Connect with us


Understanding the legal requirements for selling age-restricted products online



E-commerce continues to grow in popularity with over 20% of purchases expected to occur online in 2024. This growth can be attributed to various factors, including online retailers now selling a variety of products and customers increasingly looking for discounts, greater choice and convenience.

E-commerce continues to grow in popularity; It is expected that more than 20% of purchases will take place online in 2024. This growth can be attributed to several factors, including online retailers now selling a variety of products and customers increasingly looking for discounts, more choice and convenience.

In recent years, consumers have increasingly used online stores to purchase items such as alcohol, tobacco, vaping and leaf products. As the sale of these age-restricted products and services becomes increasingly common online, e-commerce platforms must be aware of their responsibilities and ensure that only those of the appropriate age can purchase them.

E-commerce legislation

E-commerce legislation is complex and challenging to navigate. Rules vary depending on jurisdictions, cultural norms, geographic markets and regulatory frameworks. Requirements also vary from country to country in trading blocs, such as the EU, and regionally, such as from state to state in the US.

Certain products, such as alcohol, may be prohibited in some jurisdictions or regions with strict religious or cultural rules. The age requirements to purchase identical products may also vary by country. For example, the US has a higher age requirement to purchase alcohol than European countries, including Britain, France and Germany. There is no uniform global approach, with individual countries and regions having a variety of legal frameworks regarding the required age guarantee.

Therefore, e-commerce companies that need to implement age assurance solutions should look to both international standards and local legislation to guide their implementation. This is especially important if they plan to sell age-restricted products internationally. Therefore, to meet regulatory requirements, business leaders must understand and address the challenges surrounding age assurance. This avoids legal consequences and makes their platforms more secure.


User experience

With many consumers shopping online for convenience, age assurance processes must be robust yet frictionless so as not to hinder the user journey. If customers encounter problems during the purchasing process, they are likely to redirect to other (often less reputable) sites, resulting in a potential loss of customers. Therefore, the technology used on e-commerce sites should be easy to use and feel effortless to the customer.

Cross-border challenges

In most cases, suppliers sell to the same country and jurisdiction. This is especially true for small and medium businesses that are unlikely to sell in large quantities to justify long-distance shipping. However, international suppliers must work on a case-by-case basis to ensure they comply with international law.

Required technology

When it comes to age guarantees, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, freedom of choice in offering age verification and age estimation is crucial. The market needs flexible and inclusive options that meet individual preferences while mitigating the risks associated with bias and exclusion. Methods include email address and facial age estimation, as well as verification methods including government-issued ID, credit card, mobile phone number, and name and address checks.

When the site asks a customer to undergo an age estimation or verification process, platforms must communicate why their data is needed. This helps build trust in the platform as consumers understand how their data is processed and what it is used for.

Collaborate with industry partners

Online sellers have a duty to act in a compliant manner, while regulators are responsible for ensuring robust and fair enforcement of associated legal requirements. If these rules and processes are applied properly, underage users should not be able to ‘shop around’ to find the least stringent processes. Additionally, suppliers should work with a trusted and certified technology provider to ensure their age assurance processes are both frictionless and compliant.

Safety through age guarantee

For online merchants, robust, hassle-free age guarantee solutions can improve security, protect their reputation, while ensuring underage consumers do not have access to age-restricted products. Those who grant access to minors risk reputational damage or even regulatory repercussions.

Lina Ghazal

Head of Regulatory and Public Affairs at VerifyMy, specialized in online ethics, regulations and security. Previous roles were at Meta (formerly Facebook) and Ofcom.