Tuesday, August 27, 2019

You can keep Amazon on its toes: visit its California liquor "stores"

This is Amazon's "liquor store" in Sunnyvale: a table with a button
I didn't set out to investigate Amazon for noncompliance with California law. I just thought it would be fun to visit one of the brick-and-mortar liquor stores that California law requires it to have.

But on my visit, I discovered Amazon was openly flouting that law.

Then I visited two other stores and discovered Amazon's practices had changed overnight, and it is doing the absolute bare minimum to follow the law.

I can't be an Amazon watchdog all over the state. This is where you come in.

Do you want to check to see if Amazon is following the law? It's easy!

All you have to do is go to one of its stores in the middle of the day and see if you can buy a bottle of wine. You don't even have to buy the wine (I did, and the wine unfortunately isn't very good.) You can walk away before giving them your credit card.

This is the entire list of wine and beer offered for sale at Amazon's Sacramento liquor "store." The warehouse offers 230 wines and 82 whiskies for delivery.
But if Amazon doesn't offer to sell you any wine or spirits at all, the company is breaking the law. You can report it here in the comments and I can pass it along to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

Amazon has liquor licenses for seven "stores" adjacent to its warehouses. Here is a link to them.

Their near-identical licenses require the "stores" to be open for half the time that the warehouse delivers wine and spirits, which currently means 8 hours a day for all of them.

Here are the addresses:

Irvine: 2006 McGaw Ave, Irvine, CA, 92614 

Los Angeles (2 stores): 11800 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90064

This is the entrance to the Amazon liquor "store" on San Fernando Rd in Los Angeles. It was not open to the public when I visited, in violation of state law.
3334 N San Fernando Rd Unit 101, Los Angeles, CA, 90065

Redondo Beach: 2400 Marine Ave Ste 108, Redondo Beach, CA, 90278 

Sacramento: 2934 Ramona Ave Ste 100, Sacramento, CA, 95826

San Diego: 2727 Kurtz St, San Diego, CA, 92110

This is the entrance to the Amazon liquor "store" in Sunnyvale.
Sunnyvale: 222 Commercial St, Sunnyvale, CA, 94085

Maybe it's not important that Amazon follows the law, even though the law was apparently written specifically to prevent a big company from dominating the wine and spirits delivery business by operating warehouses without the expense of a brick-and-mortar store. It's not the world's most pressing issue.

But I don't like big tech companies ignoring the law in their quest for market domination.

It is odd for me to write these stories about Amazon, because I shop from Amazon online fairly frequently and I sometimes post links here to products for sale on Amazon, to reap a small percentage of online sales from people clicking. And on the same day I went to Sacramento to see Amazon's mockery of a liquor "store," I pulled out my Kindle to try to convince an older friend that reading on the dedicated Amazon device is better than reading a book.

That's how deeply the Big Four tech companies have their hooks in our lives. Apple made my laptops and my phone, and thus it knows everything about me, though I do trust it with my data a bit more than the other three. Google used the offer of a check to coerce me to give it my social security number, and then it canceled the check, yet still I have a gmail account. It scares me that when I book a flight on a completely unrelated website Google shows off its knowledge of my plans immediately at the top of my mailbox. I don't trust Google, but still I use it.

I despise Facebook but I haven't yet walked away from it, mainly because status updates have replaced phone conversations with many of my friends. I hate this, but still I'm on it.

And as for Amazon, I wanted to order some household stuff but I've been holding off while investigating its liquor stores.

But now I'm done! (Or maybe I'm not! Let Amazon wonder if I might visit again. I do have other wine issues to pursue, though.) And it's your turn.

If one of these Amazon liquor "stores" is near you, drop by and see if you can buy some crappy wine there. Amazon might not like complying with the law but it has to do so if somebody is watching.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray


Bob Rossi said...

"I don't like big tech companies ignoring the law in their quest for market domination."
That seems to be a common occurrence. E.g., Uber, AirBnB. Massachusetts used to have a law requiring item pricing -- every individual item had to have its own price sticker. Ridiculous, maybe, but it was the law. Several big-box stores often ignored it, with minimal blowback. I believe the law was eventually modified, but not eliminated.
As for Amazon, I rarely buy anything from them. I would like to say I NEVER buy anything from them, but occasionally I find something that I can't easily find elsewhere. But I almost never buy a book from them, just occasionally a used book from one of their 3rd-party sellers.

Jon Bjork said...

Some more interesting compliance developments regarding Amazon's SF location...

I clicked on your link to see the permits for Prime LLC and noticed that Amazon withdrew their permit application for the Type 21 Package Store and submitted a new application for a relatively new (started in 2012) Type 85 permit that pretty much does exactly what they are trying to do, namely, deliver wine without a bricks and mortar store. That application is still pending approval.

Here's a link to get you started on Type 85:

Seems to me that all of their locations should have been Type 85, except that it only allows sale of wine.

Note on the ABC status of the SF location that there are two holds right now. The first hold for a Form 220 is standard operating procedure, purely administrative. The second is an H&L Protest, which basically means that someone saw the public posting notice and filed a complaint that must be resolved before the permit will be issued.

Really appreciate all the time you're putting into this, Blake!

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Jon, thanks a lot for that!

HalfFull said...

Wow. Other than Donald trump, you are the most apoplectic critic of Amazon. I'm wondering why you are so fixated on the licensing of the "stores"/ distribution points. As a consumer I welcome the facilitation of direct to consumer wines, beers and spirits. And am glad for a system that keeps the price down-as ordering from wineries, wine clubs, or even purchasing from retailers, is often not the lowest price in comparison to an Amazon-type operation (for wines).
So if Amazon meets all the regulatory requirements-and satisfies your personal objections-then will you write a positive story? Or are Amazon and its ilk simply bad companies to your way of thinking?
(BTW, I have never bought anything from Amazon, nor have I ordered wine, beer or liquor online)

Unknown said...

@Dywrite There are rules in place so the market actors are compelled to compete on a level playing field. If some get to flout the law, and undercut the honest brokers it damages the entire wine ecosystem. If you've ever truly loved a wine store that provides invaluable service to the wine-loving consumer, you'd want soul-crushing generic-wine selling participants like Amazon to follow the rules too. Speaking as a consumer in defense of stores like Chambers St Wines, Flatiron Wines, Grapes wine co, and many others in the NY area.