Fixing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

I’m an adult who, on occasion, enjoys drinking in moderation. Since I live in Pennsylvania I am forced to purchase liquor through what is charitably described as the very worst state-owned liquor monopoly in the entire universe.

I’ve written about this in detail before: the painfully unhelpful staff at many stores, and that the system seems more interested in punishing you for wanting to buy liquor than in trying to sell it. I’ve used some fairly immoderate language, because I think the State Stores deserve this sort of intervention: Pennsylvania clearly doesn’t want to sell wine and spirits, so they should do us all a favor and get out of the business of doing so.

But given the amounts of money involved in this gigantic government jobs program, I don’t really expect that to happen. So, in the interest of trying to help them do a better job, I’m going to explain how they can make one simple change to the system that will fix it. It will make the system easier to use and will help them sell more product, all at the same time.

It’s really simple: let me special-order wine and spirits on the web.

I was discussing this with a manager at a State Store the other day. “It’s really inconvenient to have to order things here,” I said. “It’s like going to the library or a record store: the moment I walk in to the store, I’ve forgotten what I need.”

“Well,” said the manager. “You can place orders over the phone.”

[Amaro Nonino

PLCB: “We Make Shopping Hard”

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It’s true that you can place orders on the phone. But there are a few problems with this. First, and most importantly, any interaction with the PLCB where I have to talk to a human being is a bad interaction. Yes, I know that there are some stores where the staff is helpful, knowledgable, and friendly – the Centre Avenue store is particularly good – but on the whole talking to anyone at the PLCB is a bit like playing Russian Roulette. It’s not the sort of risk that offers good odds.

Second, even when the staff is helpful and friendly the process of making a special liquor order is super-painful, involving digging through reams of paper printed on a 1985-era dot-matrix printer until the employee can find some obscure code. The transaction cost of putting in an SLO is so high that I have, at times, put it off for weeks just to avoid the pain.

Lastly, I work for a living. Very often, I don’t even think of things like buying obscure liquors until long after everyone manning the phones at the PLCB has gone home for the night.

The PLCB does have an online store, but as near as I can tell it only stocks a small subset of their catalog - no “SLO”, or special liquor orders, at all. The PLCB’s entire product catal og, including SLO’s, is online also, but I can’t order any of the interesting stuff. Give me a web form where I can type in your SKUs, give you my credit card information, and tell you what store I want to pick the product up at, and I will be putting in orders tomorrow. I assure you I’m not the only one.

So please, PLCB. I know you hate liquor. I know you hate making money. I know you hate all of your customers in a very deep and personal way. But help me out. Let me place these orders on your web site. Make it easy, make it quick, and make it painless. Otherwise I may never get to try Cachaça Fazenda Mae De Ouro.