Saturday, April 19, 2014
By Edward D. Murphy
Save a space at the Museum of Anachronism, perhaps next to the corded phones. That’s where paper sales receipts will go.
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
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.
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: