17 Nov 2023
by Julie Dawson

How Digital IDs can transform the shopping experience

Guest blog from By Julie Dawson, Chief Regulatory and Policy Officer at Yoti

Customer expectations have started to shift and they want to be able to do more things online. Unfortunately, customers still need to show physical documents to prove their age.

In a retail setting, this creates several challenges:

  • 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. Over recent months, there have been more reports of abuse towards retail workers.
  • The rising quality and availability of fake IDs places additional pressure on retail staff - it is not their job to be fraud experts but they must ensure they are not selling age-restricted items to underage shoppers.
  • Some customers do not own or have access to an identity document, leaving them excluded from buying certain items.
  • At a retail self-checkout, customers buying age-restricted items need to wait for an employee to check their age, which negatively impacts their self-checkout experience. Technology which is meant to streamline and speed up the shopping experience is doing the opposite.

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. One solution which was tested was our Digital ID app.

Shoppers could use the Yoti or Post Office EasyID app to scan a QR code on the self-checkout screen and share a verified age attribute.

This gave shoppers a private and convenient way to prove their age, without having to show a physical identity document. With a Digital ID, it is possible to just share an ‘over 18’ proof of age or a date of birth, without sharing any other personal information. This is a much safer and more secure way to prove age - after all, it is not possible to use a passport or driving licence as proof of age without showing all of the details on the document.

The technology also provided an opportunity to reduce the number of physical age interventions at self-checkouts. This gave retail staff more time to complete other tasks, such as observing and supporting customers, particularly to spot ‘walkaways’. This is when a customer has walked away from a self-checkout without making payment, either accidentally or deliberately. During busier periods, it can be challenging for retail staff to spot ‘walkaways’, but if customers can prove their age at the self-checkout without waiting for assistance, retail staff can turn their attention to other tasks or support other customers who need help.

Digital IDs allow businesses to identify and authenticate customers to the highest standards. Whether online or in-person, retailers can be confident they know who they’re dealing with, that customers are of legal age to purchase age-restricted items and improve the customer experience. But there is still a long way to go.

Outdated Mandatory Licencing Conditions

When it comes to the retail sector, 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.

How Digital IDs can transform the retail sector

When it comes to the retail sector, there are many benefits of Digital ID for both retailers and shoppers: 

  • Digital age verification has the potential to improve retail staff safety and reduce friction between staff and customers
  • Retail staff have more time to focus on other tasks, including spotting proxy sales and ‘walkaways’
  • Stronger protection against fake IDs; retailers can be confident each Digital ID is genuine and authentic
  • Safer and more convenient for customers than carrying around physical identity documents
  • Digital IDs are more private; customers can prove their age without sharing any other personal details

There is a growing demand for Digital IDs in the UK. Over four million people have installed the Yoti ID or Post Office EasyID apps. And Lloyds Bank recently announced the launch of Lloyds Bank Smart ID.

These three Digital ID apps are interoperable, so they can be used in all the same places. Together, Lloyds Bank Smart ID, Yoti ID and Post Office EasyID form ‘Digital ID Connect’, the UK’s largest network of reusable Digital ID apps that allow businesses and people to trust who they’re connecting with.

Many young people would be likely to use a Digital ID to prove their age to purchase alcohol if the Mandatory Licensing Conditions were updated. The UK tech and retail industries have the potential to lead the charge and pave the way with new, innovative age verification - but they must be supported by updated regulations.










Julie Dawson

Julie Dawson

Chief Regulatory and Policy Officer, Yoti