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Retail Drinks dismisses study on online alcohol delivery

By Andy Young, The Shout

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has released a study into Australia’s online alcohol delivery sector, which has been labelled as inadequate and incomplete by Retail Drinks Australia.

According to UNSW, the study researchers found 69 per cent of websites would leave alcohol unattended at an address without having verified the purchaser’s age; 12 per cent offered delivery within two hours; 13.8 per cent allowed customers to purchase alcohol through a ‘buy now, pay later’ scheme; about 20 per cent offered a 750mL bottle of wine for under $5; 81.5 per cent offered discounts for buying more, and there was no requirement for delivery drivers to hold Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification.

However Retail Drinks CEO Julie Ryan has disputed the findings highlighting that they were based on a preliminary desktop audit of online alcohol retail websites without conducting any auditing of the actual delivery practices themselves.

“Any evaluation of the online alcohol sale and delivery sector must be done in conjunction with a thorough review of retailers’ delivery practices, as the online website is only half of the transaction,” Ryan said.

“Attempting to evaluate online alcohol sales solely on the basis of a desktop audit of websites and without any reference at all to the delivery environment leads to vastly inaccurate conclusions, which is the case in the UNSW study.

“Instead of reviewing the Australian delivery environment, the UNSW study vaguely attempts to reference mystery shopping in the Netherlands from more than seven years ago to draw the conclusion that minors may access alcohol in Australia. This is clearly irrelevant in an Australian context.”

The study also claimed that the current regulatory system around online alcohol deliveries is inadequate, with study co-author Stephanie Colbert, saying of the Retail Drinks Online Alcohol Sales and Delivery Code of Conduct: “Retail Drinks Australia claims they randomly audit signatories’ practices to gauge compliance, but how often they do this is unspecified – likely, it’s rare.”

In response Ryan said: “The co-author of the study Ms Colbert was quick to allege that she doubts many audits are done as part of the Retail Drinks Code, and used this as a basis for disputing its effectiveness. Since UNSW made no attempt to contact Retail Drinks to ask about the Code or its audit, it probably says something about the rigour of their study that they make statements without attempting to research the facts.

“Retail Drinks’ independent Code audit partner conducts more than 200 mystery shopping audits each month to test compliance with the Code and ensure we are gaining actionable and real insights about the delivery environment to ensure responsible supply by our members.”

Speaking to the veracity of the Retail Drinks Code of Conduct, Ryan added: “The Retail Drinks Code has established a comprehensive self-regulatory framework for the online alcohol delivery sector and already covers 80 per cent of all online alcohol sold in Australia through its existing signatories.1

“Specific measures within the Code include a ban on any alcohol being delivered unattended on the same day and ensuring that all deliveries must be to a person over 18 and not intoxicated. For any unattended deliveries, the purchaser must have already proven their age by a method more than simply entering a date of birth online. All drivers must also be trained in a tailored home delivery RSA course and be able to recognise lawful IDs and understand the signs of intoxication.”

Ryan also said the Code has the ability to work in conjunction with regulation from state and territory governments around Australia to effectively mitigate against the risk of online alcohol deliveries to minors and intoxicated persons.

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