High-profile independent retailer Jonathan James has installed a controversial fingerprint ID system in one of his stores in a bid to combat underage sales.

The Spar and Budgens retailer, who is also vice chairman of the Association of Convenience Stores, has introduced the technology, called OK ID, in his Spar store in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. Shoppers who are asked for ID are given the option of having their fingerprint scanned so the next time they buy an age-restricted product in the store, they don't have to show ID but simply place their finger on the scanner instead.

The system has come under criticism in the past for being too 'Big Brother', although it only records a fingerprint in binary code and cannot be used for any other means.

"Customers either love it or hate it and we have, predictably, had an element of negativity," admitted James. "However, staff are continually telling customers about the system. The key to the success of the machine is the way staff sell it to the customer."

He added that the system was attracting "local loyalty" from customers fed up with having to repeatedly show their ID in other stores. Within a week of installing the system, 38 customers had registered and it had been used 86 times for ID purposes.

"I believe any equipment that can be used to help retailers with age-related sales must be looked at and therefore decided to trial it," said James. "I have already recommended the system to my colleagues and we will be rolling it out to other sites."

Spar is supportive of the system, which was on show at a recent Spar retailers meeting. It has also been adopted by a number of other Spar retailers.

Budgens owner Musgrave Retail Partners GB said it wasn't aware of OK ID, but was "supportive of any system that helped combat underage sales". However, last year it forced a Budgens retailer to ditch a facial recognition system that kept a record of every person who tried to buy age-restricted products.