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What Are Retail Compliance Checks?

Rum display in a liquor store. Minors are often sent in to buy alcohol during compliance checks.

Compliance checks are essentially surprise inspections that federal government agencies and local law enforcement will carry out to ensure that a retail establishment is following the rules and laws created by the government concerning the products being sold.

In other words, they check up on stores to make sure they’re not doing anything illegal.

One example of a compliance check is the age compliance check, which is done to ensure people buying alcohol and tobacco are the legal minimum age to purchase it. The legal age for buying alcohol is 21, and it’s 18 for buying tobacco.

Rum display in a liquor store. Minors are often sent in to buy alcohol during compliance checks.Alcohol retailers that fail to card their customers to determine their age can be penalized and fined by the local law enforcement agencies or the state’s Liquor Control Board, in conjunction with state and local law enforcement. However, it’s usually the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that conducts tobacco compliance checks.

The FDA calls them “Undercover Buy Inspections,” where the retailer is not aware the inspections are taking place. Minors, or people who look very young, will come into the store, buy the product, and then the enforcement begins — it starts with a warning letter or ticket.

A second infraction draws a monetary penalty that can be pretty stiff. Two violations in 12 months is $279, four violations in 24 months will cost you $2,236, and six violations in 48 months costs $11,182. So these guys aren’t messing around!

And if you persist in violating the law, the FDA can hit you with a No-Tobacco-Sale Order (NTSO), where you’re not allowed to sell tobacco products at that specific location for a long period of time.

What About Marijuana Compliance Checks?

Meanwhile, in states where it’s legal to sell marijuana, compliance checks are often overseen by local law enforcement and the Liquor Control Boards

For example, a recent check on underage marijauana sales by Washington State, where it’s legal to sell and use recreational marijuana, saw an 88 percent compliance rating with local laws.

But it’s not just underage sales that are the problem. In states that allow medical marijuana sales, there is a myriad of rules and regulations the dispensaries have to follow.

According to, these are the top five most common medical marijuana dispensary infractions.

  • The license does not immediately input all marijuana and marijuana product(s) into the State-mandated inventory tracking system and account for all variances.
  • The dispensing facility does not have accurate or updated tracking logs for visitors, security and/or waste.
  • The business does not have all required financial business documentation available as required (federal and state).
  • Marijuana and marijuana product sold to patients does not include all required public health and safety warning statements as required by law.
  • Surveillance cameras do not have clear, unobstructed views of the license premise and blind spots or sight obstructions exist.

Compliance checks can be a royal pain, especially if you’re the one caught selling products to underage buyers or patients who don’t have the right paperwork. This is where it helps to work with a mystery shopping agency.

Mystery shoppers can help liquor and tobacco retailers and marijuana dispensaries stay in compliance with their local laws. Many times, it’s the clerks and non-owners/non-managers who either aren’t fully aware of the laws or don’t have a vested interest in avoiding penalties and fines causing the problem. Working with a mystery shopping agency like Measure CP can help you run spot compliance checks without actually suffering any financial and legal penalties from anything we find. Our job is to report our findings to management, so we can help you find any shortfalls and holes in training.

And we don’t just have to do compliance checks; we can do other checks, such as restroom cleanliness, condition of the stores, friendliness of the staff, or anything else you want to know about at your retail establishment.

To learn more about mystery shopping and compliance checks, please contact us for more information or to speak to one of our mystery shopping experts.

Photo credit: O’Dea (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)