Featured image by ConiferConifer, Originally posted Oct 24th, 2020. Updated: Nov 19th, 2021 and Apr 2022.
If I go buy sake, I typically go to a Japanese market although with the pandemic still lingering, I looked into buying sake online.
I’m not a big sake (aka nihonshu 日本酒) drinker although I am a big drinker. So when I drink, my go-to is beer and whisky, but since I cook a lot, I tend to have cooking sake readily available that I tend to drink on occasion. It is not the best sake, but I have had my fair share of good sake. Sake that I got to drink either from the time working BOH as a sushi chef drinking all the free sake provided by vendors to the restaurant to try out, and try out we did. The other times, would be out with friends at any Japanese restaurant where they felt compelled to drink sake, so I can appreciate a good sake which is why do make sure I have some sake as part of my liquor stash.
Here you go, all of the retailers who specialize in selling sake through their brick and mortar or online, and they are all categorized and ranked by site traffic (they have got to be doing something right if people are on their website).The sake bottle and cup icon represent summaries for a quick read.
I Have Been Fed Sake Ads Recently, but I Wanted to See Who Would Pop up in a Google Search
When they say “your results may vary,” it doesn’t apply just to following a cooking recipe, but with Google searches too, so I made sure to concentrate on selecting the optimum keywords which I figured was “sake online.” Except Google recommended “sake online order,” so I went with that because the results did not vary too significantly.
Well, Here Are the Google Results For “Sake Online Order”:
GOOGLE PAID ADS
- Wine.com (ad) “we created Wine.com to revolutionize the way people like you discover, buy and enjoy wine” – note: they don’t even carry sake.
- TokyoCentral.com (ad) – they are no longer selling online, but it is for the best because they were never that proficient at selling online.
The market is split into two primary categories that carry sake which are 1). big box stores to 2). specialized sake businesses. The two big retailers are Drizly and TotalWine, and the three sake specific retail companies are TippsySake.com, TrueSake.com, and SakeSocial.com. Out of all the sake specific businesses, TrueSake is not only a brick and mortar, but they were also the first to open up a shop in the United States (SF Bay Area).
- TippsySake.com “The largest online Japanese sake store in the U.S. – At Tippsy, our mission is to make sake simple and fun. By designing the platform for you to easily find your favorite brand and streamlining logistics so you can drink the freshest sake shipped from the West Coast where most sake arrives from Japan, we want you to re-evaluate your experience with sake and re-discover the flavors that you thought you knew.”
- Drizly.com “Beer, wine and liquor delivered to your doorstep – Drizly is the world’s largest alcohol marketplace and the best way to shop beer, wine and spirits. We partner with the best retail stores in over 100 cities across North America to serve up the best buying experience.” Drizly employs approximately 85 employees.
- Totalwine.com “Total wine & more is America’s Wine Superstore — the country’s largest independent retailer of fine wine. We started in 1991 when brothers David and Robert Trone opened a small store in Delaware. Today, we operate 212 superstores across 25 states and continue to grow.” Total Wine employs approximately 7,000 employees.
- SakeSocial.com “Our mission is to simply find the perfect bottle of sake for you – Sake Social has gone to great lengths to comply with all State and Federal laws regarding the purchase and shipping of alcohol, as set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Not all online retailers of alcoholic beverages go through the laborious process of being compliant.”
- TakaraSake.com, a Japanese sake producer that also sells direct to the public.
- Japancentre.com, London based company that owns restaurants to food halls..
- TrueSake.com “America’s Premiere Sake Store – Since we’ve open in 2002, True Sake has been the market leader hand-selling sake at the first of its kind, brick and mortar shop in San Francisco. True Sake was the first dedicated sake store opened outside of Japan and we are extremely passionate about selling sake to our fantastic customer base.”
- WareHouseWinesandSpirits.com, ecommerce site based out of New York, NY.
- WineDeals.com, ecommerce site based out of Amherst, NY.
- AceSpirits.com, ecommerce site based out of Hopkins, MN.
Sites Ranked in Order of Site Traffic
To many of you, you have a vague idea how big some of these sites are, but now you will know how much approximated site traffic they get per month from the massive retailers to the sake only businesses. Also, if it isn’t obvious, I will denote which businesses specialize only in sake (one giveaway, they have “sake” in their name).
Stats are from Oct 2019, Nov 2021, and Apr 2022 (in BOLD below), Tippsy is sake-specific, and they have had the most growth organically and potentially through ads. True Sake and Takara are the best entities to get an idea of how the sake market is doing (they do not spend a single cent on online advertising to drive traffic, it is all organic). Whereas SakeSocial has lagged behind all of the competition in the sake market.
|# OF PAID |
Massively huge online
and brick and mortar.
A relatively new online
Large online retailer
and brick and mortar
Specializing only in sake.
Specializing only in sake.
Brick and mortar/online
only in sake.
Sake producer that sells
direct online and through
retail brick and mortars.
