2012.28 | eReceipts Redux

A number of retailers with some foresight now offer e-receipts or  transactions without receipts.  I am encountering more and more requests from retailers to enable this capability at the point of sale, and that is the direction we should be going as a retail industry.

As a consumer, the option for electronic receipts is not moving fast enough for my taste and I’m certainly not alone.  The amount of paper that any of us receive or are offered at every transaction on any given day is out of control.  Paper receipts made sense when there was no other mechanism available for validating a sale – that is no longer the case.  We don’t need a receipt for a donut – or anything else for that matter – all of it can and should be handled electronically.

Some may say that a paper receipt is key for returns.  How many people are organized enough to keep receipts or even be able to find those receipts in the giant pile they may have.  Even for those who keep a receipt for a big ticket item like an  LCD TV for five years for warranty purposes, the print fades away completely over time as most retailers don’t spend the extra for archival paper that will last for as long as high ticket electronics.

In the age of mobile computing, there are no excuses for having only paper receipts at every retailer.   While I think most people have come to the same conclusion, I do encounter some who says that the paper receipt is going nowhere any time soon.  Let’s consider what’s driving the end of receipts.

Consider paper and how society’s relationship with it is changing with the explosion in the availability of cheap computing and the internet.

Newspapers -The electronic delivery of news has changed many things about the business of reading the news.  In my neighbourhood, the places where the rows of newspaper boxes once stood are now vacant.   Would anyone have thought all of that paper would stop moving?  Why would we print millions of pages and throw them all in the trash or recycling less than 24 hours later?

Bills – The phone bill, the electric bill, the water bill, the tax bill and all the rest of them used to come in the mail.  Every biller I deal with has pushed for electronic delivery over the past few years.  I only receive paper bills when I have no option.  Convenience, speed of delivery and environmental impact are driving paper bills to the periphery.

Books– Amazon UK recently reported that their eBook sales have exceeded the sale of regular books.  Traditional paper books will never be replaced, but there are times where it is more convenient to download a book whenever and wherever a reader wants it.  Why not let readers carry their whole library with them?  (Bonus: No paper receipt at purchase!)

Office Paper – For many years, the idea of a paperless office was a joke, and there still is a fair amount of paper that floats around the office.  What has changed is the printing of personal copies of presentations, the use of brochures, and the usual demands to have reports printed every time.  While it does still happen, my experience is that the requests for paper are decreasing considerably.  When I meet with customers, most are  more interested in a copy of the file we reviewed electronically.  Many of them even take notes on tablets now.  Even business cards are becoming less common.  If a prospective client or partner is interested in working with me, I’ll enter their email address right into my mobile right then and there, and then we pass the pertinent details automatically in the signature files of our emails (better yet via LinkedIn).  No need for paper to enter into the transaction.

More retailers should mirror these societal changes to paper by providing transactions without receipts.  As with any solution, there need to be benefits for both parties – the retailer and the consumer.   There are challenges, but also consider the benefits:

Retailer

  • reduced paper usage = reduced cost/transportation/storage/environmental impact
  • reduced printer requirement (use of shared printers) = potential hardware & support savings
  • no more roll changes = increased uptime at point of sale
  • ability to connect customers to every transaction to get them a receipt = more customer information to drive a better understanding and direction on how to sell more
  • fewer forged receipts = reduced fraud
  • no need to change sales terms on receipt rolls = reduced waste/administrative effort
  • upsell space on receipts = increased sales
  • ability to link items on receipt to company website to drive upsell on related items = increased sales / closer customer relationships

Consumer

  • no tracking of paper receipts
  • no paper to carry around or remember
  • no faded thermal receipts for warranties
  • easier tracking and filing of receipts
  • simpler no receipt returns

Make no mistake – paper is not going away completely.  There will still be book stores, there will still be greeting cards, there are still newspapers, and there will be paper receipts.  All of this is consumer driven.  Consumers should have the option to transact business in the manner of their choice where it is feasible.   If the choice is a paper receipt – that need can be accommodated.   It is the electronic transaction record that needs addressing.  It’s an area of retail ripe for change, and the timing is right.

