsen; after a spike in March, sales figures are mostly back within 10 percent of the corresponding 2019 figures.

Moving back to our data, China is the big loser for the last two weeks of July, with a big fall in online searches compared to last year. Wine searches are down 26 percent, spirit searches down by 34 percent and beer searches down by 38 percent. Meanwhile, in the world's largest wine market, American users are searching for spirits more heavily than wine.

Taking the broad view, wine suffered most in North America, where search figures rose by just 10 percent against 2019. South America enjoyed a 38 percent rise in wine searches, but even that was dwarfed by Africa, where wine searches rose an impressive 73 percent on last year, albeit from a very small base. Europe, Oceania and Asia enjoyed rises of 19, 18 and 14 percent, respectively.

Spirits, however, saw some odd results. Again Africa came out on top, with a 32 percent hike in search numbers, while North America registered a rise of 21 percent. Oceania (up 6 percent), South America (up 5 percent) and Europe (up 4 percent) were also positive, but Asia – a very strong market for spirits – saw spirit searches drop by 17 percent on the same period last year.

Looking more closely at individual markets, Argentina saw some spectacular growth, with a 73 percent hike in wine searches (led by the sparkling, dessert and rosé categories, with bumps of 89 percent, 139 percent and 136 percent, respectively), a 38 percent rise in spirits (including a 250 percent rise in Irish whiskey searches), and a 144 percent rise in beer searches.

The UK also saw a healthy increase across the board, with a 25 percent rise in wine searches, a 25 percent rise in spirit searches (including a 42 percent increase in Bourbon searches), and a 47 percent rise in beer searches.

US data for the same period showed a much more fragmented approach. Wine searches were up just 9 percent, well below the global benchmark, with red wines (up 10 percent) the only category to make a double-digit improvement. Spirits, however, were up a comfortable 25 percent, with Bourbon leading the charge with a 42 percent increase. Beer searches, however, were down 12 percent.

However, that's just search data, which measures interest, but not necessarily an intent to purchase. Click-through figures, or sales leads, are a measurement of when a Wine-Searcher user clicks on an offer, displaying a clear intent to purchase, and analysis of these numbers paints a different picture.

Overall, click-throughs for wine increased by just 6 percent globally in the last two weeks of July, with China again seeing the steepest fall. Click-throughs for wine in China tumbled by 53 percent against the previous year, by far the biggest fall in the main wine markets. The UK, by contrast, was up 20 percent and the US by 5 percent.

Spirits sales leads were even worse for China, with a fall of 71 percent; all the spirit categories fell dramatically on the previous year. Beer sales leads were down 94 percent.

By contrast, the US saw the healthiest growth in spirit sales leads, with an overall rise of 24 percent. The star category was whiskey, with Indian whiskey leads up 120 percent (again, off a small base), Scotch up 31 percent and Bourbon up 30 percent. Tequila and gin (34 and 31 percent respectively) also saw healthy growth, while beer sales leads rose by 27 percent.

Breaking down the wine category for the US, sparkling wine (up 13 percent) and rosé (up 17 percent) led the way, outstripping the global figures of 10 percent for each. Reds underperformed, however, with a rise of just 2 percent against a global rise of 6 percent.

And, finally, let's have a word about price, because there are some interesting wrinkles in the pricing data.

Looking at the average click price (ACP) – a measure of the average price of each product per click-through – then globally users were looking to spend up slightly, with a 7 percent rise in ACPs for wine, led by a 16 percent boost for sparkling wine and a 22 percent rise for dessert wines. Meanwhile, the corresponding figures for US users are 0 percent overall, 12 percent for sparkling and a fall of 4 percent for dessert wines.

Spirits are a different story, however, with a 1 percent rise in ACP globally, against a 4 percent rise in the US. However, US users are almost the polar opposites of the rest of the world when it comes to spirit sub-categories. Globally more people are clicking through to more expensive spirits (Scotch up 9 percent, Bourbon up 12 percent, gin up 14 percent and Indian whiskey up 44 percent), while in the US buyers are being more canny – the corresponding figures are 2 percent for Scotch, 12 percent for Bourbon, 23 percent for gin and a fall of 6 percent for Indian whiskey.

The curious one is Irish whiskey; global searches for the spirit are up 13 percent, while searches in the US are up by 18 percent. However, the respective ACPs are down by 20 and 17 percent. People might be clicking on more Irish whiskeys than they were before, but they're clicking on cheaper ones, which should give the Irish whiskey industry food for thought.

Source: Don Kavanagh