07 Apr 2023
by Julie Dawson

How digital age verification can transform the self-checkout | #techUKDigitalTrade

A look at how digital age verification can transform the self-checkout experience to create a better customer experience, enhance compliance rates, and improve efficiencies in retail; #techUKDigitalTrade

With age verification accounting for between 40 - 50% of interventions at self-checkouts, there are a number of operational challenges when it comes to checking ID.

Most people are clearly old enough to purchase age-restricted items but still need to wait for assistance to proceed with their purchase, which negatively impacts their self-checkout experience. When customers are asked to show proof of age, it can be one of the most common triggers of abuse towards retail staff. According to the BRC’s recent crime survey, retail staff face over 1,300 incidents of abuse every day. One of the most common triggers is when staff ask customers for proof of age. Retailers are already under great pressure with other issues - inflation, resourcing and the supply chain to name a few. It’s more important than ever to maximise efficiencies in this critical industry and support UK retailers.

To meet the UK Licencing Act (2003), the law currently states that a ‘responsible person’ must approve the sale of alcohol. In a busy retail setting customers need to wait for assistance from a colleague to carry out the age check. But this often results in a frustrating customer experience. But this could be about to change.

Sandboxes to support innovation

The UK leads the way in creating regulatory sandboxes to test innovative technology in live environments. Last year, the Home Office created a sandbox to test digital age verification for the sale of alcohol and Yoti was an active participant in this sandbox.

During the trial, shoppers in participating supermarkets could try two new ways to prove their age:

  • Shoppers purchasing alcohol looked at a camera on the self-checkout and facial age estimation technology estimated their age. A privacy-preserving solution, it didn’t require any personal details or ID documents, and all images were instantly deleted once someone received their estimated age. If the system detected they looked younger than the set age threshold, customers were asked to use an alternative method.
  • With the Digital ID app, shoppers could use the Yoti or Post Office EasyID app to scan a QR code on the checkout screen and share a verified age attribute.

Shoppers could still ask a member of staff to approve their purchase and, if required, check their ID.

The outcomes of the sandbox have been overwhelmingly positive. Customers liked the new self-checkout experience, with 70% of people saying they would use it to prove their age when buying age-restricted goods at a self-checkout. With up to 40% of the age checks handled by the technology, retail staff had more time to focus on other tasks. The technology gave shoppers a private and inclusive way to prove their age, which was particularly impactful for those who don’t own or have access to an ID document.

But there is still a long way to go.

Outdated Mandatory Licencing Conditions

The technology is currently blocked by outdated Mandatory Licencing Conditions in the UK, meaning a ‘responsible person’ still needs to approve the sale of alcohol. It’s a shame when outdated regulation stops innovation from flourishing. Digital age verification has been tried and tested in live environments with positive results. When there is strong evidence to support the technology, there needs to be a more scientifically rigorous regulatory approach when it comes to assessing current regulations.

Retailers around the world are also exploring how they could benefit from these new technologies, with many inspired by the recent Home Office sandbox. The UK tech industry has the potential to lead the charge and pave the way with new, innovative age verification - but they must be supported by updated regulations.

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Julie Dawson

Julie Dawson

Chief Regulatory and Policy Officer, Yoti