The Power to Persuade, November 6th 2023
In an era where the convenience of online shopping extends to liquor delivery, Chanelle Wilson (Cancer Council WA) and Keira Bury (formerly Cancer Council WA) examine the heightened risks this poses to Australians in recovery and treatment for alcohol dependence. They explore the troubling nexus of aggressive marketing, increased availability, and the potential for abuse, calling for stronger regulatory measures to protect vulnerable populations.
Online marketing for alcohol boomed during the pandemic, and it hasn’t gone away. Alcohol delivery companies encouraged Australians to stay in and drink up and have made use of developments in technology and delivery systems to expand around the country making every phone a bottle shop. Meanwhile, alcohol use is up from pre-pandemic levels and so is the demand for alcohol treatment services. Organisations including Cancer Council WA and the Alcohol and Other Drug Consumer and Community Coalition (AODCCC) are concerned about how this changing liquor landscape is affecting people in treatment and recovery, so what are the risks?
Alcohol delivery companies have become a beacon for impulse purchasing, making it easier to obtain high volumes of alcohol, almost immediately. Advertisements with ‘shop now’ buttons entice buyers with fast or free delivery, discounts and offers for multi-buys and bulk purchases. Some companies also offer ‘buy now pay later’ options. Promotions for alcohol delivery are not limited to alcohol retailers like bottle shops, even major supermarkets are promoting alcohol products as add-on sales to grocery orders.
‘Younger, risky drinkers’ were found to be the largest users of rapid delivery, using the services to extend their drinking session after their alcohol supplies had run out. Deakin University’s research in WA showed people who drank at high risk levels were more likely to use online delivery more often, use rapid or same day delivery to order higher volumes of alcohol, and order alcohol while intoxicated. This is not surprising given they were also significantly more likely to receive targeted promotions for buying alcohol online – advertising works.
Alcohol can now be delivered in Perth cheap, fast, and late at night. This means deliveries in the metro area in under 30 minutes, including cheap alcohol products ($5 wines and vodka for under $40) with low delivery fees from around $2-$10. Under the current laws, if the site’s liquor license permits, alcohol can be delivered until midnight in WA. This is concerning because the risks of family violence and suicide also peak late at night. When harms from alcohol happen in the home, they may be hidden. The deplorable case of a Sydney man who died in his home in 2020 after receiving multiple alcohol delivery orders should never be forgotten. There was a failure in preventing this person being supplied multiple rapid alcohol deliveries. The ability to access alcohol delivery fast, at low cost, and late at night presents real risks for people who use alcohol at high risk levels, not only for themselves, but for others in the home including families who deserve better protections when it comes to alcohol availability.
The existing weak rules that apply to alcohol marketing means alcohol marketing is hard to avoid and alcohol companies use data or algorithms to target individuals with personalised promotions based on their profile and search history. Some alcohol companies have their own apps which encourage fast and frequent purchasing, prompted by notifications and even gamified promotions that encourage users to tap the app every day to earn points and win prizes. For people concerned about being exposed to online alcohol marketing, FARE recommends unfollowing or opting out from alcohol advertising on social media, and deleting apps that might prompt alcohol purchases. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you will stop getting served alcohol ads online. While some social media platforms have age-gating mechanisms, meaning if you subscribe as a person under 18, you shouldn’t be served alcohol ads, this does not prevent young people from being frequently exposed to alcohol marketing.
Online sales and delivery may also provide avenues for children to access alcohol, with research indicating that delivery drivers regularly fail to check ID, and often leave alcohol unattended at a delivery address. Supplying alcohol to an underage or intoxicated person carries the same penalties as it would in a pub or bottle shop, however it is unknown how often deliveries are refused when an order has already been paid for and transported to someone’s home. Currently in WA, only same day alcohol deliveries require the deliverer to hand over alcohol to the recipient, so that ID (and intoxication) can be checked, however Deakin University’s research in WA shows that this is not always happening.
Preventing the delivery of alcohol to people who are underage and intoxicated must be a priority. Recognising intoxication and refusing service of alcohol in the home delivery setting presents challenges. Adequate training of delivery staff and support to comply with Responsible Service of Alcohol principles are needed. AODCCC have developed a position statement including recommendations for a review of the WA Liquor Delivery Regulations which were introduced in February 2022.
Cancer Council WA, FARE and others are calling for stronger community protections when it comes to the online sale and delivery of alcohol. This includes a 2-hour safety pause on alcohol deliveries. The term ‘safety pause’ highlights that the intention of alcohol laws should be to keep communities safe and not to allow businesses to trade at the expense of people’s lives. Additional measures should include limiting the hours of delivery to between 10am and 10pm, digital ID checks for online alcohol purchases, mandatory checks for intoxication and ID when alcohol is delivered, and independent regulation of alcohol marketing that prevents targeted and predatory marketing. These measures will go some ways to protecting the people at most risk of harm.
If you would like to feedback your concerns and insights about how online alcohol marketing and home delivery is impacting treatment and support service users and those in recovery, please contact AlcoholPrograms@cancerwa.asn.au