Booze seller struggling to meet demand amid lockdown boom

From barely 100 online orders a month to 10,000 orders in 10 days

19 June 2020 - 06:30
By wendy knowler AND Wendy Knowler
Demand for booze following the lifting of the ban on sales has been so high that online retailers are struggling to cope.
Image: Esa Alexander Demand for booze following the lifting of the ban on sales has been so high that online retailers are struggling to cope.

Too much of a good thing is bad, it’s said. South Africa’s online retailers know all about this, with demand for their click-and-deliver services spiking - in most cases well beyond their ability to cope.

Take Norman Goodfellows (NGF), the liquor retailer which has been doing business in South Africa for the past 46 years - the last 13 of them via online sales along with their bricks-and-mortar stores.

The surge in NGF’s online pre-orders in late May, when the government announced that alcohol sales would resume from June 1, was mindblowing - from barely 100 orders a month to 10,000 orders in 10 days.

Continuing to meet its “delivery in two to three days” promise - as the company had always done before lockdown - proved impossible, especially in light of restricted trading conditions for online alcohol trading: no deliveries on weekends and public holidays to consumers.

The company’s communication channels and logistics infrastructure were not geared for those massive numbers either. Inevitably, their customers’ anger and frustration spilled over into social media.

That prompted CEO Charles Kramer to self-impose a lockdown on online orders last week.

“We were humbled and grateful to receive so many orders, but very uncomfortable in not being able to provide our high service and thus frustrate so many clients,” he told TimesLIVE. “I’ve heard that online retail in SA had been propelled forward by five years as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown - and I can believe it.

“We had to do the responsible thing and focus our attention on the orders we’ve already received. It would be unfair to take on more.”

Customer care provision has gone from two people on a switchboard to a call centre staffed by 20, and courier companies are now delivering along with the company’s 40 vehicles.

As for why the company delivered so many partial orders - a decision that outraged many recipients, given the lack of communication - Kramer said: “We decided to do that so our clients would at least have something ‘to get on with’, having not had access to any alcohol for two months of the lockdown.

“Again, it was the inability to communicate about this to everyone that caused problems,” he said.

All orders will be delivered by the end of June, when the website will reopen, he said..

“We will engage every existing client personally. And if they don’t want to wait for their orders, we will refund them within two days - no quibble.

“I am desperately trying to avoid refunds - not because of the financial loss but because it is not in our culture to lose sales as a result of bad service. We understand our clients’ frustrations and offer no excuses.”

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.