RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Virginia ABC stores are changing the system for selling certain high-demand products. The changes will impact 120 limited-availability spirits.
ABC CEO Travis Hill said the new randomized system comes as the hunt for these products was getting out of hand. Until now, he said employees would put bottles on the shelves as soon as shipments came in.
“It was becoming very disruptive. We had people camping out in front of the stores at all hours of the night. We actually had people following trucks,” Hill said in an interview on Thursday.
Under the new policy, which is now in effect, ABC will release which stores are selling allocated bottles at random times on social media. Stores will still get their shipments as scheduled but they will hold them in storage until an announcement comes out.
Sales will be first-come, first-serve and each customer will only be able to purchase one limited availability bottle at a time.
For updates, people should follow the “Spirited Virginia” Facebook or Instagram pages. Alternatively, you can subscribe to their e-newsletter. Specific prices and products won’t be included in the posts but people can call individual stores for more information.
Hill said the policy shift doesn’t impact more common products like Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. He said it also won’t impact the lottery system for distributing ABC’s most exclusive products.
Hill said the vast majority of the bottles this change impacts are bourbons like Buffalo Trace and Blanton’s, though some aged tequilas are also on the list.
While customers in ABC stores have become accustomed to missing spaces on shelves due to supply chain disruptions, Hill said these shortages appear to be driven by an increase in customer interest during the pandemic.
“There is going to be no perfect way,” Hill said. “We’re trying to be as open and fair as we can, understanding there is not enough product to go around.”
Josh Fowler, who created the bottle-sharing group “Virginia Bourbon Mafia” on Facebook, said the problem is largely being driven by people buying up bottles in stores at a lower cost and then flipping them online with a bigger price tag.
Hill said this was a concern they had in mind when considering the new system.
Fowler said people are using Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other platforms to turn a profit.
“Some people do actually care about drinking it and sharing it but the vast majority are standing in line to get these bottles so that they can flip them because bourbon is a real hot thing right now,” Fowler said. “There is only so much you can do.”
Hill said the policy change was driven by complaints from average customers who felt they had no chance of getting limited-availability bottles without taking drastic measures.
While Fowler thinks the randomized system seems more fair on paper, he thinks ABC should do more to prioritize big-spending bourbon enthusiasts who are driving the market for these products.
“For people who have been in the hobby for a while and people who do enjoy collecting and do enjoy sharing, it does kind of feel like a little bit of a slap in the face,” Fowler said.