E-receipts Have to Do More Than Save Paper

The paperless receipt is becoming more commonplace in American retail; and that’s good for retailers, the environment and consumers. Some consumers can be wary of opening themselves up to digital promotions, so it’s up to retailers to allay those fears and present e-receipts as a customer benefit as well as a convenience.
A third of retailers now offer their customers digital receipts – players like Nordstrom, Best Buy, Whole Foods, Patagonia, Anthropologie, Kmart, Sears and Gap (plus its sister stores Old Navy and Banana Republic). Mobile receipt technology is picking up steam as well.
The benefit to retailers is clear: Electronic receipts are an opportunity to extend the customer relationship, with opportunities for cross-promotion, upselling and coupons baked right in. Market research firm Epsilon surveyed 3,900 retailers this year on the topic and found that among stores offering e-receipts, 83 percent do so to harvest email addresses. That allows the retailer to attach an address to actual sales activity.

So retailers create an opportunity to capture an engaged consumer. When a digital receipt lands in a customer’s inbox, it could also contain recommendations based on his purchase history, a second chance at a deal, coupons, upcoming sale announcements, and an update on his loyalty or rewards program standing. Generating more interactions and sales will also generate more data for the retailer to analyze, fine-tune its approach, and start the cycle over again.
Customers must see the benefits
Both retailers and consumers can gain a measure of security from digital receipts as well, say industry experts. Take returns: Certainly, a receipt with a digital trail makes returns a breeze for a busy customer. That record also helps insulate against fraudulent returns, which cost retailers more than $14 billion last year alone, according to the National Retail Federation.
Naturally, some customers have concerns. In an ebook on digital receipts, Raymond R. Burke wrote that, “If consumers don’t understand how technology will help them, they often assume it will be used against them.” According to Burke, a study at Indiana University’s Center for Retailing showed that more than 60 percent of consumers welcome personalized offers as long as they don’t feel their individual-level information is at risk of being sold or exploited.
E-receipts moving beyond email
Though e-receipts are just now gaining a firm foothold, they’ve been around since Apple Stores introduced them in 2005. Since then, retailers have been innovating beyond the inbox. Digital receipting has liberated Nordstrom clerks, allowing them to check out a customer anywhere in the store on dedicated mobile devices. Some retailers are choosing to skip email completely and offer electronic receipts via password-protected sites online. Services such as MyReceipts, which is being used by Whole Foods, allow consumers to review their purchase history or import receipts into financial software. Retailers then have access to this data as well.
Receipts are entering the mobile domain, of course. California-based Proximiant developed its patent-pending Touch and Go technology to interact with existing point-of-sale systems through near field communications. Customers tap a small device at the register with their smartphone to receive an e-receipt. After beta-testing with several Bay Area retailers, Proximiant is working with a dozen major national retailers to install its technology, which has a built-in CRM and mobile marketing platform as well.
Going paperless obviously fits the eco-friendly culture of a brand like Whole Foods. But e-receipts may have a larger impact than many realize. According to e-receipt company allEtronic, those tiny little slips of thermal paper are responsible for 9.6 million trees being cut each year in the U.S.

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