Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Confusing Shipping Restrictions Fall on the Retailer’s Heads

     People forget just how different alcoholic beverage sales is from the bulk of consumer products. Alcohol, beyond the fundamentals of age restriction and tax collection, the public is barely aware of how deeply and disparately alcoholic beverages are regulated.  There isn’t anywhere that this is more evident than with shipping.   Americans can order clothes, send gifts, and by just about anything on the internet, parcels are dispatched with minimal ado and delivered to your place.   Those of you that are used to instant gratification, purchasing of alcohol on line is the very frustrating exception.   Sending a bottle of local gin home from vacation or ordering vintage Champagne for an anniversary can be complicated if not impossible.  Unfortunately, this usually happens at the retail outlet, leaving the merchant responsible for explaining why this problem exists.

     Here are the legalities of getting alcohol from one place to another, to help retailers get the options across to their customers.   Carrying alcoholic beverages on a plane with you is doable, but you must follow the TSA rules.  Airline passengers are familiar with the 3.4-ounce TSA rule for all carry-on liquids including alcoholic beverages, full-size bottles need to be in checked luggage, but there are some restrictions to that as well.   As far as your carry-on luggage, you can place all of the 3.4 oz. bottles of alcohol you can fit in a one 1-quart plastic bag.  In your Checked luggage, anything under 24%  or 48 proof, alcohol is unlimited, anything 24% to 70% or 48 to 140 proof alcohol is limited to 5 liters per passenger.  Any alcoholic beverages over 70% ABV or 140 proof is absolutely prohibited.  All bottles must be unopened.   Duty-free is the exception to these limits.  You should be aware that TSA and customs are totally separate entities, passengers should check customs limits set by the country they're entering, or be prepared to pay duties on their purchases.  Many times this amounts to a dollar or so per bottle, but if you are bringing in a very special spirit that can’t be obtained at home, this is a small price to pay.

     On an interstate train, there are no restrictions on carrying unopened containers of alcohol.  Control states have laws that forbid the transport of alcohol across state lines in your car.  For instance, there is a discount liquor store just across the state line between North and South Carolina that the North Carolina Police will take the license plate numbers of customers and the police will watch for the cars to cross into North Carolina and bust them for “bootlegging”.  This is an example of the ends that some states will do to protect their revenue, but most of these laws are primarily to discourage purchasing large quantities of alcohol in a neighboring state where taxes are lower.    If you are planning to drive across state lines with a "personal quantity" of alcoholic beverages should use common sense, making sure the bottles should be unopened and in the trunk.

     How many times has a customer carefully picked out the perfect gift bottle, then asked if it could be mailed?    The real question here is "where is it going".   It is not legal for consumers to mail alcohol themselves to a U.S. destination, via any method.   The United States Postal Service and the common carriers like UPS, FedEx etc. will refuse to take any such parcel known to contain alcohol.    If the destination is outside the country, shipping is legal, but you should check with customs of the destination for their regulations.  Retail shipping is a real nightmare.   While most states allow licensed state retailers to ship to other state customers within the same state, most do not allow any interstate retailers to ship in.   The regular carriers like FedEx and UPS have recently stepped up enforcement of retailer shipping laws, and ship only to the states that allow it.

      If craft makes of beer, wine or spirits hope to compete with world-wide operations like Amazon, they will need to start to push for the change of rules in more states to allow legal retailer to consumer shipping of alcoholic beverages.  This is very clearly the only that the “shipping lanes” can be opened up in the future.