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2011.34 | eReceipt Retailers in North America

I’m not sure what is driving the sudden interest, but there has been a small run on eReceipts in the news.

New York Times | Consumer Reports | NPR | ….and many others weigh in

I had a recent request from a reader asking if I knew of an online list of retailers leveraging eReceipts and I do not.  What better way to address such a shortcoming than putting together a list right here.  The following are retailers where I am aware of an eReceipt option being available.  These were gathered from various articles online, corporate websites and various personal experiences.  Strangely, few of them have any information on this option on their corporate websites.  I expect a comprehensive list will eventually be a list of all retailers.

Apple Store – Apple store has offered eReceipts for some time, and have a slight advantage over may retailers in that many customers have an iTunes account online with a credit card number on file.  This allows for a receipt to be sent automatically based on the credit card number swiped.  No need to take down an email address.  I have used this option numerous times personally and the difference between this and an iTunes receipt is effectively nil.  The solution works well, and the eReceipt is a good fit for their business model and customer segment.

Gap / Old Navy / Banana Republic – The banners for Gap certainly offer eReceipts in the US and Canada, though I have only personally had experience with Old Navy in Canada.  Seems to work pretty flawlessly, though telling someone your email address or typing it onto a pinpad seems to open up opportunities for errors, meaning a receipt might be lost.  That said, I find Gap brands seem to be quite liberal with returns as long as items are in sale-able condition anyway, so not having a receipt isn’t the end of the world, but the system could use improvement.

Hertz – Not a retailer, but as a consumer facing business that offers receipts, they qualify.  Their site works very well, allowing search on drivers license and credit card numbers and are sortable by date.  Quite often you don’t want to wait at a travel counter for a receipt and you end up losing the paper anyway.  Very handy.

Nordstrom – I know Nordstrom is piloting a mobile devices, and I personally feel eReceipts are the best option for those devices to keep up throughput and to simplify the process.  Paper receipts are still available and always should be, as customers should always have that option if they want it.

Patagonia – One of the companies profiled in the NYT article, Patagonia began offering 9 months ago, with only one third of customers opting in.  Frankly, in my mind, removing one third of paper receipts is a significant impact to the business.

Sears / Kmart – In the US, the Sears organization has some leveraged some relatively forward thinking technology, and eReceipts are among those ideas.  Kmart is apparently offering electronic receipts as part of the Shop Your Way Rewards program.  I also have friends and colleagues that have opted for eReceipts at Sears in the US.

Whole Foods – Working with MyReceipts, some Whole Foods sites can now offer electronic receipts.   MyReceipts indicates it also supports electronic receipts for retailers including Wegmans, Office Depot, Best Buy, and Walmart.

I am a proponent of getting paper out of the equation given the number of shopping trips many of us complete in any given week.   I truly feel we can have an incredible impact on paper usage and cost in much the same way that we are impacting plastic bags – in Canada at least – the number of bags you see are way down. Personally, I think it would also help to unclutter everyone’s lives.  I already scan all of my paper receipts and paper mail and shred the rest.  This saves me a step and might make things slightly more searchable.

What are the potential challenges of moving to eReceipts?

Potential POS throughput impact – Asking every customer for an email address, mobile number or other unique identifier can slow down the queue in a store if not implemented correctly.  Allowing customers to connect their email address or eReceipt provider/account via their credit card number or loyalty card number on a retailer website or opting in at the POS once would minimize errors and ensure consistent POS throughput.  Ideally an NFC wallet that can provide payment and receipt functionality down the line would avoid the problem of registering altogether.

Receipts not provided – If an email addresses or other unique identifiers is entered incorrectly, this can cause complications and confusion for the customer – potentially around returns.  It is important to have a simple yet solid method to validate the correct path to deliver the receipt.  The other potential link in the chain is connectivity to the internet.  That concerns some, and yet I would argue that internet connectivity up-time seems to be pretty solid in most areas, and even if it goes down, the transactions can pile up and be sent when the store is online once more.

