Published: Monday September 19, 2016

A post by Richard Law, Chief Executive Officer at GBG. 

Reliably verifying somebody’s age is vital. If a 16 year old teenager in Britain walked into their local supermarket and attempted to buy age restricted products such as alcohol or knives, we know that current legislation and schemes such as ‘Challenge 25’ mean they’d be asked to prove their age before they were able to do so.

When it comes to the world of online retail however, the story is a very different one indeed.

As in many other countries, people in the UK are increasingly choosing to do their shopping online. Online sales as a share of total UK retail sales rose from 9.4% in 2010 to a remarkable 15.2% in 2015, and that number is only set to rise. Despite this, there is currently no government legislation requiring age verification for the online sale of age restricted goods. It’s commonplace for 16 year olds to be offered a Visa Debit card by their bank, but should that really enable them to buy goods online that legally only those over 18 are entitled to buy?

Can it be done?

The online gaming sector is one which has been legally required to verify the ages of its users for many years now (four out of five of the UK’s top online gaming companies now choose us to ensure they comply with legislation), and the exact same technology that is used for their checks can also be used to screen online purchases. We believe that both online and offline retailers have a responsibility to their customers to help keep them and their children safe, and we’re proud to work with a number of retailers who have taken a proactive and responsible stance by implementing age verification checks in their sales of restricted products.

Until online retail is governed by similar laws to the online gaming sector however, it will remain at a retailer’s discretion whether they conduct these sorts of checks. But it can be done, and we believe now is the time for government action; particularly as online sales will only continue to increase.

Why aren’t more retailers doing it?

Some online retailers cite cost as a reason for not conducting age verification checks, and it’s likely that many don’t actually realise just how easy they are to implement. The cost of each check is actually only small (we’re talking about pence, not pounds), and can in fact be easily built in and absorbed at point of sale. These checks can also benefit the retailers themselves – saving money when it comes to catching incorrectly entered delivery names and addresses before items are dispatched.

Others may think it would be a difficult process for their customers, but age verification software doesn’t even require them to supply a copy of their passport or driving licence as they would in the real world. Instead, the checks can be carried out on registration data customers are in most cases already required to provide, and are done in a matter of seconds meaning anyone undergoing the checks won’t notice any difference. Furthermore, this technology isn’t restricted to UK citizens; we can verify the identity of over four billion people across the globe.

So, how does it all work?

We recently invited the BBC to our Chester office to demonstrate our age verification software for their programme Rip Off Britain, which was aired in the UK on Thursday 22nd September at 9:15am. If you're in the UK and you missed it live, you can watch the programme on BBC iPlayer by clicking on the picture below. We’ll also be sharing a blog post explaining the technology.

If you have any questions about how age verification can help to protect minors online then please get in touch at