september 2007

Mystery shopping and alcohol sales: do supermarkets and liquor stores sell alcohol to underage customers?

PURPOSE: The Dutch national policy regarding alcohol and youth relies on retailers' willingness to refuse to sell alcohol to underage customers. This study examined unobtrusively whether supermarkets and liquor stores do indeed comply with the legal age restrictions for alcohol sales.

METHODS: A research protocol was developed based on the methodology of mystery shopping. Using the protocol, 150 supermarkets and 75 liquor stores were visited by 15-year-old adolescents who tried to buy soft alcoholic beverages (legal age, 16 years), and 75 liquor stores were visited by 17-year-old adolescents who tried to buy strong alcoholic beverages (legal age, 18).

RESULTS: Of all 300 buying attempts, 86% were successful. In supermarkets, 88% of all attempts succeeded. In liquor stores, a difference was found between the purchase of strong alcohol by 17-year-olds (89%) and the purchase of soft alcoholic beverages by 15-year-olds (77%). In only 71 of all visits, mystery shoppers were asked for an ID. In 39% of these cases, they were still able to buy alcohol. Female adolescents were more successful in buying alcohol than male adolescents.

CONCLUSIONS: The results show that supermarkets and liquor stores generally fail to see the need for extra care when young customers try to buy alcohol. Legal age restrictions without enforcement and facilitation clearly do not suffice to protect adolescents from early exposure to alcohol.

Additional Info

  • Authors

    Gosselt J.F.; van Hoof J.J.; de Jong M.D.; Prinsen S.
  • Issue

    J.Adolesc.Health / pages 302-308 / volume 41
  • Published Date

    september 2007