E-FILES: Liquor King set to conquer Web

Liquor retailer Liquor King has a business-to-consumer site at present, though it does deal with corporates with a regular supply for Friday drinks or to fill the boardroom cabinet.


Liquor retailer Liquor King has a business-to-consumer site at present, though it does deal with corporates with a regular supply for Friday drinks or to fill the boardroom cabinet.

A company registers with Liquor King online and Liquor King can set up standing-order templates, enabling the company to order the same goods, with slight modifications, regularly.

With 650 [product] lines on the site, "we're probably the biggest [e-commerce site] in the liquor industry in New Zealand", says e-store manager Steve Wilson.

Electronic buying has been available for about five months.

"A year ago we got together a project team of six - including IT people and the store managers" to consider the pluses and minuses of starting an electronic store."

The market was changing with supermarkets selling liquor, and there was a need to explore other channels, he says.

Liquor King has an unusual business model with its electronic sales; they are all directed to the nearest physical store to the customer, and delivered from there.

The stores see it as another outlet for them - "another till", as Wilson puts it - not as a competitive store.

From the beginning, therefore, it was vital to involve the store managers. Wilson himself previously managed a physical store.

Having decided there was a significant opportunity to broaden its market by having an electronic channel, the company retained Glazier Systems - now part of the Advantage Group - to implement the site.

It is based on Microsoft Commerce Server, but with extensive modifications peculiar to the industry.

One big concern, says Wilson, is to ensure minors do not buy alcohol.

A physical receipt has to be signed by the person accepting the delivery and Liquor King has so far not trusted third parties to deliver its goods from the store.

Integration with the point-of-sale operation at the physical stores meant integrating two different databases.

The stores use Pos-perfect, which sits on a Progress database, while the online system uses Microsoft SQL Server 7.0. It proved difficult to trace companies that had linked these two database management systems through ODBC before, says IT manager Mark Denvir.

No one seemed to be able to help initially. Eventually the problems were overcome with the help of "some very good technical people" from within the Lion-Nathan group.

"We use Microsoft OLAP as our reporting tool, so that had to be interfaced with Progress too."

Once the site was up on January 24, Liquor King "had to remedy a few bugs", Denvir says. However, it had wisely chosen not to go for a big marketing campaign in the early days, so it could monitor the functioning of the site with a small and growing customer-base before the big load came on.

"If a site comes under a heavy load and fails, then it's hard to get those [disappointed customers] to come back."

E-commerce "has provided a smart way to improve our business with corporates", Wilson says.

The personal assistants in the companies handle the order, and it's a lot more efficient for the operators in the store, who just get the order on their terminal and don't have to re-key it.

"We're picking up people who have not been Liquor King customers before," Wilson says. The normal store "has a very male image" and sales balanced towards beer; the Web site is attracting a lot more female purchasers, and 70% of its trade is in wine.

The site is "data rich", with winemakers' notes to assist in selecting the right wine.

Liquor King is about to embark on development of true business-to-business e-commerce with suppliers.

Denvir and "someone within the Lion Group" are working on a suitable XML schema for the liquor industry.

This should allow purchases from suppliers and sales to other liquor outlets to proceed electronically, by late this year and early next.

Again, the Progress DBMS may present a problem, but the next release will be XML enabled.

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