For as long as shops have sold cigarettes and alcohol, underage customers have been trying to buy them.

Two stories this week suggest that technology is acting as both a help and a hindrance to retailers as they try to stay within the law.

Budgens is running a trial of facial recognition software to try and prevent underage customers buying booze and fags.

According to the BBC, the cameras monitor customers as they approach the tills, transmitting the pictures to the software supplier Charton’s control centre in Worcester. Here pictures are scanned against a database of images of young people who have visited the store before.

The system alerts the cashier to customers who have been unable to prove they are 18, as well as highlighting those who might look young, but have previously verified their age so that ID is not called for again.

That’s all well and good, but it seems the cool kids – as always – are one step ahead.

Research out this week has found that teenagers who want to drink have turned to the internet to bypass scrupulous store staff who demand proof of age.

A nationwide survey among 1,000 male and female teenagers aged 13 to 17 has found that young people are consistently trying to buy inappropriate products online and, in many cases, are successful.

Highlights of the survey from GB Group include the statistic that 5 per cent of 14 year olds have successfully purchased alcohol online.

The research also found that two thirds of 13 to 17-year-olds have been asked for ID in shops when trying to buy inappropriate material over the past year, yet just 18 per cent of young people have been asked to prove their ID when trying to buy similar items online over the same period.

However, this may have to change if Margaret Moran, Labour MP for Luton South gets her way. She has introduced a bill that aims to ensure that anyone selling age-restricted goods and services over the internet has to take steps to verify if customers are old enough.

This wouldn’t just include alcohol, but also age restricted DVDs and CDs, knifes and other material deemed to be inappropriate.

The Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification) Bill receives its second reading in Parliament this Friday (May 16th). Retail Week will report on its progress.