After weeks of rumor and speculation, during which time the entire state of Virginia apparently had no allocated bourbon sold within its borders, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has finally responded to public outcry by announcing a new system they’ll be using to sell their “limited-supply products.” Communicating with customers via social media, the state-run agency explained that items from its long limited availability list will be offered in a “randomized” system intended to allow more consumers access to those products. Whether that will actually be the result of the new system—which is more than a little confusing in how it will be executed—remains to be seen. It also confirms that the rumored “Wishlist Wednesday” system is not happening after all, despite many Virginia ABC owners seemingly being convinced it was about to be announced.
Regardless, the Virginia ABC made the following statement:
To provide all customers with the greatest opportunity to purchase high-demand, limited-supply products, ABC will announce the store locations where limited availability products are available to purchase during store hours on any given day of the week. By randomly deciding where and when to offer these products for purchase, we limit opportunities for individuals or groups to line up outside stores for extended periods or seek information that gives them an unfair advantage, enabling them to purchase these items ahead of other customers. To make these highly sought spirits available to as many customers as possible, in-store purchases will be restricted to one bottle per customer per day from all the limited availability products offered in any location.
Hinting at the rumored leaks of information on these brands from within its own organization, the ABC added the following:
We know that customers in all regions of the commonwealth want an equal opportunity to get these highly sought-after spirits. We also know that individuals who stood to benefit from obtaining the locations of these products ahead of time were using that information unfairly to mobilize and purchase items before other customers. By randomly deciding where and when to offer these products for purchase, we limit possibilities for individuals or groups to abuse the system.
What we essentially have here, then, is a system where customers will basically never know when any of these products—bottles such as Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s or Henry McKenna Single Barrel—might be available. Whereas under the old system, a customer might know the typical truck delivery date of their local ABC store, and might choose to go stand outside for hours before opening hoping that the bottle they’re seeking will be there, the new system will be entirely dependent upon social media announcements from the Virginia ABC’s Spirited Virginia pages. Only by following those pages will consumers know when anything allocated is being released.
It’s not as simple, however, as the Spirited Virginia pages simply announcing “X product is being sold at X location.” According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Spirited Virginia social media pages will instead apparently announce that allocated spirits are being sold in general at various locations, without actually confirming what any of those products are. Consumers will then essentially have to race to that location in order to find out what product or products are being sold there—that, or call various locations on the phone, inconveniencing the store staff in the process.
At the same time, the new system will effectively make the functionality of the Virginia ABC website—in which a customer can look up a product, and see where it’s in stock—more or less useless for anything on the limited availability list, and it’s not clear whether these products will still be searchable at all.
In short, there are many questions here that still remain unanswered, including the following:
— Why did the Virginia ABC stop selling all limited availability products, state-wide, for more than a month leading up to this announcement? The Richmond Times-Dispatch story contains a quote from CEO Travis Hill, addressing this question in the most limited way possible: “We weren’t happy with the process that we had in place.” Okay then, that’s very detailed and helpful.
— How will individual stores, store owners and ABC employees throughout the state coordinate with the Spirited Virginia social media account, to start selling products at “random” times? Will those products already be out on the shelves earlier in the day? Will employees know the exact time they’re supposed to officially make these products available? If they do know, what’s to stop them from leaking that information to customers?
— Will the Spirited Virginia social media pages be announcing stores that are selling allocated products for the entire state on a daily basis? As a reminder, there are nearly 400 ABC stores in Virginia. These are potentially going to be some very complicated daily announcements, especially after the ABC essentially hoarded all the allocated product for 4-5 weeks leading up to this point.
In short, the new system seems like it will theoretically allow a greater number of people to access allocated bottles, but it will also demand those people keep themselves in a state of cat-like readiness in order to do so, waiting on randomized social media announcements from the Virginia ABC to know when they should race to various ABC locations. It has almost game-ified the experience, in fact, but has seemingly introduced so many layers of confusion and uncertainty that I can’t help but expect massive problems in the rollout. This system strikes me as considerably more complex than the Virginia ABC will be capable of overseeing—this is, after all, the organization whose website was down for an entire day when they last tried to have a 20% off online sale.
But who knows? Perhaps the new system will be just what local whiskey drinkers need. We’ll find out for ourselves soon enough. In the meantime, I fully expect to see people continuing to line up in front of stores, because some things will never change.