April 8, 2014 2:33 am JST

Amazon Japan to sell beer, booze in challenge to supermarkets

NAGOYA -- Amazon Japan will add alcoholic beverages to its vast array of merchandise available online, starting on Tuesday.

     Alcoholic drinks have been available via individual retailers on its website, but Amazon itself has not sold them.

     Starting Tuesday, Amazon Japan will offer 6,000 or so such beverages, including major-brand beer, delivering them as quickly as the same day.

     Beer sold in cases is a popular item at supermarkets. And prices there average about 200 yen ($1.92) per 350ml can, often lower than at online retailers. Amazon plans to match supermarkets' beer prices. And for wine and some liquor, the online retailer will take advantage of parallel imports to offer much lower prices than brick-and-mortar retailers. Such moves will likely intensify competition, prompting supermarkets to lower prices or enhance delivery services, for example.

     Amazon Japan recently obtained the license to sell alcoholic beverages. It will ask the age of customers when taking orders.

     In addition to beer, the company will also sell 1,000 variations of Japanese sake and 1,400 types of shochu. Combined with the selection offered via individual merchandisers, a total of 150,000 alcoholic beverages will be available on the website, the largest online selection in Japan.

     Amazon has its own logistics networks, and is able to deliver 80% of orders the same day, and 90% of orders by the following day. Shipping that takes two to three days is free, and members paying 3,900 yen a year are eligible for unlimited same-day delivery at no additional charge.

     Booze bought in bulk is cumbersome to carry, so delivery services are in high demand. Customers can receive their orders in combination with a wide array of other items sold on Amazon's site, including books, appliances and food.

     Supermarkets are stepping up online shopping services as well, but their delivery ranges are often limited to neighboring areas.