With the increasing popularity of eCommerce, it is essential for companies selling products with age restrictions to ensure they are not being purchased by underage customers. Although the idea of online age verification may seem straightforward, many online stores lack the proper tools to safeguard both themselves and underage customers. Whenever you sell products with an age restriction, you must take the necessary precautions to accurately verify the purchasers’ age in accordance with the demands and expectations of the law. By putting these procedures and mechanisms in place, you can both defend yourself if an offense is committed and help prevent it.
Why age verification is important for eCommerce
If your eCommerce site sells products with age restrictions, confirm the ages of customers before continuing to ensure you deliver a secure and responsible shopping experience in order to do the following:
- Abide by strict state and federal requirements
- Preserve your reputation
- Safeguard community and industry practices
- Avoid overly restricting your industry
You also don’t want to irritate users and drive away paying customers, though. As a result, many companies commit the error of doing too little, which is insufficient to even somewhat slow down young customers. An efficient and user-friendly online age verification process is necessary for restricted sales to strike the ideal balance between due diligence and customer experience.
An alcohol delivery case study regarding the failure of age restriction
IWSR predicts that by 2024, the market for online alcohol sales will reach $45.5 billion. It is also an industry that is thriving despite ineffective age verification methods and underage drinkers.
A University of North Carolina (UNC) study revealed that 45 out of 100 efforts by minors to buy alcohol online were successful. The minors could make up their age and date of birth, but they had to cooperate if requested to produce identification.
The study identified numerous flaws in the conventional age verification procedures used by internet retailers and proposed a potential fix. Only 3 out of the 39 sellers who demanded a date of birth denied orders. All five of the retailers who asked for a driver’s license number denied orders.
Despite the struggles of the pandemic, a silver lining has emerged: convenience. Delivery options have allowed us to get our favorite foods and drinks without ever leaving home! Unfortunately, some underage people are taking advantage, with some even having alcohol brought directly to their doorsteps through on-demand food delivery apps.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) launched a number of delivery driver sting operations in response to this problem to catch individuals and companies making deliveries to minors without taking the necessary precautions.
Age-restricted products in the United States
Some common age-restricted products, besides alcohol, include:
- Aerosol paint: 18+
- Cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape: 21+
- Dating apps (age varies, but 17+ is common)
- Lottery tickets: 18+
- M-rated video games: 17+
- R-rated films: 17+
Who is in charge of ensuring that customers are old enough to purchase products with age restrictions?
Whether they sell in person or online, retailers are responsible for ensuring that customers are of legal purchasing age. Typically, third parties like delivery providers are not accountable and cannot be held responsible. Retailers must have safe age verification methods in place for this reason.
What would occur if you offered products to a minor?
If you do business with someone who is under the legal age limit, you and your company risk penalties, legal action, jail time, and license revocation. You can be protected if a product ends up in the wrong hands by using age verification that complies with regulatory regulations.
Typical strategies that won’t comply with your legal obligation
Several strategies are employed by eCommerce companies to determine the customers’ and website visitors’ ages. The issue is that many of these strategies, which were picked for their ease of use, are ineffective and won’t satisfy your legal obligation.
Strategies that are unsuccessful include:
- Requesting the buyer’s name.
- Requesting proof of legal age from the buyer.
- Requesting the customer to provide their birth date.
- Providing a disclaimer that states that buyers must be [age] or that they are attesting to that fact by making a purchase.
- Users must “accept” the terms and conditions and confirm their legal age before using the service.
- Only accepting payment via credit cards. A payment system might not be able to distinguish between some debit and prepaid cards that are available to minors.
Age gates are insufficient today
The first techniques mentioned above as examples of an age gate. An age gate is a pop-up age verification prompt that asks users to verify their age before granting them access to the website. The majority of the time, there is no verification or checking of the data provided in an age gate. This indicates that all it takes to get away with it is for someone to tell a quick lie. Thus, age gate pop-ups are insufficient to ensure compliance. They are more concerned with conveying a message than stopping restricted sales.
So how does age verification function well online? Internet retailers of nicotine and alcohol products are legally required to utilize verification procedures that check ID or match the buyer’s name, address, and date of birth to data records. The FDA has stepped up its enforcement in recent years and has explicitly stated that it will pinpoint retailers “without independent, third-party, age- and identity-verification services that compare customer information against third-party data sources, such as public records,” prioritizing enforcement.
