Retailers ‘failing’ to improve staff performance on underage alcohol sales


Retailers are failing to improve staff performance to prevent underage alcohol sales, according to data from retail age check company Serve Legal.

Latest findings show that one in six teenage mystery shoppers have bought alcohol unchallenged in four of the last five years – in 2017 the alcohol pass rate for all retailers was 83%. Discount retailers achieved the highest test pass rate in 2017 at 85%, compared to an 83% pass rate in 2016, while petrol stations performed the poorest with an 81% pass rate in 2017. Supermarket pass rates were 84% and convenience stores were 82% – both unchanged from the previous year.

Retailer commitment to alcohol sale testing fell for the third year running, with overall test numbers dropping by 13% between 2014 (47,550) and 2017 (41,227).

Convenience stores made the most significant cuts to their test programmes in recent years, with 2017 numbers 25% lower at 17,185 tests than in 2014. Supermarkets and discounters were the only retailers to increase their testing programmes in 2017, but this failed to improve pass rates. Scottish retailers achieved the UK’s highest alcohol test pass rate (84%) and those in Northern Ireland the lowest (66%).

Ed Heaver, director of Serve Legal, said: “Despite the intentions of the well-established Challenge 21/25 schemes, our latest data shows that there is complacency amongst retailers when it comes to compliance.

“Those that believe that responsible retailing doesn’t matter to the bottom line are misinformed. Failure to invest in staff training, performance and processes around age identification checks puts any retailer at risk of selling alcohol to children and to the penalties of being caught doing so.  That could mean a major fine for the business and for staff, temporary or even permanent closure and a custodial sentence if convicted of repeatedly selling alcohol to children.

“We urge every retailer, from major multiples to small independents, to take age-check testing seriously if they value their corporate social responsibility, the reputation of their brand and the longevity of their business.”

In tobacco sale tests, retailers achieved an 80% pass rate in 2017. Pass rates have improved year-on-year since 2015 and commitment to testing has increased by 25% in the same period (5,124 tests in 2017 vs. 3,877 in 2015). Retailers in the South West achieved the highest pass rate (79%) and London the lowest (60%).

However, there is less positive news for e-cigarette testing, with pass rates falling from 91% in 2015 to 70% in 2017 and test levels by 23% in the same period to 787 in 2017, suggesting that there may still be confusion among retailers about e-cigarettes being an 18+ product.

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