Shipt, a grocery delivery service that began operating in North Carolina last year, temporarily halted one if its biggest selling points – bringing beer and wine to its customers’ doorstep – in recent weeks because of legal uncertainties.
Deliveries will resume soon now that those questions have apparently been resolved, a spokeswoman for the company says.
The confusion illustrates how relatively new the grocery delivery market is. Shipt started working with Harris Teeter stores in Charlotte last November and in the Triangle in April. Beginning Thursday, it will also deliver from Lidl stores in the Triangle, Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
There are many such enterprises around the country, including Instacart, Deliv, Postmates, Greenbean Delivery, CheckList, Curbside Direct and Walmart Grocery. Shipt, a membership-based company, was started in 2014 and is now in more than 70 markets, partnering with various local stores.
Questions about the legality of beer and wine deliveries in North Carolina developed when company representatives heard at an industry event that the state could be interpreting laws in a new way that would prohibit companies from delivering alcohol.
But that isn’t the case.
State law has long required that alcohol be purchased from a store with a state Alcohol Beverage Commission permit, either in person, by phone or internet. An intermediary cannot deliver the alcohol in exchange for money outside the permitted store.
To get around that prohibition, a delivery service must have a payment arrangement with a grocery store not a customer, according to ABC spokeswoman Agnes Stevens. The intention is to ensure that the transaction takes place at the store not the doorstep.
Shipt decided to halt its beer and wine deliveries until the legal implications could be sorted out and determine whether any “internal processes” needed to be changed, the spokeswoman said.
Shipt customers pay for their orders using a smartphone application. The company’s shoppers then make the purchases in the store.
Our alcohol delivery service was very new at the time, so there was minimum disruption to our members.
Shipt spokewoman Dana Jacobs
“Our alcohol delivery service was very new at the time, so there was minimum disruption to our members,” Shipt spokeswoman Dana Jacobs said in an email.
The company has a policy on alcohol deliveries that includes certifying its employee shoppers through training, and requiring valid identification to confirm that customers are at least 21 years old. Shipt doesn’t deliver alcohol in all of its markets.
Uncertainty in ABC law regulating alcohol delivery predates the shopping services. In 1988, an internal memo from the commission’s counsel addressed concerns by caterers and others that wanted to deliver beer and wine to their customers.
Some beer and wine delivery services had been erroneously informed by ABC agents that they were breaking the law. That was incorrect, the counsel wrote, so long as the services weren’t paid for upon delivery.
“It is a well established Commission policy that once a sale has taken place on the retailer’s premises, the retailer may then deliver the alcoholic beverage to the customer (or a designated third party) who is old enough to possess the alcoholic beverage,” the counsel wrote. “G.S. 18B-405 specifically allows a retailer to transport alcoholic beverages in the course of his business.”
That has been the guiding interpretation of state law ever since, even with the advent of grocery delivery companies.
Shipt has offices in San Francisco and Birmingham, Ala. Customers sign up for unlimited deliveries for $99 a year. Shipt customers use a smartphone app to shop online, choose a one-hour delivery window and pay for their order.