Shrink / Security Issues – Security has been simplified for years by just checking to see if customers had a shopping bag – secondary security check is a receipt.  With increasingly few customers carrying shopping bags, and now with no receipt, it can become more challenging for store staff or the Shrink team to identify thievery vs honest purchases with no receipt or bag.

Privacy – Of course the papers highlighted everyone’s concerns around privacy, but I have to ask what privacy they actually feel is being violated?  The credit card companies can see everything that you buy.  The retailers can already see your basket and know what you buy.  You are going to be targeted for advertising, so why not let it be for something you might actually want?  If it isn’t for what you want, there is always an opt out with all of these top tier retailers, and there are codes of ethics for marketing associations to not spam their customers – and it’s just bad business anyway.  I feel that this opens us up to a better world – imagine you need to return something and instead of digging through your George Costanza wallet to find your receipt you tell the customer service person your email address and approximate date of purchase.  Return done simply and without paper. Why are we still carrying this stuff?

Bottom line – I like eReceipts, and it’s going to happen.  There is value to the customer (convenience) and to the retailer (less paper logistics, no roll replacements, less paper work, no forged receipts) and for the environment (less garbage).  In the end, however, like all other consumer facing situations, it is all about choice and retailers should be sure to provide options, not requirements.  If customers don’t want an eReceipt – give them a paper receipt.

So who did I miss?  I know that there are various providers who provide an ereceipt capability to Mom & Pop stores, and small chains, but these are the big ones I know about.  Let me know who else has an eReceipt option – some online details to back it up would be appreciated  – and I’ll add them to the list.

[Note – if you truly want an eReceipt solution today across all your purchases, you can go the route I did – Purchase a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 or like product, and have the images automatically transferred online to Evernote via their PC client software.  Set a notebook for receipts, and off you go.  A fully searchable database of receipts that you can access from your Mac or PC, your tablet, your mobile device, or anywhere you have an internet connection.  Added bonus of no paper in your house!. – Inspired by Mark Fraunfelder via Boingboing]

Update 9/16 – @fornaom indicated Anthropologie, Banana Republic and Urban Outfitter provide eReceipt options.  I have also seen these online in various places.  Also confirmed through purchase that Gap banners are asking for email addresses, and when you use your credit card, they validate your email address with you on the pinpad so you get your email receipt.  Strangely I received both paper and email receipts.  This seems like a waste, but also know that debit/credit may require a paper receipt at least.

2009.38 | Hold the Receipt | Donuts & Furniture

tale_of_the_tapeHold the Receipt – A September 1 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the growing trend of very long receipts, given the addition of contract terms, transaction barcodes, product details, loyalty information, coupons and more.  While much of the information on the receipt is useful for retailers and consumers alike – enabling interactions and conversations via offers, ensuring transaction clarity, and simplifying returns, it also means an incredible amount of waste.  

The ultimate objective will be to eliminate receipts entirely, removing paper, labour, waste, cost and complexity from the equation completely, but it’s easier said than done for many reasons

What can be done today?  Electronic coupons are one way to trim the paper use that many retailers and businesses are experimenting with.  Two sided thermal receipt printing is another great measure to address the issue, reducing costs and waste substantially while maintaining the benefits that the information on the receipt provides.

Donuts & Furniture – Consider two very different organizations and two different approaches to multichannel communications:

Dunkin Donuts has implemented the Dunkin Run program utilizing a twist on a social networking to allow an individual to invite friends to place their orders online for one lucky runner to pick up for the group.    Status of the pickup can be displayed on Facebook.  What a great idea to drive up sales, the dollar value of each purchase, and increase consumer loyalty.   It should also be an easy migration to a mobile footprint given the type of solution and interface provided.

Ikea is making moves down the path to multichannel communications as well.  The IKEA FAMILY loyalty program in use in Europe leverages registration kiosks in store.  In the US, Ikea is leveraging a mobile application for store finding and specials.  Expect IKEA to move those channels together.

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