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

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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.

Early next year, she added, CVS customers can have the coupons sent to an online account, where they can be electronically loaded to the consumer’s “ExtraCare” card, with the discounts automatically taken at the checkout.

Plenty of other retailers, such as Urban Outfitters and Old Navy, also are offering electronic receipts and Bank of America recently joined the movement, offering its customers the option of getting ATM receipts electronically.

Pushing electronic receipts can pay off for retailers, said Susan Myrden, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maine.

There are subtle benefits, she said, by pitching the e-receipts as a convenience for consumers, who find it easier to locate a receipt in an email, where it’s unlikely to get lost. It also allows the retailer to appear tech-savvy and green, by cutting back on paper use, she said.

But for many companies, she said, it’s also a quiet way to get the customer’s email address, which means they can contact them directly with offers and notices about upcoming sales, while presenting it in a way “to make it look like something it’s not.”

There’s a generational component to the preference for emailed receipts, Myrden said, with many millennials baffled by any retailer that doesn’t offer emailed receipts as an option.

Carolyn Mix, one of the owners of 2 Notes Botanical Perfumery on Exchange Street in Portland, said she sees that divide among her customers, with younger ones expecting an emailed receipt and older ones seeing it as a bit of a novelty.

“Some people are kind of surprised” that she doesn’t offer a paper receipt, said Mix, who processes transactions using an iPad and a Square, a card reader that attaches to the tablet. The device automatically sends an email receipt, she said, although she will hand-write a receipt if someone says they don’t want one emailed – or in the rare case that they don’t have an email address.

“The green element of it – basically, that’s part of what our business is about,” she said. “And, of course, there’s the convenience.”

But, Mix noted, Square doesn’t allow her to access a customer’s email address. Although that means she can’t get a way to contact a customer with deals from the transaction, many customers tell her that they prefer the privacy the system offers.

Ani Leath of Nashville, Tenn., said she, too, prefers emailed receipts.

“It’s just less paper and easier to organize,” she said, while she shopped at L.L. Bean. “Green, too.”

But Ingrid Pierce of Mainz, Germany, said European retailers she’s visited don’t offer emailed receipts and, even if they did, she and her husband would probably stick with paper.

“My husband collects them all,” she said. “He keeps track of all that I spend.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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