Opportunities for Technology to Minimise Underage Drinking in Online Ordering of Alcoholic Beverages
Updated: Jun 12
Co-authored by Guzeliya Sayfullina and Simon Clark
Food delivery services have been around for a while and used by different consumer groups. With the recent lockdown due to Covid-19, options for home delivery of alcoholic beverages has risen. Traditional channels for cider, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages - restaurants, bars and pubs were suddenly out of play. With limited access and availability at retail outlets, consumers started to look for alternative ways to enjoy their favourite alcoholic beverages. Of course where there is demand - supply finds a way.
Food and beverage often go hand in hand - technically consumed at the same table. The same/similar technologies can be utilised to make online ordering a possibility.
Yet, for alcoholic beverages one question raises immediate concern: How can technology assist in minimising the possibility for an underage person to order alcoholic beverages online?
In this blog we explore:
The rise of online alcoholic beverage ordering with the Covid-19 lockdown
Key players in the value chain
Opportunities for application of technology to minimise the possibilities of underage ordering of alcoholic beverages
First, let’s break down the key players in the online ordering process.
Producers create the product, own the brands and are motivated to prevent underage drinking due to reputational and moral risks. The producer’s main challenge to prevent underage drinking comes from the fact that distribution and sale of their products is partially or totally outside of their control, meaning they often have limited visibility on who consumes their products. For online ordering, does this mean all responsibility goes onto the distributors/delivery of online alcoholic beverage orders?
Online alcoholic beverage stores aim to create a platform which provides users with a friendly frictionless experience and a way for producers to increase their sales volumes. ID checks can be a big pain point in the ordering experience making the process more complicated, time consuming and could even result in lost revenue.
For example, many people may have experienced or have a friend who is legally old enough to drink but at a liquor store or bar are requested to prove their age. In a face to face scenario they can easily prove their age with ID. If age and ID checking technology is not accurate or fast enough and wrongly blocks purchases at the ordering stage, that could have a negative effect on the platform’s reputation and revenue.
Distributors and delivery services are closer to consumers and a key link in the value chain to get the alcoholic beverages into consumers hands. A major element for delivery services is efficient delivery to keep costs low. At the same time distributors/delivery services do not have complete control over product allocation to customers as described in the example below.
An online alcoholic beverage company may allocate orders to a delivery company without the delivery company having any visibility as to the age of the customer. They may just be an intermediary between producer, online ordering platform and consumer. Without knowing the contents of the order to be delivered, delivery services may not even know to ask for ID.
We can't ignore the consumer’s own responsibility. Even though there are legal age limitations for consuming alcohol, many underage people work around the limitations by asking their friends to buy alcohol and or using fake IDs. Family members may not pay much attention to the underage person’s actions and parents/carers also play a part to prevent underage drinking.
Laws and Regulations
Each country has its own laws regarding the underage selling and purchasing of alcohol which needs to be followed.
So, where do opportunities to prevent underage ordering arise?
In this section we look to explore opportunities with each key player to help minimise the possibility of underage ordering alcoholic beverages online.
Producers - opportunities
In the UK alcoholic market, beverage producers already label their products with health warnings for pregnant women so why not add underage warnings on labels too?
Producer's websites have deterrents by asking for age verification as soon as you enter their website.
Primary and or secondary packaging could be an area where technology can play a part. Traditional packaging materials of choice are glass and aluminium. Introducing "smart" packaging with new materials and security features such as obtaining an unlock code could potentially help deterre underage consumption. With additional features such as these convenience and cost also need to be taken into consideration.
Technology Platforms - opportunities
Checking for age throughout the whole customer journey could be the most effective method as the consumer interacts with each key player. Below is one way it could be done:
Online age check during the registration on the platform either by creating an account or at the checkout stage by requesting to upload photo ID, profiling and or third-party check
The details of the order along with age/ID details follow that order with the distributors/delivery service
Upon final delivery a face and ID check is requested to ensure that the ID held on the system matches the ID held for that specific order.
Distribution/Delivery - opportunities
Delivery services for online alcohol stores have a significant scope to protect underage drinkers. The delivery service has the capability to physically check a person's ID upon delivery.
Difficulties arise when people are not at home to receive the delivery. Should it be left at the doorstep or delivery must be rearranged?
Visual checks of ID depend on the delivery person who may forget to check for ID if they are in a rush with too many deliveries to make that day.
Does checking of ID come down to the delivery individual or the corporate culture of the delivery organization? Or perhaps a combination of the two?
From asking friends and family in the UK and USA about their recent online alcoholic beverage ordering experience there was a mixed experience. One delivery platform always requested to see ID and would not leave alcohol if the person was not at home. Others, gave alerts regarding the law and underage drinking and delivered their products themselves to make sure they were delivering to people of drinking age. Some friends did not have their ID checked upon delivery and nothing was checked for click and collect from local supermarkets.
Consumers - opportunities
How large is the responsibility of underage drinkers? If sufficient measures are in place to prevent underage drinking (such as education/information on the harmful effects of drinking, document scan or physical ID check by delivery staff) then that might be a sufficient deterrent and then it is already the responsibility of the underage consumer not to order.
The law/regulators - opportunities
In the UK the law is as follows.*
If you’re under 18, it’s against the law:
for someone to sell you alcohol
to buy or try to buy alcohol
for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
to drink alcohol in licensed premises (such as a pub or restaurant)
However, if you’re 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, you can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal.
In the US the legal age for purchasing or publicly consuming alcohol in the is 21 based on the National Minimum Drinking Age Act that was passed in 1984**. However each state may have certain exceptions to the legal drinking age.
Taking the two examples above into consideration, online alcoholic beverage platforms and delivery services need to make sure they have sufficient processes in place to be able to prove in a quick auditable way that they are following the laws in the countries they operate in or potentially face legal action.
With online ordering of alcoholic beverages increasing due to the covid-19 pandemic, the potential for underage drinking increases.
In this new world of online ordering of alcoholic beverages, opportunities exist for technology solutions to support the key players in minimising the possibility of underage ordering, delivery and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Partnering between a few of the key players (Producers, Distributors and Technology Platforms) may be the best approach as the disconnected nature of the value chain makes developing and rolling out a solution potentially too big an undertaking for one of the key players alone.