Over time, the Internet over time has made such products we relied on as telephone books, road maps, catalogs and in many cases, newspapers obsolete. Now, one more piece of printed material is disappearing, the paper receipt.
Major retailers like the Gap, Nordstrom, Whole Foods Market, Patagonia, and others have begun issuing electronic versions of receipts, asking customers which they prefer. These receipts can be either emailed to the shopper or uploaded to a password protected site. And, not surprising, more and more people are opting for the paperless version of the receipt. In fact, according to KSDK in St. Louis, a Nordstrom spokesperson said that a receipt is not a requirement for a return, reducing the need further for a printed receipt.
Some people seem to like the e-receipts because they can be a helpful record of spending at tax time. Others view paper receipts as a dinosaur, which wastes natural resources and are irrelevant. As many of us strive to be more green in our daily lives, the idea of eliminating paper receipts, which get tossed anyway, is very appealing. According to the same report from KSDK, 640,000 pounds of paper per year are used to print paper receipts.
Looking back at how this trend came about, it is no surprise that it was started by Apple. In 2005, in their sleek retail stores, they introduced the option of getting a paper or electronic receipt. There was, however, some concern at the time that this idea was ahead of the buying public. It turned out that many people were ready for it. Today, retailers consider e-receipts a badge, and that they need to demonstrate to the shopping public that they are at the edge of retail technology. As retailers look to integrate mobile payments into their options, digital receipts are de rigueur.
Of course, there are marketing advantages to this payment method. Yes, the retailer is providing the shopper with the convenience of having the receipt emailed to them. And, if you are like many people, you are carrying around a five pound wallet stuffed with receipts, some from long ago. But, this benefit also becomes an advantage to the retailer. The only way that they can email you the receipt is to get your email address. Once they have a shopper’s email address, the consumer can be sent promotional offers from the store based on past purchasing habits, geography, etc.
This paperless receipt has now become a new medium. This email can contain offers from the retailer’s manufacturers, and others. According to a spokesperson for Patagonia, as quoted in The New York Times, “People are very protective of their email inbox”. And, only one-third of their customers opted to choose an e-receipt.
Shoppers have been used to seeing coupons on the back of their supermarket receipts for decades. This acceptable practice should make it easier for other retailers to discretely use the e-receipt as a personalized marketing tool.
The ability to have this concentrated record keeping may be enough of a draw to get consumers to abandon the old paper receipt and opt into the paperless version. The right of opting into only those emails a shopper is interested in receiving, with safeguards in place, should minimize abuse of the information.