There is perhaps nothing more important for anyone involved in the beverage alcohol market to do than to prevent sales to minors. It is illegal in every state to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, and that restriction applies to every sale, regardless of where or how the sale occurs. Even accidentally provisioning a minor with alcohol can get a business into serious hot water. As such, age verification protocols are essential for direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipping of alcohol. Along with upholding the critical principle of preventing underage drinking, these protocols protect your business and the entire beverage alcohol industry.
While every state requires some level of action, such as requiring at-delivery ID checks and collection of recipient signatures, other states impose more stringent requirements, including point-of-sale (POS) age checks.
We’ve gathered essential information when it comes to age verification protocols to ensure that your brewery, cidery, distillery or winery remains compliant.
Add an age affirmation gate
An age affirmation gate is a feature that forces online visitors to confirm that they are of legal drinking age by checking a box prior to entering your website, shopping cart, or mobile application. Requiring that your website users indicate they are of legal drinking age is the proper way to begin any online interaction with a potential consumer. While these age gates get a bad rap for being fairly easy for a user to falsify, they do serve an important signalling purpose for beverage alcohol providers. At once, they remind customers that they should only be purchasing from (or even viewing) that site if they are of age, and notify the world of your commitment to preventing sales to minors. There are more effective means of verifying a consumer’s age that are discussed below, but anyone selling or advertising beverage alcohol products online should absolutely use an age affirmation gate.
Obtain an adult signature upon delivery
All DtC shipments of alcohol require the carrier to check the ID of the recipient and collect the signature of an adult who is over the age of 21 at the time of delivery. This is a requirement for all alcohol shipments bar none. And while this burden is universally levied on carriers, failure to do so can be inputted back to the licensed DtC shipper that initiated the shipment, making it critical for the licensed DtC shipper to work only with a carrier that fully commits to following through with this burden.
This also means it is completely improper for a package containing alcohol to be left on a consumer’s porch and not handed over to a person whose age has been verified. As such, it is important for licensed DtC shippers to connect with their consumers to ensure that someone of age will be available at the time of delivery to receive the package.
Work with your shipping service to ensure your packages are properly labeled identifying they contain alcohol. Each state has packaging label requirements, which are designed to signal to your carriers when they need to check the ID and get an adult signature upon delivery. It’s also necessary to research the carriers you will use to ensure they have an established alcohol shipping program and have clearly demonstrated their commitment to being an effective partner to the beverage alcohol industry.
Collect purchaser, recipient dates of birth
When you add an age affirmation tool to your website/store/mobile app, you can also collect the date of birth of the purchaser. This could be done when the customer adds alcohol products into their online shopping cart. For gift shipments, you’ll want to collect the date of birth of the recipient.
Many states also require licensed DtC shippers to provide detailed reports of their shipments of alcohol to the state, which can include providing the date of birth for the purchaser and/or recipient. For example, Hawaii, Michigan and Wisconsin require it. Other states, such as New York, may only require the purchaser’s date of birth for audit purposes, but it is still then important for the DtC shipper to maintain those records.
States typically require that you keep your records for two years in case of audit, so it’s recommended that you hold onto your data for at least three to four years. Critically, dates of birth are personally identifiable information and will need to be securely stored in your files. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), for example, secures new privacy rights for California consumers. Ensure that you are adhering to all state and federal privacy laws.
When it comes to recipients’ dates of birth for a gift purchase, the purchaser may not always know this information. In this case, your business doesn’t necessarily have to collect the date of birth at the time of transaction, but you should ensure your processes allow for you to follow up and obtain the recipient’s date of birth prior to the product being shipped.
Use an online age verification provider
Online age verification services can also help a DtC shipper ensure they are not selling to minors, and are in fact required by many states for sales made there. Even though common carriers will ask for identification and a signature from the person that actually signs for the package upon delivery, businesses can run an age check on the purchaser and recipient of an alcoholic product (if different) at the time of purchase to get ahead of any improper sales well ahead of the shipment. Checking everyone involved in the sale and shipment of alcohol can be especially beneficial on gift orders.
While using online age verification services are available for all DtC shipments to all states (and are recommended as an invaluable verification for the shipper), there are several states that licensed DtC shippers use them for all sales made into those states. The states that currently require point-of-sale age verification include:
- South Dakota
Receiving a copy of a purchaser’s valid ID (e.g., an emailed scanned ID) or using a third-party service are standard ways for verifying a purchaser’s age. LexisNexis and IDology are the main third-party services for age verifications, using public data to corroborate that a purchaser’s name and address matches with someone over the age of 21. Additionally, comprehensive compliance solutions (such as ShipCompliant Direct) incorporate age verification into automated compliance checks.
It is recommended that everyone selling alcohol, including licensed DtC shippers, makes time-of-sale age checks standard practice for all sales and not just to states that specifically require them.
Remember that even if a sale to a minor happens inadvertently, it is still illegal and the seller can be charged. And state regulators take these sales extremely seriously and will readily take action against anyone they see as flagrantly violating or ignoring this prohibition.
Ready to take your DtC shipping to the next level? Find out how ShipCompliant Direct can help with your DtC compliance processes, from license management to real-time compliance checks — including age verification — as well as tax determination and reporting.