October 13, 2013

Paper receipts slipping away as retail world opts for email

As part of an ongoing electronic evolution, Maine merchants and customers alike see the benefits of going digital.

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

Save a space at the Museum of Anachronism, perhaps next to the corded phones. That’s where paper sales receipts will go.

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An ATM at Bank of America at One City Center in Portland offers receipt options. Companies may use digital receipts to look tech-savvy and green – and to obtain customers’ email addresses.

John Patriquin (left) and John Ewing/StaffPhotographers

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A paper receipt from CVS includes coupons.

More and more retailers are offering consumers the option of forgoing that slip of paper and taking an emailed receipt instead, and consumers are increasingly choosing that option.

Retailers say emailed receipts are more convenient for many customers, and they save money on paper. Experts say they also give stores a subtle way to get access to a customer’s email address.

Diane McEachen of Cape Breton Island said she reluctantly got a paper receipt on a recent trip to L.L. Bean in Freeport, even though the retailer would just as gladly have emailed her a receipt.

McEachen said she’s a committed electronic receipt-taker, saying she likes to store them on her tablet computer in a file, where they’re handy when she’s doing her banking and bill-paying online.

But the shoes she was buying were for her husband, who gets paper receipts and stores them in a box. If he decides to return the shoes, she said, he’ll have to go digging into the box to find the receipt, mixed in with financial forms and receipts from other purchases.

“Every year at tax time, he brings out his box,” she said, noting that she retrieves her financial information with a few swipes on an iPad. “He’s old-fashioned.”

About 30 percent of Bean’s customers opt for electronic receipts, said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem, who said the Freeport retailer started offering electronic receipts about a year ago.

The trend started with Apple in 2005, when it began offering emailed receipts to customers in its retail stores. A survey of retailers found that 35 percent offered the option to customers – and the current number is surely much higher, since that survey was conducted last year. Within the next year or two, most experts predict that the tipping point will be reached, with more than half of transaction receipts sent to customers electronically.

Like most retailers, Bean offers the option as a customer convenience, Beem said, although there are side benefits, such as a small savings on paper costs and eliminating part of the waste stream. Beem said she couldn’t put a dollar figure on either of those attributes.

The whole issue of paper receipts popped into the public consciousness earlier this year when some CVS customers took to mocking the drugstore chain’s notoriously long receipts online, posting photos of their yards-long receipts on the parody Twitter account @CVS_receipt. CVS gives its loyalty card customers coupons galore on its receipts whenever they check out, with the result that the receipt for a single item can run several feet long. Some customers posted pictures of themselves on Twitter with their receipts, which were longer than the customer was tall.

“We’re always listening to our customers and recently we heard loud and clear through social media that some customers would prefer shorter receipts,” Erin Pensa, CVS’s public relations director, said in an email response to questions.

Pensa said the company is revamping its receipts format with the goal of reducing the length of the streamer-like printout by 25 percent. That will be accomplished by reducing the font size of some of the logos and fine print, she said, as well as moving some of the language on the coupons around.

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