people in line at grocery checkout

Compliance and Customer Experience for Age Verification

Asking for’s an uncomfortable and emotive experience for the “asker” and the “askee.” The customer may think, “Do they think I look younger than I am? What will other people around me think? Why can’t this be easier?” while the employee may be thinking, “I need to be sure of this person's age, so I don’t lose my job! What if this person is unhappy about being asked and they get abusive?” If the customer is clearly over the legal age permitted, they are also going to be wondering why they are being slowed down in their transaction, and wonder who can fix the problem and get them out of there.

Long and confusing checkout processes are annoying to customers. All of this contributes to a poor experience, which could cause customers to abandon their carts, resulting in loss of revenue for retailers.

How Big Is This Problem?

The frequency of age verification and the above scenario occurring is vast. This is also a significant inconvenience to the customer and a huge cost to the retailer. Studies have shown that around 60% of all customer service interventions at self-checkouts are due to age related checks. Interventions can be as common as between 80% and 120% of transactions (i.e., more than one intervention per customer).

Estimates by the UK Government have put the cost to retailers of checking ages in the UK alone at £4 billion. When in-store staff are focused on dealing with age-checking, they are also missing multiple other events happening around them — from theft to upselling opportunities.

Legal Requirements - Current Process

The law varies across different countries. However, its core purpose remains consistent, in that it essentially prevents people from purchasing products that may harm them in some way, until they are of an age to make their own decisions. Compliance to the law has always been enforced through using analogue identification methods, such as ID cards, drivers’ licenses, or passports. But we are arguably entering a digital revolution in almost everything we do — taking people out of the decision-making process is sensible, more efficient, more convenient, and more compliant.

There are many reasons why the current process of identifying someone's age is flawed:

  • Fake IDs are commonplace and relatively easy to access
  • Unconscious (and conscious) bias by the employee is inevitable
  • It’s a laborious process for retailers
  • It’s inconvenient and can cause long waiting times
  • The process is inconsistent across retailers, hospitality and other industries

Governments and legal bodies around the world are looking for solutions to solve this laborious and inconsistent problem.

man using biometric age verification

A Better Process

As we are entering a digital era across the globe, we can now do all our shopping, order a car ride, perform banking tasks, deliver exceptional work and much more all on our phones. Smart phones have rapidly become our go to “tool” to achieve   almost any task. However, there remain many functions that aren’t using technology to improve efficiency and ease of use.

Age verification is a good example of this. We know the current process is flawed and needs to keep up with the digital world that we are living in. What is needed is a solution that achieves the following:

  • Convenience - a seamless, frictionless method of identifying someone or their age
  • Speed - this process must be fast
  • Consistency - something that is scalable across multiple industries and across the global marketplace
  • Reliability - something that won’t make mistakes and can’t be fooled
  • A non-confrontational option

The key here is that the technology needs to be designed with the above in mind. What can be used to achieve success?

Biometrics Role in Age Verification

Biometrics, be it facial recognition or fingerprints, are an under-utilized tool. Bearing in mind the current age verification process pitfalls, biometric technology can achieve the following:

  • Convenience - no need for carrying analogue forms of ID, consumers always have their face and fingerprints on them
  • Speed - the time it takes to look up a face in a database is milliseconds vs. waiting for the customer to show a hard copy ID
  • Consistency - this technology can work across the world, and in multiple marketplaces
  • Reliability - technology doesn’t have opinions, it is based on true or false
  • A non-confrontational option - the customer only needs to do this once

Introducing biometric technology to ID customers will be a significant step forward, providing the consistency and accuracy to enforce the law.

Seamless User Journeys

So, what does this process look like from a consumer perspective and an operational perspective?

Consumer journey:

  • Consumer takes a selfie of themselves on the app (once)
  • Consumer also photographs some official ID (once)
  • Consumer takes the official ID into a store for validation and capture of hologram/NFC code on passports (once)
  • Each time a consumer uses a till in store, their face is anonymously captured and validated as being in the database
  • Consumer pays and leaves the store

Operational journey:

  • The customer may need help in using the validation technology (once)
  • That’s it! The interventions reduce over time as more consumers take up the service

Essentially this process  makes age verification a “non-issue” saving consumers and staff time and hassle, and significantly improving customer experience.

The Future of Age Verification in Retail

The current process for age verification is fundamentally flawed and needs to be changed. Biometrics is the most obvious and effective way of achieving efficiency and compliance in retail. Opening this technology up to multiple other use cases also adds significant customer value which will stand the test of time and works with most retailers’ strategy of digitizing their brick-and-mortar stores.

Learn about how forward-thinking retailers are using biometrics to solve their biggest problems. Download the report now >>

Steve Hewitt is the founder of Profitunity, which exists to drive the profitability of retailers through partnership with solution providers.  Previously he worked as Consultant Head of Loss Prevention for Waitrose, Head of Loss Prevention at Morrisons and Head of Loss Prevention at Marks and Spencer.  He is a member of the ECR Europe Shrink and On Shelf Availability team.  Steve applies insights gained from 26-years in retailing as he consults with organizations to usher them into a complete mindset change, resulting in significant growth in profit. He has also delivered business cases around industry leading RFID initiatives and new ways of engaging people in the ‘art of the possible’ on total loss. Steve's experience in the wider retail arena enables him to have a holistic view on loss and the levers to pull to drive profit in retailers.