Is time running out for online retailers?

The debate is hotting up for online age verification as the second reading of the Online Purchasing of Goods and Services Bill was read last Friday and Councils such as Greenwich have started naming and shaming retailers who fail to verify their customers age adequately.

The Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification) Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords by Baroness Massey which stipulates that online retailers need to have a robust age verification process in place on their site. The ensuing debate focused on the failure of online retailers to self- regulate and the importance of adhering to the current laws of the land regarding selling age restricted goods to underage customers. 

This call for stricter enforcement of current legislation was echoed by some recent naming and shaming by Greenwich Council Trading Standards.  In a test purchase scenario, a 16 year old was able to purchase knives, adult DVDs and alcohol from a variety of big name retailers.  Only three of these retailers actually asked for age confirmation and the child was able to circumvent these checks by giving false information which was not verified.

However retailers such as, the number one online off licence, are leading the way in age checking their customers.  Tim Francis, Managing Director of, adds, "We strongly support industry self-regulation, and age screening is fully integrated within our ordering process. Further solutions from work alongside our own operating systems, aiming for thorough compliance in the sale of alcohol.  There are a number of verification databases available to online retailers, and age checking should be considered as important as any other element of fraud and address checking."

Industry bodies such as the Wine and Spirits Trade Association and the British Board of Film Classification have created industry guidance for their members to follow.  Andrew Cooke, business manager at BBFC says The BBFC has a strong record in helping ensure film and media age restrictions are adhered to on the high street.  Our view is that businesses using the internet to retail or deliver film and media content online have the same responsibility and are subject to the same law. We are recommending that businesses use customer age verification solutions from technology experts such as

Michelle Dixon, Marketing Manager at 192business says self-regulation is clearly not working and online retailers are not only facing fines and prosecution but the bad press around underage customers hitting their sites.  Implementing age verification technology is simple and cost effective.

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