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

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.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Design and Management at Parsons The New School for Design. His research interests include the convergence of innovation, sustainability, business and design strategies, as welll as the sharing economy, open innovation and sustainable business models. Currently he is involved in projects focusing on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the relationship between sharing economy and resilience, design intelligence, and whether Millennials can integrate sustainability into their lifestyle.Raz is the co-founder of two green startups (Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris) and a contributor writer to Triple Pundit.