The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a huge increase in demand for home grocery deliveries, with many customers avoiding in-person shopping; growing use of ‘rapid’ delivery providers to fulfil this increased demand gave young people the opportunity to bypass staff members trained and directly responsible for enforcing age-verification policies in-store. Two years on, rapid and home delivery has secured a permanent place within the grocery retail sector, and these services under increasing pressure to meet the standards of compliance for keeping age-restricted products out of the hands of under 18s.

Most stakeholders within the sector recognise they have responsibilities to meet and Serve Legal are working with many businesses to assist with this, but the best actions to take in order to meet these responsibilities are far from decided. The Online Retailer Forum was intended to gather stakeholders to share best practice and make collective progress to show due diligence within the market.

The event began with an overview of Serve Legal's involvement within online delivery and the current age-verification guidance relating to doorstep delivery, followed by a summary of our Operations processes, detailing how we carry out audits (presented by Alex Blackwell, Regional Manager) and insight directly from an auditor on their experience (Isabel Archer, Auditor). This was followed by a summary of what Serve Legal’s audit data shows for the online retail market, comparing to other markets that receive regular audits and highlighting case studies of improvements that have been seen.

Attendees then heard from Ian Savill, Principal Trading Standards Officer of Reading Borough Council, providing insight on what regulatory changes to expect from Trading Standards in relation to doorstep delivery (featuring a classic Inbetweeners scene to get everyone refocussed after a coffee break!). Next up was the Best Practice Workshop, delivered by Serve Legal Client Managers Jenni & Matt, but with much involvement from attendees sharing their experiences and contributing ideas. We then heard an in-depth presentation from one of our long-standing supermarket clients’ licensing team about their experience of handling the evolving situation for online retail of age-restricted products and the steps they have taken to mitigate risk whilst being limited in budget & resource.

Throughout the event, it was great to hear dynamic discussion and knowledge-sharing, positive steps towards creating a framework of best practice and setting the standards of due diligence. One key learning from the Forum was that the more pro-active the sector can be in identifying and responding to issues of non-compliance, the more trusted businesses will be to self-regulate, minimising the need for Trading Standards intervention. While a data-driven business model can run the risk of delivery personnel feeling pressured to save time between ‘drops’ by not verifying age, applying an effective ‘consequence and reward’ programme alongside a KPI measurement relating to number of ID checks can help this become a key aspect of the role. Regular age-verification training and responsive retraining alongside a ‘stress-test’ auditing programme ensures personnel across the business’s operations know what their responsibilities are and how to meet them.

We hope that this event was just the start of the discussion and that the businesses and individuals who came along will continue to work with us and each other to improve AV compliance in the online retail sector. We would like to say a big thank you to those who attended for your time and your contributions.

If you would like to find out more about how you could get involved in any future events, or would be interested to hear how Serve Legal’s age-verification home delivery auditing programmes could benefit your business, please get in touch.