Product and Price Comparison
I really wanted to know how much the product line-up and pricing differed between all the online sellers, and now I know that it does differ quite a bit when it comes to product availability (brands to product lines carried).
|Sake Social||Tippsy Sake||Total Wine||True Sake|
($4.99-$9.99 delivery fee)
($4.99-$9.99 delivery fee)
($4.99-$9.99 delivery fee)
|SOLD OUT||$18.90 ||$16.99||$17|
“Man’s Mountain” Tokubetsu Junmai
($4.99-$9.99 delivery fee)
|Dassai 23 |
Who Is Not Showing Up
There is such a discrepancy with vendors carrying such differing brands to product lines that I had to Google a number of the products, and the online source that kept popping up was UmamiMart.com out of Oakland, CA (the SF Bay Area/NorCal). The only other vendor was UrbanSake.com which I came across Instagram.
If you are asking what about Umami Mart, they are primarily a brick and mortar. So if you have a problem or a question, do not expect to get a response via email or social media (they are non-existent with their online customer service).
Branding and the User Experience of the Three Dedicated Sake Websites
Just a few of my observations using and experiencing the sake specific sites:
BRANDING: Seeing that their site traffic is almost 3x’s higher than their nearest competitor, it is quite obvious as to why Sake Social has been in business for well over a decade than the other company that has been around only a couple of years. Except that would be selling Sake Social short because I also like their visual design of their site design. They also did a good job with their About Us, Team Profile, “Why Choose Sake Social” to their ethical and environmental precautions they have taken. If you take the time to read it all, you are bound to love
Marc, Marisela, Jason, and the rest of the crew (yea, I know they might be great on paper and dicks in real life, but hey, I buy into until it is proven otherwise. Sidenote: it was proven otherwise).
UX: Love the very minimalist feel to the visual design, but the part that bothered me was the vertical hierarchy because to me, the pricing and product size should be side by side and the secondary information should be quantity. When looking at the page, it is visually fragmented because the size, quantity and price are separated with the price being integrated into the “add to bag” which makes it obscure.
BRANDING: Right off, I can’t stand the eff’n marketing of Tippsy with the dorky Asian dude with two white chicks eating a ridiculous Bon Appetit (douchey) looking lunch that looks so staged. From that vid, I don’t know who they are targeting because that video, combined with the generic typography of their logo, lame “About Us” which is just a mission and vision statement, along with the lackluster name makes me want to avoid the fock out of this company. Except, if you check out their Instagram account, the people they have doing their Friday Instagram live streams is their saving grace although I don’t know if it’s enough to make up for the other crap.
UX: Such a cookie cutter website that should have been planned in phases because their menu is just over the top and I highly doubt they need all their filters for 80-90% of their users. On top of that, they have mistakes with their product copy such as “Shoun” (Sho Une) to one product being listed as 720ml, but I’m sure it’s 900ml. That right there makes me question how reliable the rest of their information is.
BRANDING: The only point of contact I have with the True Sake brand experience is their website because I am not familiar enough with their Facebook or Instagram page (I won’t even bother mentioning Twitter). Although seeing how lackluster their website is, I had to check out their Instagram page, which has 3,811 followers and 1,783 posts, and they are not doing half bad with their content/imagery. Most of their posts have an engagement of 130-225 likes per post with a handful of comments. Although to me, the part I have to respect is that they were the first brick and mortar shop in San Francisco to specialize in sake. That makes them a true OG, and I only wish they would say something about the owners (if it is the same people because they could have sold the business off). Well, regardless of the ownership, this business continues to chug along at the pace of the market, which is a good thing because they do not have to be the hare/rabbit).
UX: Holy web 1.0! This is such an old school website, so you know the owners match the age of the website because they have not put much emphasis on keeping their web experience up-to-date with their in-store experience.
After about three years, out of the three dedicated online sake platforms, it is easy to see that True Sake is the goto for sake. I say that because every one of their direct competitors will eventually fall by the wayside.It’s best to stick with an OG of the bunch vs. the noobs.
Does Buying Online Sound Like Too Much Work, and You Just Want to Find an Affordable Sake at Your Local Liquor Store?
Well, here are the most affordable Japanese sake brands that are most commonly sold and served in the vast majority of liquor stores and sushi bars throughout the U.S.
Conclusion of the Best Place to Buy Sake Online
Over the last 2+ years, you can see one new company emerge, Tippsy Sake for the specialized sake market while TrueSake, an OG in the market keeps on trucking along.
It was very interesting after having spent several hours researching all the sites, and when I order online, I’m going to check out Drizly since they utilize local retailers. Although the sake specific choice, and who I would go here with is SakeSocial.com because they are no noobs to the game. The only thing I am bothered by with them is with their pricing, but till I do a full checkout with all the vendors listed (including UmamiMart.com), and have the product on my doorstep, I will not really have a consensus on who reigns supreme.
UPDATE: 12/3/20: I did reach out to SakeSocial.com, and I have changed my perspective on the company. Along with a slightly bigger picture perspective on the best place to buy sake, and that place may just be Tippsy because they are making a massive effort. So, those Google rankings do have some weight to them.