The Department of Online Wine Policemen
In addition to being in the business of taking enormous amounts of venture capital, as well as selling wine on-line, Wine.com now has apparently set up a division within its company that I suspect is called: "The Department of Online Wine Policemen.
As was pointed out by Rich Cartiere at the Wine Market Report and made available HERE and by Alder at Vinography, Wine.com has begun ordering wine from out of state retailers and having it shipped to Wine.com in Washington State. They’ve then taken those shipments over to the Washington State Liquor Control Board and insisted that the state of Washington take action against these retailers. And they did just that. In fact, the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s actions, particularly in conjunction with other states, has forced a number of wine retailers to stop shipping to Washingtonians.
Many have suggested that this is a matter of "Tattletale" and actions on the part of Wine.com that are remarkably anti-consumer. In fact, if you want to see what folks have been saying just go read the comments at Alder’s blog or at the Wine Spectator bulletin boards or at Mark Squire’s bulletin board.
But here’s a little tidbit that hasn’t been brought up. The State of Washington has no jurisdiction when it comes to out-of-state retailers. Rather, the only people who are at risk when a consumer buys and has shipped to them wine from an out of state retailer is the consumers. It’s the consumer who is at risk for "importing untaxed liquor".
This explains why in all the letters that the Washington Liquor Control Board sent to out-of-state retailers at the behest of Wine.com’s Department of Online Wine Policemen "REQUESTED" that the retailers stop shipping, rather than demanding they stop shipping.
Now, it might be that Wine.com’s motivation for carrying out sting operations against its fellow retailers was its concern for public safety. It also might be that given Wine.com’s model of having residency in every state and not shipping over state lines had something to do with it’s aggressive move against its competitors. Who knows.
But here’s what I do know. As long as Wine.com is going operate a Department of Online Wine Policemen it really should turn its attention to consumers who are buying from out-of-state retailers rather than from Wine.com, who could ship the wine from within Washington.
Now, I don’t think the Wine.com Internet Wine Police Force is going to go after the only people, consumers, that the state of Washington can actually touch with enforcement actions. I don’t think they’ll do this because, well, that would be stupid. However, I honestly wish they would do this. If they did, there would be no need for Wine.com to worry further about the state of retailer-to-consumer shipping because there would be no more Wine.com. Consumers would get one inkling of the actions that Wine.com had taken and never patronize them again.
Tom Wark is Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association