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Are we past COVID? St. Patrick’s Day alcohol sales will tell the tale

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If history is a guide, the widespread loosening of COVID restrictions should lead to a healthy bump in alcohol sales this St. Patrick’s Day, an analysis of Signifyd Ecommerce Pulse data indicates.

A look back at the past two COVID-era celebrations and the stringency of COVID restrictions in two parts of the world indicate that when COVID rules are strict on St. Patrick’s Day, alcohol sales are low and when rules are relaxed, it’s time to celebrate Ireland’s patron with a toast — or two.

Consider St. Patrick’s Day 2021, almost exactly a year into the pandemic. We know from a clever measure known as the COVID-19 Stringency Index that at the time COVID restrictions in the United States were less strict than in the European countries in the index — Ireland, the UK and Germany. We also have ample evidence that the alcohol was flowing more freely in the U.S. than in Northern Europe.

COVID rules provide insight into alcohol sales

In March 2021 in the U.S., where the COVID Stringency Index sat at 64.35 — about 3.5 points lower than 2020 — alcohol sales increased by 45% year over year, according to Signifyd data. Meanwhile, in Northern Europe, where the index ranged from 77.78 to 84.26 — a dramatic year-over-year increase in all cases — online alcohol sales dropped 16% from the previous March. 

What you need to know
  • St. Patrick’s Day is a major retail holiday. Consumers are expected to spend $6 billion in 2022.
  • Alcohol sales rise near St. Patrick’s Day as COVID restrictions loosen.
  • This year, North America and Northern Europe should both see a boost in alcohol sales, according to Signifyd Ecommerce Pulse data.

The stringency index looks at things like school and workplace closings and travel restrictions and ranks the severity of COVID rules on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most strict.

The day-by-day pattern of alcohol purchases illustrated in even starker terms the relationship between rules and sales. Last year, U.S, online alcohol sales started a steady rise on March 14, peaking on March 15 at 52% higher than on the first of the month, Pulse data says. They remained higher than the March 1 benchmark, reaching 41% above the beginning of the month on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Chart showing online alcohol sales in March in North America and Northern Europe

In Northern Europe, sales remained below the March 1 benchmark on March 14 and 15. March 16 showed a modest 7% uptick. On St. Patrick’s Day, they fell back into negative territory, compared to the first of the month. 

Look for alcohol sales to rebound in Europe this St. Patrick’s Day

Given all that, Irish and UK spirit sellers can look for a considerable rebound as St. Patrick’s Day rolls around Thursday. Germany could be in for a disappointment, while brands in the U.S. selling alcohol can look forward to a pleasant bump. The most recent reading of the Stringency Index puts Ireland and the UK at a party-prone 23.15 and 29.63 respectively, while the U.S. is at a looser, get-loose reading of 58.8. Germany was sitting at 84.26.

Graph showing Covid stringency in North America and Northern Europe

Of course, St. Patrick’s Day is not only about drinking, despite a rich canon of jokes and advertising that presents the two as synonymous. It’s a day to break out the green — wardrobe, decorations, cake dye, face paint, glitter, beads — well, green anything really. 

It is a key shopping holiday for retailers. When the National Retail Federation (NRF) ranked the biggest holidays in terms of average spending per person,  St. Patrick’s Day ranked No. 12. Keep in mind, the retail world celebrates holidays such as “back to college” and “back to school,” but hey, any excuse for a party. 

Shoppers will spend $6 billion on St. Patrick’s Day this year

This year, NRF says, consumers will spend nearly $6 billion on St. Patrick’s Day-related items. More than half of U.S. consumers surveyed for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics said they would celebrate the day. And the poll appeared to support the prediction that U.S. alcohol sales will see a modest increase this year, over last. 

In the NRF poll, 15% of adults said they would attend a private St. Patrick’s Day party and 10% said they would host a party in honor of the holiday. Each figure represented a two percentage point increase over last year. 

So, let the good times roll, but let’s be careful out there. 

Signifyd Data Analyst Phelim Killough contributed to this report 


Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].