‘It’s just too easy’: Underage people able to buy alcohol online

Doug Hendrie

24/02/2020 4:28:32 PM

Online retailers have made it much easier to access alcohol – and researchers warn there are real dangers.

Bottle of spirits being poured into tumbler.
Is it too easy to order alcohol online? UNSW researchers say yes.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found ‘buying liquor online is just too easy’ for underage people and those with an alcohol dependency, and have called for better regulation.
Online alcohol retailing is booming in Australia, with almost $570 million in sales last year.
But the huge growth has led to questions over how age restrictions and Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) laws are enforced. 
In a Drug and Alcohol Review article, the UNSW researchers examined the sales, marketing and delivery practices of Australia’s 65 most popular online alcohol retailers.
The study found:

  • 69% would leave alcohol unattended at an address without having verified the purchaser’s age
  • 12% offered delivery within two hours
  • 13.8% allowed customers to purchase alcohol through a ‘buy now, pay later’ scheme
  • almost 20% offered a 750mL bottle of wine for less than $5.00
  • 81.5% offered discounts for buying in greater quantities. 
In addition, they found there was no requirement for delivery drivers to hold an RSA certification.
Study co-author Stephanie Colbert said that regulation had fallen behind the rapid growth in online alcohol sales in Australia.
‘This is creating new problems around minors accessing alcohol, the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons and easy access to cheap alcohol – from $2.88 for a 750mL bottle of wine, which is cheaper than a cup of coffee,’ she said.
Co-author Professor Robyn Richmond said that community expectations are that online alcohol delivery services should be subject to the same standards as other methods of purchase.
‘Many people would be shocked to find out that this is simply not the case and that’s why, based on our findings, we call for online standards to be just as tough as when you walk into a pub or a bottle shop,’ Professor Richmond said.
‘The regulations are very, very lax online. The fact that online alcohol is accessible to minors, intoxicated persons can just get a top-up and it’s so easy to access cheap alcohol, at any time from any location, are all major concerns.’
Online alcohol delivery services are self-regulated through Retail Drinks Australia’s code of conduct.
The self-regulation approach has been dubbed ‘wholly inadequate’ by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.  
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