Suckin’ down booze at the store. Public nuisance or the last best hope for retail?

Kevin Sullivan Headshot
Kevin Sullivan, sobriety coach

I’ve read and written about retailers offering a casual alcohol drinking experience to lure shoppers into their stores. Curious to learn more, I interviewed sobriety coach Kevin Sullivan to get his take.

Retailers are offering alcoholic beverages to shoppers. How widespread is this practice? Is it growing?

This practice has currently been adopted by more and more retailers including Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, and Lululemon. More and more retailers are looking to add casual drinking experiences to their business models.

What is the motivation for this practice?

The onset of online shopping has forced retailers to make stores more experiential to encourage foot traffic. With consumers able to get anything they want delivered to them from their home, they need new incentives to head into stores.

How similar is this approach to the practice of casinos offering free drinks to patrons?

Casinos offer free drinks to encourage patrons to keep on gambling. While alcohol has the obvious side effect of lowering inhibitions, just keeping consumers around products can convince them to make a purchase. The same concept is basically true in casinos, it incentivizes customers to stay around your products and services.

Do retailers find this approach benefits them? How?

Yes, for example, at Nordstrom locations that offer food and alcohol, these new offerings have become 25% of their total business. Retailers can use these offering to encourage sales of their main products, Whole Foods, for example, gives shoppers a token for 10% off groceries after drinking at their bar.

Any downsides from the retailer perspective?

Retailers will have to obtain the necessary licenses in each state to be able to sell alcohol. Selling alcohol in itself costs money, stores have to purchase the drinks they want to sell, and have to hire workers that can make appealing drinks. Retailers will also have to deal with a changing society that is becoming increasingly sober curious along with those who already abstain from alcohol. If members of these communities were interested in shopping in-store at these locations, this may turn them away.

What are the concerns from a public health perspective?

Having more locations that sell alcohol always runs the risk that those that should not be drinking will have access to alcohol. I find it hard to believe that consumers will be willing to have a designated driver before heading to Whole Foods. Having more casual drinking experiences may lead to an increase in both underage drinking and drunk driving.

What are the implications for individuals who are trying to reduce their drinking or abstain?

Those trying to stay away from alcohol will have to have honest conversations with themselves to see if they’d be able to handle being sold alcohol while shopping for shoes or furniture. Most are likely to be able to live with this new reality, but inevitably some will be coerced to stay home and shop online.

Are any stores allowing or encouraging the consumption of cannabis or other substances? 

To date, I am not aware of any locations offering any other substances aside from alcohol. As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states, this may change.

Where do you think the trend will go from here?

I believe this is largely a fad for in-store retail. Many more retail locations are likely to close before this trend becomes the industry standard.


Kevin Sullivan is a sobriety coach, motivational speaker and serial entrepreneurial success who, proudly in recovery himself, is committed to helping others struggling with addiction. Known as the “turnaround guy,” for his ability to flourish in challenging markets, Kevin has helped kickstart
successful multi-million dollar businesses in several different verticals

February 27, 2020

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