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Can eReceipts Convince Shoppers Electronic Receipts Are a Better, Not Just Greener Option?

Raz Godelnik
| Thursday September 6th, 2012 | 12 Comments

The second most annoying thing about shopping, after plastic bags, is the receipts. Well, I’m sure there are other things that can top this list, but for me both the plastic bags and the paper receipts are the most obvious examples of how waste and bad design still dominate the shopping experience for most of us.

The ways to end the era of shopping bags are already well explored, but what about paper receipts, which are already unpopular among health advocates because they are often lined with BPA? Are we seeing any progress there? Well, a new promising solution that starts a trial run with more than 20 retailers in London’s West End this month provides some hope for change (Yes, we can!). Welcome to the world of eReceipts.

Headed by Lord MacLaurin, the former chairman of Tesco, eReceipts is a new company offering retailers a technology that will enable them to issue electronic receipts to customers. The receipts will be stored in a secure online cloud and accessible through a laptop or mobile phone. This is supposed to be, according to the company, a win-win offer. Retailers will be able to offer customers targeted promotions based on the customers’ spending habits, minimize consumer returns fraud and reduce the costs associated with printing paper receipts. At the same time, consumers will be able to keep track of their receipts in an easy, user-friendly and non-wasteful way, similar to the way they keep track of their credit card or bank account activity.

While this is not the first time that electronic receipts have made an attempt to take over their paper counterparts, Lord MacLaurin believes this time the results will be different: “eReceipts have the potential to have the biggest impact on retail since the introduction of loyalty cards,“ he said, adding that “combining the obvious benefits for retailers, consumers and businesses, with the simplicity of the eReceipts system, we will see the end of the paper receipt.”

MacLaurin certainly knows a thing or two about retailing, not to mention the fact that he’s the one responsible for the introduction of Tesco’s ClubCard loyalty program. Yet, while eReceipts seems like a no brainer for both retailers and consumers, it might be more difficult than it seems to convince consumers that this option is better for them. Here are some of the main obstacles as well as suggestions for eReceipts on how to deal with them.

The green motive is weak – from an environmental point of view, consumers care about the impacts of paper receipts just like they care about impacts of plastic bags. In other words, they don’t (OK, some do, but the vast majority doesn’t). If there’s a lesson to be learned from similar attempts to change consumer behavior, it is that a successful greener alternative needs to provide substantial benefits other than the fact that it’s better for the environment.

Our tip: Since it doesn’t look like retailers will start charging for paper receipts anytime soon, how about adopting the Recyclebank model or even the Tesco’s ClubCard model and offering consumers monetary benefits they would really appreciate?

Consumers don’t perceive paper receipts as a problem – according to RFTConnect, eReceipts Managing Director, Andrew Carroll said: “Our research shows that 90 percent of individuals would prefer to have receipts digitally stored in a cloud account rather than collecting paper receipts, while 50 percent of individuals would purposefully buy from a retailer who offered this service over a paper receipt issuer.” My guestimation is that like with many surveys, consumers say one thing, but do something else.” I especially doubt the finding that 50 percent would prefer a retailer that offers an electronic receipt over one that doesn’t. It seems more like a wishful thinking, just like with the notion that many consumers will prefer buying from purposeful companies.

Our tip: Don’t think of electronic receipts as a game changer for consumers. You just need to make sure that consumers won’t have to make any significant trade-offs while switching to electronic receipts.

Some consumers actually like paper receipts – speaking of trade-off, let’s not forget that paper receipts can be valuable from time to time. I check receipts quite often at the supermarket in search for mistakes and occasionally I find some. So while shoppers will still be able to ask for paper receipts, it’s important to ensure that those who will use electronic receipts will be able to review their e-receipt on the spot as easy as with a paper one.

Our tip: Remember that electronic receipts should be superior to paper receipts on every element both inside and outside the stores.

Fear of another Big Brother tool – another thing consumers don’t like is providing retailers greater access to their shopping information. The fear is not just that the new eReceipts scheme will make it easier for retailers to follow and monitor shoppers’ purchasing history, but also that it will enable them to send you an endless flood of spam.

Our tip: eReceipts claims that you don’t need to tell the retailer your name and can remain anonymous. Also, when you choose your settings you can turn off any promotions. Sounds good, but eReceipts has to make sure consumers will know about this option, so if they don’t choose it, it’s because they don’t want to, not because they don’t know about it.

[Image credit: khaybe, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.


▼▼▼      12 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Dave Shires

    Maybe I’m crazy, but haven’t saved a receipt in years. I already do use “eReciepts”. I just look at my credit card statement online every month. So silly that people think they need that piece of paper!

    • eReceipts

      Hi Dave, while you make a great point that you can see your spending on your online credit card statement, what about for all those purchases made in cash ? And to see exactly what you bought in one shop, banking statements only give you the total sum spent whereas we break it down into a simple easily-read format of each item.
      Also, if you want to claim insurance for something or return an item, our digital receipts that we store for you forever are worth their weight in gold!

    • Mark

      Hi Dave, the credit card statement is fine for telling you where you spent your money, but it dosen’t tell you what you actualy purchased, you need a receipt for that because it lists the individual goods. Where I live, retailers need to see a receipt for retunrs or warranty claims.

  • johnny

    Dave, that piece of paper comes in handy when you need to return an item. Retailers will have to bring their return policies into the 21st century if they want eReceipts to be effective.

    • eReceipts

      Hi Johnny, any shop that supplies you with an eReceipt is automatically able to accept the same form of receipt for a return! This is done seamlessly at the till point. Best of all you’ll never again have the trouble of losing a receipt for an item you want refunded, as we store them for you in your eReceipts account for free and forever.

  • BobBobb

    I hate digital receipts. I want paper receipts only. Any store that won’t provide me with one doesn’t get my business.

    • eReceipts

      Hi Bob, sorry to hear you feel that way! Luckily all eReceipts enabled stores will still continue to give out paper receipts for those people who don’t want digital receipts.

      • BobBobb

        I already have problems with stores that automatically email digital receipts even when I tell them I only want the paper copy. “We can’t do anything about it,” they say. Well guess what. I buy something. The digital receipt is emailed. It goes to an account used by multiple people in my household. And now all my purchases are public record for anyone using that account! No way to keep a gift purchase secret. And honestly, I have no faith that just because a store will give a paper receipt today that it will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Corporations care nothing about what *I* want; they only care about what *they* want. And if those wants are dissimilar, guess who loses. It sure isn’t the corporation.

        • Rose

          BobBobb,
          your privacy issues will become a non-issue if Receipt Reliance successfully
          implement their idea.

  • Alexander Peschkoff

    As for Big Brother, every retailer with a loyalty programme already tracks SKU-level data. Some even share it within a scheme (e.g. Nectar). I would be surprised if they don’t sell that data. Does that stop people from using loyalty cards? No. Consumers love collecting points (ask any Amex holder).

  • mark

    Surely the best approach is to store digital receipts with your on-line bank account. Everytime we use our credit or debit cards to pay for something we make a connection to our bank accounts through the existing EFT payment system. Why not leverage off that existing infrastructure and add value for customers by sending the digital receipt down the same path to be stored against entries on your on-line bank account. One “double click” could give you a digital receipt (just as a paper copy would have been in store) that you could print, email or save elsewhere. We trust banks with our money, why not trust them with our receipts.

  • rj

    data you see on a eReceipts can be forged. anyone can generate receipt that looks just like the store recipt specially with eReceipts. image, data gets stolen from eREceipts. now hacker can use your data to receive services, return items, etc.