Age verification and retail – By Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked
Age verification and retail
Knife crime rose to its highest-ever level in England and Wales this year, with 43,516 recorded offences in the 12 months ending March 2019. It’s a hugely worrying statistic.
Perhaps even more concerning is the number of young people who become involved and ultimately implicated. A fifth of those cautioned or convicted of offences in the last year were of secondary school age; between 10-17 years old.
The causes for this are varied and complex so there is – clearly – no silver bullet when it comes to tackling the issue. However, ease of access has long played a key role in the number of children possessing a weapon, with many shops falling short when it comes to their age-checking processes. Indeed, a recent investigation found that one in five retailers failed test purchase checks.
Better age verification processes, therefore, that make it harder for minors to get their hands on dangerous weapons, can provide an important deterrent and go some way to confronting the problem.
It’s something that the government is, quite rightly, taking seriously.
The new offensive and dangerous weapons act, introduced in May, will make it illegal to possess dangerous weapons in private. It will also now be a criminal offence to dispatch bladed products sold online without verifying that the buyer is over 18.
Most people will be familiar with the process of providing physical identification when purchasing age-restricted items such as knives or cigarettes. The “Challenge 25” policy is also widely recognised in alcohol retail and research shows that age-related test purchasing pass rates in shops are generally increasing as a result. However, the ongoing rise of eCommerce has called for a dramatic reassessment and overhaul of these procedures.
A number of major UK retailers, such as Tesco and B&Q, have already committed to using innovative age-checking technologies on their websites. These solutions are relatively inexpensive, have little impact on the customer experience and offer an effective preventative measure against underage purchases.
But the new Offensive and Dangerous Weapons Act now brings the sale of dangerous weapons more closely in line with what currently takes place in the alcohol industry. Age verification must now happen twice. Once at the point of sale and again at the point of delivery.
So, although we’ve seen a lot of development and innovation when it comes to online age checks, now retailers must be able to coordinate the age verification process that happens remotely with action in real-life.
This presents some major challenges. Firstly, the retailer often isn’t in charge of delivery and logistics once the product leaves its premises. The onus, therefore, shifts to delivery companies to prove they have done an age check, or potentially risk breaking the law by delivering and age-restricted product to a minor. Errors caused by friction between eCommerce brands and their logistics companies are already a common theme in the retail industry – so age checking could prove to be another level of complexity that is extremely difficult to overcome.
There are also regulatory issues at play, caused largely by age verification technology moving faster than regulation in many areas. For example, in England and Wales, an age check during an alcohol delivery currently requires the presentation of a physical proof of age card with a hologram or watermark. This is a stipulation that is seen as restricting innovation, for digital solutions are coming increasingly to the fore in other sectors. Whilst technology companies are working on bridging the gap and finding solutions, an important part of improving age verification is the work that government departments, such as the Home Office, are undertaking to investigate ways of updating regulation the laws to accommodate innovation.
Ultimately, urgent action is needed to crack down on underage sales of dangerous weapons – and this new law is a step in the right direction. It means that the retail sector, alongside logistics partners, now have a legal responsibility to keep pace and help ensure that dangerous goods do not fall into the wrong hands.
Alastair Graham is the CEO of AgeChecked, a provider of online age verification for websites that sell age-restricted goods and services.