Merely reviewing the first purchase is inadequate
First-purchase screening is also insufficient on its own if you really want to stop minors from gaining access. By “first-purchase screening,” we imply confirming a customer’s age only once, during their initial purchase on your website. Currently, some websites validate users’ information when they create an account, removing the need for verification for subsequent purchases made with that account. The issue with this method is that others, even kids, can use the same computer or borrow the account.
Online sellers: how to legally verify an age
Online age verification software is the most efficient way for online sellers to confirm a customer’s age. Other approaches include in-store pickups and relying on delivery employees, though the latter approach isn’t always successful.
Software for online age verification
Using reliable online age verification software is the simplest and most efficient approach to verifying someone’s age online. In most cases, age verification software operates by requesting personally identifiable information (PII) from customers, such as name, address, and birthday, and then cross-referencing that information against databases like the electoral register or credit agency records. These systems verify the buyer’s identity and age, unlike age gates. Some more recent age verification software requests a selfie and a photo of the buyer’s ID and uses biometrics and facial recognition to confirm the buyer’s identity and age.
The following should be considered while selecting an age verification system:
- Obeys the law.
- Is serious about data security.
- If you also sell unrestricted products, you can verify customers for those products so that you don’t deter all young users.
- Depending on the restricted products you sell, you can alter the minimum ages.
- Provides a positive user experience.
Having customers pick up their online items in-store allows staff to do a face-to-face ID check, which is a possibility for online shops with a significant physical presence. It’s crucial to train staff members to correctly check someone’s age using this method while upholding excellent customer service. In many establishments today, personnel input ID birthdates into verification software. You should also underline the responsibility of the employees.
Skilled delivery staff
Certain delivery services and eCommerce sites rely on the individuals delivering the packages to verify the recipient’s identity and age. Because it’s impossible to ensure this process, and other parties could decline responsibility, we don’t advise relying only on this approach. Delivery employees can fail to properly examine it, check ID, or leave the package at the door. Using software that demands and assists delivery employees in precisely verifying the identities is one potential option.
Age verification on your website: how to implement
To add secure age verification to your website, use the instructions below.
- Develop internal processes
In addition to federal restrictions, check your local and state laws. Verify the rules of your eCommerce platform, if you use one. Keep track of the minimum and maximum ages that apply to each of your age-restricted products. Choose an age verification method, in-store pickups, delivery personnel verification, or a combination of the aforementioned to use (recommended). Choose the software and services you will use specifically for the aforementioned.
- Make website adjustments
Collaborate with your web developers to integrate your website with the age verification program of your choice. You should include language on your website warning users about age-restricted products. Pop-up windows or product descriptions are two ways to achieve this.
- Train the necessary personnel
Provide age-verification rules and procedures training to all customer-facing staff members who handle orders and returns. If necessary, instruct all staff members on-site.
- Perform risk assessments
Establish a schedule for performing risk assessments. Undertake risk assessments to identify areas where your age verification procedure is vulnerable and potential loopholes. Revise procedures to address any flaws identified by your review. Adapt to new verification standards and technology, or hire someone to do it for you.
Age-restricted product advertising
Make sure to familiarize yourself with and abide by the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising and marketing guidelines while promoting your age-restricted products online. Three things need to be considered:
- Make sure that any claims made in advertisements are accurate, not misleading, and contain all relevant disclosures.
- Use ad locations that reduce the possibility of impressions from users who are underage.
- Digital advertisements should have age filters to only target people who are of legal purchasing age.
Online age checks exist to safeguard you and your company from legal repercussions, not to reduce your sales. Every step of the way, FTx Identity is there to support you in making sure that no minor ever purchases your age-restricted products. With FTx Identity, a customer is verified online, where they undergo a facial recognition process.The customer must be verified upon delivery. Customers have the option to either have a QR code created, which will be sent to them to show upon the release of the age-restricted items, or they can receive a 4-digit code sent to their mobile phone before age-restricted items are released to them.
Ready to take the next step with FTx Identity? Reach out to us to schedule a consultation and demo today!