Stronger age verification needed for alcohol e-commerce
New research has revealed that online age verification checks for alcohol purchases are ‘insufficient’, and the industry is ‘struggling to effectively protect underage people’.
The research was carried out by charity Alcohol Change UK and Wales-based Wrexham Glyndŵr University.
It showed that retailers are relying on tick boxes and online forms for consumers to confirm their age when purchasing alcohol online, which can be ‘easily bypassed’, according to Martin Wilson, chief executive officer of Digital Identity Net.
According to the study, the value of e-commerce alcohol sales is projected to grow by 74% between 2020 and 2024. Additionally, a test purchase operation was carried out, which found that in 72% of cases where alcohol was ordered for delivery within two hours, bottles were handed over without deliverers seeking proof of age.
Delivery drivers were also found to be confused about different retailers’ policies on age verification – some retailers rely on credit cards to prove the purchaser is an adult, according to Alcohol Change UK.
The results have led to the conclusion that a downfall in the current online age verification is outdated legislation – The Licensing Act came into effect in 2005, and was written before online alcohol sales boomed.
Wilson said legislation must be updated ‘to fit the new digital age we’re in’, with online alcohol sales having risen since the pandemic began. In 2017, more than a fifth of UK customers had bought alcohol online, the third highest proportion in the world, said Alcohol Change UK.
Strongly worded policies on websites are no longer considered ‘enough’ by the organisation.
Developments in technology
Alcohol Change UK claimed developments in technology mean people can now accurately prove their age online, giving retailers assurance they are not selling to underage people.
Systems can use verified identity credentials to enable customers to prove their age online, added Wilson. The identity credentials are also integrated into the checkout process.
In 2020, 12 leading alcohol companies, including Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Beam Suntory, pledged to include age restriction symbols across their products as part of a joint effort to reduce underage drinking. The target was set for 2024, although Pernod Ricard brought the goal forward, and added age-restriction labels to all bottles in 2021.