More than 3,000 stores which sell age-restricted products will be visited by staff from the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) in the next couple of weeks, and ID Smart leaflets will be sent out to a further 8,000 businesses.
So far only 2,000 residents have registered an interest, but Identity Minister Meg Hillier said she was confident that there would be an increase in take-up after the initial rollout.
"Voluntary identity cards will provide a secure and convenient gold standard identity document, and we're keen to make sure people are able to use them as smoothly as possible," she added.
Manchester Spar retailer Mark Cleary welcomed the launch of the cards and said he was looking forward to the IPS visit. "I'm in favour of anything that makes retailers' lives easier. It's just a shame that the scheme is not compulsory," he said.
But Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green last week said a Conservative government would scrap the "expensive, intrusive and unworkable" scheme.