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How to sell age-restricted products on WooCommerce safely

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Own a WooCommerce shop? Find out how to keep your underage customers safe online.

17 March 2022

Swetha Guruprasad

Content writer for Digital Identity Net

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The Importance of Age Verification

If you own a WooCommerce shop that sells age-restricted products, it’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t sell to minors.

While online age verification sounds simple enough, too many Ecommerce shops don’t have appropriate systems in place to protect their underage customers and themselves.

Imagine the uproar if a supermarket or bar failed to ID any of their customers whilst selling alcohol.

Sure, it happens, but it’s hard for businesses to recover when it does – both reputationally and financially.

So why is it any different online?

By making sure your WooCommerce store is verifying age in line with the UK laws and requirements your business will avoid committing offences and being prosecuted.

Why WooCommerce Age Verification Matters

If you are selling age-restricted goods, you must verify the age of your customers in order to:

  • Meet UK laws and regulations
  • Protect your reputation
  • Prevent excess restrictions on your industry
  • Protect standards in your industry

Customer experience still matters when verifying the age of customers online.

However, there is a risk of frustrating legitimate customers if your age verification process is too long and complicated.

With this in mind, many online businesses stick to simple but ineffective methods of online age verification.

Dangerously, this means they are often unsuccessful in preventing underage customers from buying things they shouldn’t have access to.  

To balance compliance and customer experience, you need a frictionless and secure online age verification system.

Age verification failings

A study of students found that 16% had purchased or knew someone that purchased alcohol online as underage visitors. They were easily able to lie about their age online, often ordering the alcohol as part of an online shop, with no or insufficient ID checks being done online, and none on the door.

With alcohol delivery and takeaways on the rise post-pandemic, it is easier than ever for under-18s to get alcohol online and dropped off right at their doorsteps.

This particular industry is an excellent case for the need for increased online age verification.

What products are age-restricted in the UK?

Aside from alcohol, there are multiple other product categories that are age-restricted in the UK. These include:

Who’s responsibility is it to check the age of customers?

Lack of or insufficient online age verification methods often rely on age checks to be done on delivery. However, if you’re an online retailer, it’s your responsibility to make sure your customers are old enough to buy your products online.

According to Tony Allen, Founder and CEO of the ACCS:

“The law requires ‘reasonable precautions and due diligence over that delivery process’ – so if you can’t be sure what the delivery driver’s doing how can you be doing that? You’re better off doing AV at the point of sale, giving you confidence at least the person buying is the right age.”

What happens if you sell to underage customers?

Regulators and local Trading Standards Institutes have fined retailers for underage sales online. 

Often, underage test purchasers are sent into stores or asked to make purchases online, resulting in large fines for retailers. Some examples of consequences for retailers include:

  • B&M Bargains fined a record of £480,000 for selling knives to under 18s in 2018 
  • Croydon Council Trading Standards Institute fined three online retailers a total of £25,000 plus court costs for underage sales of knives online in 2019 
  • Staffordshire vape shop Phoenix Tobacconist fined thousands by Staffordshire Council Trading Standards Institute in 2019  
  • Gambling Commission fined seven bookmakers at Royal Ascot 2.5% of gross profit for underage sales in early 2020

Common age verification processes that don’t meet legal requirements

Currently, there are a variety of age verification methods available to ecommerce businesses. However, not all of these are in line with new regulations.

Methods that won’t work include:

  • Asking for customer’s age or DOB without verification
  • Asking customers to confirm they are over 18 by ticking a box
  • Relying on credit card verification – underage customers might have access to a credit card
  • Including a disclaimer about or asking customers to certify that they are the right age to buy the product
  • Asking customers to confirm they are of age as part of accepting the terms and conditions 

How to verify age legally on WooCommerce

When it comes to online age verification, digital security is also hugely important.

While it’s important for you as a business to ensure your customers are telling the truth, it’s also important or them to feel secure in giving their personal detail to the website.

When choosing an online age verification system, it’s important to choose one that:

  • Fully complies with the latest regulations
  • Is serious about data security, only sharing necessary data
  • Can be catered to different age groups and products
  • Covers the UK market well
  • Offers a smooth and frictionless customer experience

Online sellers verify age through a variety of methods but the most effective is online age verification software.

Using WooCommerce apps such as OneID® allow you as a retailer safeguard your customers in a secure way, ensuring you are not liable for selling age restricted goods illegally.

OneID® is a leap forward in age verification technology. Within a click of a button, your customer's age will be checked via their bank details, hassle-free with no faffing about with live selfies or document uploads.

Seamlessly integrate an age verification solution in to your WooCommerce platform via the OneID® plugin. Try OneID® for free today or book a demo.