Over the past several years, most of us have noticed that our bills, magazines, newspapers, and books are all available in digital form. Many have been quick to point out the implications of this have been detrimental to the struggling paper industry. However, for those of you who thought that by the end of 2012, we would have paperless offices, that time still remains in the far distance. However, an almost unexpected area that we are now seeing make the transition to digital is receipts. Digital receipts are another example of where printing is contracting and digital formats are coming in as replacements. Every purchase you make results in a printed paper listing out your purchases that must be kept in case you need to make a return. No one thinks too much about it, but the volume of paper that receipts account for is actually pretty significant. So, what does it mean for consumers, retailers, POS vendors, and paper manufacturers now that digital receipts are becoming more popular than ever before?
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Are digital receipts demanded by consumers or are retailers pushing the concept? The answer is probably both. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to digital formats and therefore many are looking for ways to cut down on the size of their George Costanza – inspired wallets, stuffed with old receipts that they will probably never look at again. Consumers are also bombarded with information suggesting that all paper is bad for the environment, a major myth that paper makers are working to dispel. However, since most consumers don’t necessarily keep their receipts or do not approve of the documents’ extraneous information, they welcome the option of having the paper strips go digital.
There are of course the consumers that want the paper receipts. For some, their digital world is too full, making it difficult to stay organized. For others, they want the ability to view their receipt at the very moment of purchase and then file it away in case they need to make a return. Having that tangible proof of purchase is almost like insurance that if something goes wrong, there is a solution. Of course, consumers can print their receipts if they need them or some retailers may take a digital version on a smart phone as a valid form, but this takes the printing costs away from retailers and transfers them to the customer.
Retailers are keen on moving to digital receipt formats. Of course there is set up and transition costs for the software to offer digital receipts, but in the long term, they will surely save on printing costs. Will retailers pour some of these cost savings to customers and provide lower priced goods? In reality…most likely not. Retailers are looking to cut costs in many ways and are facing serious challenges with competition from online resellers. However, because online shopping is so popular, most consumers are accustomed to electronic versions of receipts, which could ultimately help move retailers’ push in offering this alternative.
The kinds of stores and businesses that are most likely to be early adopters of digital receipts are banks, large department stores, and micro businesses that use Square with their iPhones to accept credit cards. Most banks offer customers a choice if they want their ATM receipts printed or emailed. This is likely a major cost savings for banks, considering the majority of people that get money out of the ATM likely toss their receipt away without even looking at it. Popular clothing stores including Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart already offer a choice of digital or hard copy receipt.
One type of reseller that will likely benefit a lot from digital receipts would be grocery stores. Most customers use their receipts to check and ensure that they were charged properly. However, after that initial confirmation, the receipt gets thrown out or sits in the bottom of the reusable bag for the rest of eternity. Additionally, grocery store receipts are often long and many times come with extra coupons that no one looks at printed on the back.
Some retailers, such as Costco and other club stores, are less likely to implement digital receipts. Costco requires that customers show their receipt when picking up a high value item and when leaving the store. It would cause the chain to reevaluate its check out process, which could actually create added costs, at least in the short run.
In an effort to push the initiative, a number of retailers have teamed up and created the group, Merchant Customer Exchange, that aims to capture the mobile purchasing market and contribute to the elimination of receipts. Among the participating merchants are 7-Eleven,Alon Brands, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, CVS, Darden Restaurants, Dillards, Dunkin Donuts, Gap, Lowe’s, Michaels, Sears, Target, Walmart, and others. The proposed service would compete directly with similar efforts from Google with its Google Wallet. Merchant Customer Exchange is still in the very early stages of development and has not yet hired a CEO. While the main initiative of this company and others is to encourage mobile payment abilities, it is very closely connected to the digital receipt.
eReceipts in London, headed by Lord MacLaurin, who is the former chairman of Tesco, provides a technology that allows companies to issue electronic receipts to customers. Receipts are stored in a secure online cloud and are accessible by computer or smart phone. eReceipts states that the result will reduce customer fraud and printing costs, as well as allowing more targeted promotions from retailers. The technology will enable customers to keep track of their receipts digitally. eReceipts believes that changing to digital will be one of the biggest changes to impact the retail market since loyalty cards were introduced. The company believes that the benefits that exist for all parties are good enough to drive a real change in habits.
The technology offered by eReceipts does not come without challenges. The company does not see the environmental argument as being strong enough to change consumer habits. Some consumers voice their concern about the environment with regards to printing and the impact that paper receipts have, although very few are actually willing to change their habits as a result, according to eReceipts. The key is to make the new solution easier than old methods and offer some additional benefits.
According to a study by RFTConnect, many consumers do not see paper receipts as a problem or imposition. eReceipts says that a study it conducted revealed that while 90% of consumers would prefer to have their receipts stored digitally, only 50% stated that they would buy from a retailer because it purposefully offered this service. The varying results indicate that there remains a disconnect between what consumers say and what they do. Moving to digital receipts may have a larger benefit for retailers, so the key is to give consumers an incentive and make the transition easy. Some people actually like paper receipts.
Consumers are very accustomed to receiving a paper receipt on the spot. Many consumers use the print out to check and make sure they were not overcharged, particularly at grocery stores. In order to make digital receipts appealing to the large majority, there must be a way to access the receipt right away and provide the comfort that a traditional receipt currently does.
Some consumers are hesitant to adopt digital receipts out of fear that they are just another big brother tool, like loyalty cards. Consumers are becoming more suspicious of the information that they are providing to retailers and what those retailers are doing with it. The information gives retailers the opportunity to send consumers more coupons and get a glimpse into their lives. To help appease customers reduce these fears, eReceipts claims that its model won’t require consumers to provide their name or address, allowing them to essentially remain anonymous. Consumers can also choose their settings, disabling promotions. eReceipts understands that key to this will be educating consumers that this option exists.
eReceipts is just one company offering a solution around digital receipts. Of course, there are also a variety of apps for that! Proximiant Digital Receipts offers a solution that sends receipts and rewards directly to a consumer’s phone. The app works using a smart phone’s camera to scan the receipt image in. Customers can search their receipts by store. Retailers can scan the barcode on the digital receipt to issue returns and exchanges. If a retailer has a Proximiant device, a customer needs to tap their phone and the receipt will upload automatically.
Receipts are printed every minute of every day and the transition to digital forms is very real, but also relatively slow. The new technology needs to focus on reliability and trust to gain customer and retailer support. People are becoming more accustomed to digital versions of books, magazines, and newspapers, making acceptance of digital receipts a more likely scenario. The paper industry will be hit hard once again as the transition begins to move quicker. However, paper companies are not in denial and know that digital forms of paperwork are becoming more prevalent. They are diversifying regionally and in the products that they offer in the hopes of adapting to the digital age. Just as the paperless office is far from a reality, paper receipts will not likely completely disappear in the near term. Preparing for change and adapting to better ways of accomplishing certain tasks can only improve society and retailers, consumers, and paper manufacturers can all benefit from these advancements.