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7 Tips for Getting Better at Age Verification for Wine Shipments in 2013

Verifying the age of online wine purchasers and shipping recipients is perhaps the most important and responsible task any online wine seller can engage in. Age verification not only protects your own licenses, but it supports the entire industry as being responsible and it protects against minors obtaining alcohol illicitly. As the new year approaches, direct wine sellers should make every effort to improve by incorporating one or more additional age verification tools into their direct selling protocols. What follows is a 7-point list that offers a variety of ways you can use age verification in the coming year to protect yourself, the industry and minors.

As you’re making the new years resolutions for your business, think about adding age verification to the list. I’d like to challenge each of you to do a better job at age verification in 2013. It will be easy, and we’ll help you through it. Please pick at least one item from the list below that you are not doing currently, and add it to your direct shipping program starting January 1st.

  1. Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
  2. Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
  3. Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
  4. Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
  5. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
  6. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
  7. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders


Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
This is a requirement for all wine shipments. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Work with your carrier to understand how to make sure your packages properly labeled for alcohol and ensure they’ll check ID and get an adult signature upon delivery.


Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
This is a pretty simple tool that will go a long way. Add a feature to your site that forces the visitor to affirm that they are of legal drinking age by checking a box prior to entering your website, shopping cart, or mobile application. Last time I mentioned this at a seminar, I got a few calls from some eCommerce companies saying that would damage the search engine optimization (SEO) for the products in the store. My response: you’re smart, figure it out! There’s got to be a slick way of enabling the age gate while also preserving the SEO of your site.


Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
If you’re going to add an age affirmation tool to your website/store/mobile app, why not take it one step further and collect the date of birth of the purchaser at that point? Alternatively, ask for the date of birth when the purchaser adds wine products to their cart. You’re going to need it at a minimum to include on the direct shipping reports due in Wisconsin, Michigan, and the four counties of Hawaii. You’ll also need it for audit purposes in New York and most of the states that you are shipping into, and it will also make for a much stronger match rate on your age verification checks when using an online provider (see below for details). States will typically require that you keep your records for two years for audit purposes, so we often recommend that you hold onto your data for at least 3-4 years just to be sure. Remember that dates of birth are very sensitive from a privacy perspective, so be sure to store them securely in your files.

Example: www.chandon.com


Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
For gift shipments, you’ll also want to collect the date of birth of the recipient. You’ll need this on the shipping reports due in Wisconsin and the four counties of Hawaii, and it will also result in a much stronger match if you decide to do age verification on the recipient. One thing to note here is that the purchaser will often not know the date of birth of the recipient. So, you don’t necessarily have to collect this at the time of transaction, but make sure you have your processes designed such that you can follow up and get the DOB of the recipient prior to shipping.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
The states of Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Michigan all have some kind of requirement for verifying the age of the purchaser. The easiest way to meet these requirements is to use an online age verification provider. ShipCompliant integrates with both Lexis Nexis (formerly ChoicePoint) and also IDology, both of which have been approved by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. These services run about $.50 per check (per customer), and do not need to be repeated for subsequent purchases from an individual that has already been confirmed to be of legal drinking age. When running an online age verification check, you’ll need the purchaser’s name, address, and optionally date of birth. As mentioned above, if you include the date of birth you’ll get a much stronger likelihood of matching the individual in the age check provider’s database.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
Wine Institute and Free the Grapes! both have codes that establish that (from Free the Grapes!’ code for direct shipping) “licensees must verify the purchaser’s age at the point of online purchase before completing any transaction.” Most of the bigger wine companies are therefore choosing not just to run an online age verification check in the four states that require it by statute, but to run online checks on the purchaser in all states that they ship to.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders
For gift shipments, you can also consider running an online age verification check on the recipient. Even though the common carrier will ask for identification and a signature for the person that actually signs for the package upon delivery, some wineries take a conservative approach and choose to run an age check on the recipient as well for gift shipments, especially on gift orders that originate from third party marketers.

3 Comments

  1. There are some good points in the article – but I’ll caution against this point: “Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app”

    Brick & Mortar retailers don’t require age check entering a store – they wait until a visitor attempts to purchase before requesting ID. I’d consider the same on the website – don’t ask their age until checkout.

    Age affirmation (like the one in the picture above from the Chandon website) really increases the bounce rate and lowers conversion. This is the single biggest reason to remove it – that screen pictured above is costing that site in real sales.

    The SEO reason is a good reason too. A “smart” developer can figure it out – they can feed different content to searchbots (Google may penalize a website for this) or the developer can have age affirmation overlay existing content (something we do at Vin65 for clients who absolutely want age affirmation) but this can create a negative experience (depending on technic, loading speed, etc)

    Thanks

  2. Andrew, thanks for the comment. I think your analogy of the bricks and mortar store is a good one. Doing age verification at the time of checkout is certainly a good alternative. The trade-off to all of this stuff is obviously user experience, which you know more about than I do.
    I would balk if a site asked me for my date of birth when buying diapers or electronics, but I have no problem doing it when I’m purchasing an airline ticket or a case of pinot noir.

  3. The one real problem is actually getting FedEx/UPS drivers to actually verify age. I have seen dozens of stories on the various wine boards where drivers just dump the stuff on the porch then leave or say there was no one home when what they never even stopped. We’re at the mercy of the drivers and their schedules.

    Complaints to the companies seem to show they don’t really care.

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