By Kim Stewart
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—NACS and Conexxus, its standards-setting partner, marked a milestone this month when it demonstrated the groundbreaking NACS TruAge™ universal digital age-verification system for attendees at the 2021 NACS Leadership Forum.
The live demonstration of the cloud-based point-of-sale system followed the NACS TruAge™ announcement on May 11. Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO, and Kevin Smartt, CEO of Texas Born (TXB) and 2020-21 NACS chairman introduced the free system and fielded questions from retailers and suppliers gathered live in Kansas City.
“Society is demanding more accountability from business,” said Armour. “Age verification for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, vape and in the future, cannabis, is more important than ever. It’s something that our customers and communities care deeply about, and we can do it better than ever.”
The ability to responsibly sell legal, age-restricted products—today and in the future—is important to the convenience retailing industry, which conducts 165 million transactions a day, of which 50 million involve an age-restricted product. For store clerks, checking IDs should be simple, safe and reliable. It should also speed up the checkout process, shut down sales to minors and protect people’s privacy.
“I don’t think there is another channel besides liquor stores that sells a higher number of age-restricted products than we do,” Armour said. “Our stores are more connected within their communities in an emotional sense than any other channel.”
Of the many learnings that have emerged from the pandemic, convenience retailers have seen accelerated demand for frictionless shopping experiences, along with extra services like curbside pickup, drive-thru solutions and delivery.
“We’ve definitely seen that contactless payment has increased,” Smartt said of his TXB stores (formerly Kwik Chek) in the Austin, Texas, area. “We saw a jump of almost 30% in contactless payments (during the peak of the pandemic shutdowns), but they didn’t really dip. They’ve held up. We want to have a frictionless environment that allows the customer to shop in whatever way they want and give them the option of receiving their purchases in-store, at the curb or at their house,” he said.
Armour noted that a lot of the products in demand are age-restricted—alcohol and vaping products, for example—and will continue to be so in the future, including a future that includes CBD products and legal cannabis. With regulators crafting policies for how these new products are sold and who gets to sell them, Armour said it’s the right time “to go from analog to digital in the age-restricted space.”
TruAge™ is already supported by more than 133 retail companies that represent 22,000-plus convenience store locations in the United States, plus four industry point-of-sale (POS) providers. Molson Coors Beverage Company is the first major global beer company to support TruAge™.
“Thanks to Molson Coors again for being the first to jump on the band wagon,” Smartt said.
The technology isn’t just for convenience stores. Any retailer of age-restricted products can use TruAge™ to securely verify a customer’s age at all points of sale. It is free to retailers, consumers and POS providers, and its relevant intellectual property will be placed in the public domain—removing significant barriers to adoption.
“There’s no charge for any retailer who wants to use the program,” Smartt said. “So, if your [point-of-sale] scanners are within three to five years old, it’s going to work. It’s a socially responsible thing for NACS to do to help the industry.”
TXB is one of the first convenience stores set to begin piloting the new system this year. TXB is known in the industry for its technology-forward approach to business, so being an early adopter of TruAge™ is a natural fit for the Spicewood, Texas-based c-store chain.
“We talk about do, learn, do” at TXB, Smartt said. “I think TruAge™ fits into that because it allows us to have those opportunities.” Ultimately, he envisions integrating TruAge™ into TXB’s mobile app. “We see a customer coming in to a TXB store having a TXB app, paying at the pump or coming inside, and getting points…what a seamless transaction experience that is for the consumer. We’re really excited about it,” Smartt said.
A national consumer survey conducted by NACS in 2020 found that 90% of Americans support a nationwide standard for age-verification, and 78% of Americans want a universal, compulsory approach for all age-restricted purchases. More than three in four Americans (76%) also said they would support the development of an age-verification program by major retailers that sell age-restricted products. Most consumers ages 21 to 30 said they would download the TruAge™ app after hearing a description of what it is and how it works.
A wider goal for NACS is to have retailers incorporate TruAge™ into their own apps, so customers can seamlessly transact purchases no matter where they go, whether it’s a convenience store, a restaurant or a bar, as well as online.
“The consumer needs to experience the same process wherever they go for something to really work. The fully realized version of this is that consumer just being able to take their phone and transact wherever they are,” Smartt said.
Armour stressed the importance of having “bullet-proof age verification” to open the door to one day selling legalized cannabis and CBD products, and Smartt agreed.
“Just yesterday we learned that our governor, our state, just authorized alcohol to go. My team started talking and asking: What opportunities does that open to us? We’ve always said if it’s a legal product, we want to sell it. Showing that we’re very responsible about selling age-restricted products is the most important thing we can do,” Smartt said.
How the System Works
The digital system verifies a purchaser’s age, not identity. A buyer presents his or her driver’s license, which is scanned, and the TruAge™ system creates an encrypted, single-use identity token in the cloud that verifies the purchaser’s age, date of birth and driver’s license issuer state, and that information goes into the store’s T-log.
In the future, using the TruAge™ app, consumers will onboard their government-issued picture ID or driver’s license, Conexxus Executive Director Gray Taylor explained. The first transaction will take about 15 seconds longer than normal, but after that, the age-verification process is seamless and customers won’t have to show their driver’s licenses again, just the app.
“Using the TruAge™ mobile system, no personal information is captured or stored. That’s super important,” Armour said. “We’re just verifying age here; we’re not verifying identity.”
A feature in the program also addresses a major social problem. Manufacturers can set purchase amounts for certain items and enable retailers to voluntarily follow those sales rules, for example, when it comes to selling vapes. “If we can track and limit how much people can buy, then we are secure for the future where systemic limits might be put in place to reduce social selling,” Taylor said.
TruAge™ also can help retailers prove that they are responsible sellers of age-restricted products. The customer token, if subpoenaed by a court or regulatory action, can help retailers prove that they aren’t selling to underage purchasers, who might have been involved in an actionable event.
Armour asked Smartt how the industry can help spread the word.
“Use our voices to talk to our POS providers and encourage them to move quicker,” Smartt said. NACS would like to see major POS providers—Verifone, Gilbarco and NCR—test the system by the end of year. “Collectively as an industry we’re better when we use our voices. Please reach out and have those conversations. If you’re one of those companies who’s already signed up, just talk to your POS providers.”
Added Armour, “Move it up your development pipeline to get it done. Raise it to the top of the list.”
And, of course, sign up. “We need more retailers to sign up to get the train moving forward,” Smartt said.
Learn more about the TruAge™ program and opportunities to participate at convenience.org/TruAge.
Kim Stewart is editorial director of NACS and editor-in-chief of NACS Magazine.