Joining the ranks of food-delivery apps like Just Eat and Skip the Dishes is Drizly, an on-demand liquor-delivery service. It boasts prices equal to what they are in store—there are no markups, just a flat $5 delivery fee. The service promises delivery within one hour, and currently runs between 3:30 pm and 9:30 pm every day of the week. The driver scans your ID at the door so as to verify your age and ensure no minors are being served; if drivers encounter any intoxicated people, they are instructed to return the items to the store.
Drizly currently operates in several large US cities; Edmonton is the service’s first Canadian market. It sounds great—and undoubtedly offers a lot of convenience—but I was immediately skeptical. The main reason? Drizly is partnered with Liquor Depot.
When I first started browsing through the products available through Drizly, I was pleasantly surprised: there seemed to be quite a good selection. Then I entered my address. The list of products, especially wines, was reduced considerably and completely dominated by mass-marketed big brands: Yellow Tail, Apothic, Cupcake, Barefoot. This should be no surprise, given that this is pretty much all Liqour Depot stocks. The prices were also consistent with that chain—the highest in town.
I decided to give the service a test run, so I went on the Drizly.com website to order a couple bottles of wine around 4:30 pm on Monday.
Navigating the site is quite easy, and the design is clean. Products are divided by major category (beer/wine/liquor) and then by type (beer and liquor) or grape variety (wine). It would be nice to be able to search by country, and the vintages on the wine also aren’t shown, but oh well.
I noticed a few spelling errors in the tasting notes provided under each wine, which were minor but looked unprofessional. Some products were coded incorrectly—Coppola Diamond Collection Claret was listed under Bordeaux, for example. Some of the bottle images were also incorrect: Jackson-Triggs has several tiers of wine, and I noticed that Drizly used the mid-tier (black label) picture for the entry-level (white label) bottle, which was immediately obvious from the price—and would have been seriously annoying if the cheaper one ended up at my door, had I not noticed (or thought it was on major sale).
Noticing the chat function, I decided to give it a whirl and ask a question: “I’d like something very earthy and Old World that pairs with charcuterie.” Within moments, someone named Robert—a “Drizly Product Expert”—joined the chat. After about five minutes he still hadn’t responded, so I prompted him again: “Hello, are you there?” Still no answer after about 10 more minutes, and then after 15 minutes the chat function disappeared completely and I got an email about the support ticket I had apparently created. Maybe Robert didn’t know what charcuterie was?
The order arrived about 20 minutes after I had placed it, which was nice and quick—though the store is only a five-minute drive from my house, so that’s not overly impressive. The delivery driver was very cheerful.
In a telephone interview, Matt Erley, general manager of Drizly’s Edmonton market, confirmed that while the company would consider working with other businesses in the future, for now it serves its purposes to work solely with Liquor Depot.
I’m doubtful that Drizly will partner with other stores around town, however, even if it was inclined to do so. The drivers are employees of the liquor store, not Drizly, and few small indie stores have the resources to pay a driver for six hours a day.
As for Drizly’s lacklustre product catalogue, Erley confirms more variety will be added as the company continues to operate. Again, I’m skeptical: Liquor Depot is the one in control of the inventory, and it isn’t going to change from offering nothing but mass-marketed stuff. This will be justified by stating that this is the type of products usually ordered by Drizly’s target audience (18 to 30), but this is patronizing and increasingly inaccurate—young people account for some of the most savvy liquor shoppers out there.
It’s also a self-fulfilling cycle: Liquor Depot offers those products because it thinks that’s all people want, so that’s what people are stuck having to buy, so Liquor Depot continues to stock only those brands. Alberta has the best selection of liquor in the country thanks to our privatized industry, but you’d never know this from browsing the shelves at the average Liquor Depot.
If you just need a casual bottle—maybe because you’re tired after work or you have guests coming over who don’t know/care about what they’re drinking—then Drizly offers just the right amount of bland convenience. It’s no substitute for your local wine shop. In fact, Drizly’s arrival in Edmonton is all the more reason to put in extra effort to support the small independent players who have worked hard to carve out a much-needed niche of higher quality within a city that remains far too dominated by large corporate chains.V
Mel Priestley is a certified sommelier and wine writer who also blogs about wine, food and the arts at melpriestley.ca