ALEXANDRIA, Va. — NACS is rethinking age verification in convenience stores. The association is preparing a prototype of a new age-verification program ready for tests later this summer.
The new age-verification program will verify a user’s age while also protecting personal information and delivering a frictionless experience.
“We are funding this groundbreaking program because consumers overwhelmingly want it—and they say that they are most likely to support a retail-developed program that protects their privacy,” said Henry Armour, president and CEO of NACS.
In a national consumer poll conducted in March 2020, NACS found that 90% of Americans support a nationwide standard for age verification and 78% of Americans want a universal, compulsory We Card-like program and approach for all age-restricted purchases. And more than three in four Americans (76%) would support the development of an age-verification program developed by major retailers who sell age-restricted products.
Advances in technology, the rapid embrace of online delivery and alternative pickup of products and consumer adoption of mobile communications have set the stage for the development of this program. NACS is working closely with Conexxus, a nonprofit technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards and technologies innovation to improve retailer operations and reduce the cost of information-technology ownership.
NACS and Conexxus are completing detailed specifications that standardize the age-verification process at the point of sale that will include ID validation, age calculation, procedures for nonsupported IDs and the ability to anonymize verification to protect personal information and consumer privacy. This verification program would be offered for free to retailers, and its relevant intellectual property placed in the public domain, removing significant barriers to adoption.
The association is a founding member of the We Card program, established in the 1990s to provide training and educational programs for age-verification tools and processes while preventing age-restricted product sales to minors. The We Card program has provided retailers with more than 1.1 million in-store educational kits and has trained nearly 500,000 retail employees nationwide. And in 2015, NACS encouraged c-stores selling e-cigarettes to adopt, as a best practice, a policy of treating these products as age restricted and subjecting them to the same age-verification procedures as those applicable to tobacco products.
In addition, the current retail climate during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of how new types of sales of age-restricted products are being embraced or allowed, whether restaurants offering delivery of alcohol or retailers introducing curbside pickup of age-restricted products. Many of the temporary services borne out of COVID-19 retail changes will also likely become permanent because of consumer demand, heightening the need for a more comprehensive age-verification solution.
“Not only does this program address an important societal issue, it also helps pool costs and resources that all retailers and their supplier partners are currently allocating to independent projects,” said Joe Sheetz, CEO of Sheetz Inc., Altoona, Pa.
“The concept of this project has been in development for months, but the current retail landscape makes this program even more imperative as retailers test new forms of consumer convenience and seek cost efficiencies that help to maintain operations in a rough economic climate,” said Armour.
The more than 152,000 convenience stores in the United States conduct 165 million transactions a day and 46 million of them involve an age-restricted product, according to NACS.
Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va.-based NACS is dedicated to advancing convenience and fuel retailing and serves as an advisor to more than 1,500 retailer and 1,600 supplier member companies from more than 50 countries. NACS ensures the competitive viability of the convenience and fuel retailing industry—which accounts for 165 million transactions daily and generates almost $650 billion in annual sales in the U.S. alone.