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WASHINGTON -- Shipping wine directly to the homes of people who order it online doesn't appear to lead to more underage drinking, regulators said. Their report found state bans on direct shipping hurt Internet commerce and limit consumer choices. A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study of wine ordered online found that state bans on direct shipping prevent consumers from saving as much as 21 percent off the cost of some wines.
"E-commerce can offer consumers lower prices, greater choices and increased convenience," FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said. "In wine and other markets, however, anticompetitive barriers to e-commerce are depriving consumers of those benefits."
Addressing concerns that online wine sales could give minors easier access to alcohol, Muris said the FTC found that states that allow direct shipping report few if any problems. He said many of those states require an adult signature to accept delivery.
"We also found no evidence suggesting that direct shipping increases underage drinking beyond the levels attributable to sales by brick-and-mortar stores," Muris said. "Unfortunately, the evidence shows that adolescents currently can obtain alcohol without going to the trouble and expense of ordering it over the Internet."
Online wine sales are a small but growing proportion of the wine market, the FTC said. All states have laws to control the sale and shipment of alcohol. The wholesale industry argues laws are necessary to ensure states can collect alcohol taxes and prevent the shipment of booze directly to minors. Winemakers have convinced some states in recent years to make exceptions for wine, saying that minors aren't trying to buy expensive chardonnays and merlots to get drunk.
The result has been a confusing patchwork of state rules and regulations that complicate business for wineries that need to determine if shipping to a particular customer is legal.