The digital revolution and underage sales

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The digital revolution and underage sales

Online shopping continues to grow in popularity and while the web is a great channel for some retailers to sell their goods, it poses challenges around making sure they adhere to laws relating to selling age restricted products. Data released by Serve Legal in 2015, on the back of test online purchases from over 1,000 retailers, found that only 44 per cent of the age-check tests were passed. This is a concerning figure that highlights the dangers of the lack of policing and monitoring of underage sales online.

It is the retailer’s responsibility to safeguard children from purchasing age restricted products by ensuring they have robust systems in place.

So, what can retailers do?

Use credit card payment

In the UK, a member of the general public has to be over the age of 18 to own a credit card. If a retailer’s website accepts credit card only, they can take the first step to authenticate that the person purchasing the product is 18 or over.

Online checks

Software can be put in place to verify age via the electoral register and credit reference agencies online during the purchasing stage. It’s worth retailers looking into this process to further cement the effectiveness of their age verification process.

Checking age on delivery

This is probably the most important step for retailers, but arguably the most difficult to enforce. Delivery drivers have to be fully trained in age verification; ensuring the proof-of-age the customer has supplied is completely valid and that they are above the required age to receive the product. Beware that some couriers will not assume responsibility for age verification so ideally the age verification process needs to be thorough enough at the earlier stages of purchase.


If a retailer gets into a situation whereby they have sold an age restricted product to someone underage and this results in legal repercussions, being able to show that they have applied all due diligence – which includes completing the relevant training [insert link to training] – will help protect them in court.

Consider the penalties

The penalties for an online retailer that sells an age restricted product to an underage person fall under the same legislation as it would for that product group in-store;  be it alcohol, tobacco, adult DVDs, fireworks or other age restricted goods.

To find out more on how you can get your staff up to speed with the underage sales legislation, visit