We live in a society driven by digital connections – we can order food, book a holiday, open a bank account and even meet potential partners online. Despite the advances in technology, when it comes to proving our age we are still reliant on physical documents and outdated processes.

Just think of the last time you bought alcohol at a supermarket self-checkout. As soon as you scan the bottle of wine or pack of beer, you’re told you need to wait for assistance. Once a supermarket employee comes over to help, they either ask to see your ID or bypass the age restriction so you can continue with your shopping. Proving our age online is no better; we often just check an 18+ tickbox or manually enter a date of birth; both of which are flawed and open to abuse. In a world driven by digital connections, it’s time for the way we prove our age to catch up.

A new era of age verification at the self-checkout
We are required to carry around ID documents to prove our age, but physical documents can easily be lost, stolen or misplaced. In one year alone 400,000 people reported a lost passport and almost one million driving licences were misplaced. This places the owner at great risk of identity fraud, as well as bringing a financial burden to replace a passport costing £75. The government and police advise that people leave these valuable documents safe at home, but without an alternative, how are we meant to prove our age?

Furthermore, each time we show these documents, we disclose an excessive amount of personal information. We should just be able to share the necessary details – for instance just the fact that we are old enough to buy a bottle of wine – without revealing our name or address.

John Abbot, Chief Business Officer, Yoti

Some retailers are starting to adopt digital identity technology to help streamline, strengthen and improve age verification. New digital identity technology, which can be integrated into self-checkouts, allows shoppers to prove their age in seconds without waiting for assistance from staff or showing photo ID documents. They can either use a digital identity app to scan a QR code on the self-checkout screen to share their age. Or, they can face the self-checkout’s inbuilt camera, and age estimation technology will estimate whether they are old enough to purchase the age-restricted item. This gives shoppers more choice when proving their age and lets them complete the transaction without waiting for a member of staff to check their ID. The Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) recently agreed to develop ‘Standards for the presentation of digital proof of age’. This means approved forms of digital ID would give individuals more choice and control over how they prove their age.

With over 40 percent of people saying there should be another way to prove their age at a self-checkout, digital identity technology should lead to higher customer satisfaction and a better shopping experience. Retail employees will face less pressure to accurately check someone’s ID, especially when the store is busy and they need to make a judgement quickly.

Additionally, digital identities can lead to greater social inclusion. For those who do not have access to or can’t afford a formal ID document, it can be very challenging for them to prove their age; leaving them socially excluded and left behind. Age estimation technology gives individuals the opportunity to buy age-restricted items without showing a photo ID document.

Fighting fake IDs with digital identities
The rising quality and accessibility of fake IDs and fraudulent accounts online makes it increasingly challenging for retailers and their staff to check age. Thousands of local convenience stores throughout the UK are turning to digital identities to help tackle fake IDs and underage sales. Customers can use a digital identity app on the phone to prove their age in seconds; offering them a simple, convenient and safe way to prove their age. In turn, retailers have increased confidence that they are not selling age-restricted items to those too young to buy them.

With the government adding more scenarios where age checking is required – the most recent being energy drinks – both retailers and their customers need simpler and safer age verification without relying on physical documents. Digital identity technology gives customers a safer way to prove their age as they can just share the necessary information, for instance an over 18 attribute, without sharing any other personal details that would typically be printed on an ID document. This protects their privacy and personal information whilst giving the company the details they need to be compliant.

Additionally, the technology can help eliminate potential friction or disagreements between retail staff and customers as reports have shown that staff are being intimidated when challenging age. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reported 10,000 incidents of violence towards store staff in the last year alone. Digital identity technology does not show personal favour to friends or bias against individual customers. It offers more effective and accurate age verification; helping to reduce the number of potential disagreements between shoppers and staff.

Online age verification
Digital identities can also be used to strengthen age verification online. Speciality spirit Jägermeister lets shoppers securely prove their age on their website using a digital identity. This innovative move allowed Jägermeister to accept debit card payments for the very first time, and lets their customers securely share their age in seconds. This is a more secure and robust solution than age affirmation pages (AAPs) or checkboxes – which can be easily falsified by minors.

Age estimation technology could also be used online to allow individuals, especially those without an ID document, to access age-restricted goods and services online in a private and secure way.

It’s time for digital identities
Digital identity technology brings many benefits to both retailers and their customers. Individuals only need to create a single digital identity once but can use this to prove their age in many settings – at the supermarket self-checkout, at their local convenience store and even online. They can prove their age in privately and securely without having to wait for assistance, show valuable ID documents or share an excessive amount of personal information. In turn, retailers can strengthen their age verification processes, improve the customer experience, reduce the risk of fake IDs and take pressure off employees to accurately check ID.

With retailers adopting digital identity technology, a new era of age verification is here.

John Abbot, Chief Business Officer, Yoti