It’s Time to Replace E-receipts With Real Digital Receipts That Work the Way Consumers Do!


Admit it.  You meant to get an e-receipt the last time you were at the grocer, but you ended up with another 4foot long receipt tape tucked into one of your shopping bags.  Here at Banyan we have all had that experience ourselves, and we wanted to help end the wasteful production of paper receipts by overcoming the limitations of how the retail industry has implemented e-receipts.

The answer is to enable consumers to get hold of their own receipts in a safe, protected, purely opt-in environment.  Read on to find out more . . .

A crash course in receipts

The oldest receipt ever found is from Samaria 5,000 years ago. It was carved into clay . . . just imagine having to carry these around in your pocket.

The first receipt: a clay chit 1 ½ inches wide from 3200 BCE, given to an aman named A lulu for his five sheep, one lamb and four grass-fed male kids

Some have surmised that writing itself may have been invented as a way to create receipts. In Samaria, and later in Egypt, these early receipts were used to record temple offerings.

The first known paper receipts are from ~2,000 years later from the reign of Ramses II in Egypt. By this time economic transactions and taxes were regularly recorded. In fact, a receipt showing you already paid your taxes might become the difference between life or death.

Receipts are money?

Marco Polo brought the idea of receipt based currency to Europe

From there receipts became widely used throughout the world.  In fact, receipts became even more critical to commerce when they became a promise of repayment in gold - a promissory note, later known as paper currency.

The first paper currency was from the Tang dynasty in China during in the 7th century, although it was really during the Song dynasty in the11th century that it became established. Marco Polo may be best known in popular culture for bringing pasta noodles back to Italy from his visits to China, but it may be his introduction of the concept of currency receipts, or what would become banknotes, that had the biggest impact.

Across Europe the use of receipts as a form of paper currency spread.  In London from the 1600s forwards notes were widely accepted as currency in place of coins.  By the early 1800s Napoleon issued what we now conflate with modern banknotes, backed by a central authority.

Modern receipts have become overwhelming!

Early cash registers calculated a sale and let the employee collect money, but by the 1890s the National Cash Register Company changed all of that with the innovation of an automatic receipt system.  These new cash registers printed a receipt for every transaction.

By the mid 1920s NCR had become the largest printer in the United States!  In 1969 they introduced thermal paper, still the most widely used format for printed receipts today.

The amount of receipts being produced in our modern times is overwhelming. Green America estimates that globally over 400 million metric tons of paper are used each year!  Receipts are printed automatically at most retailers and are part of the transaction.  But retailers, consumers, and environmentalists are all ready to change that, they have just been slow in sorting out how.

Why digitize receipts at all?

It’s pretty amazing how aligned retailers and consumers are on the idea of getting rid of paper receipts.  There are some really good reasons for this:

Retailers love the cost savings

Cost savings is the biggest and most direct reason retailers want to switch to e-receipts. Retailers can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on their receipts.

Other benefits for retailers are deterring fraud (no faded thermal receipts to argue over), and a better customer experience.

Most people want retailers to offer digital receipts

The preponderance of people, 89%, would like retailers to offer digital receipts as an option according to Green America.  They also report that more than half of respondents stated they throw away or lose more than half of their receipts, even the ones they wanted to hang on to.

It’s about the planet!

Both businesses and consumers want to be environmentally conscious.

According to a USA Today article generating receipts “consumes over three million trees and nearly 9billion gallons of water.”  In fact, environmental reasons are the most important things consumers talk about for describing why they would want an electronic receipt.

But consumers don’t take retailers up on the e-receipt offer

Even though consumers say they want a digital receipt, they only accept the offer occasionally. Adoption rates are as low as 3% for many retailers, and even those with successful programs are only getting 10% at best.

Spotlight on CVS

For example, CVS has made a major push over the past few years to bring their e-receipt program to life, but still only has 9.5% of their Extra care members opted in for e-receipts.  CVS reports it has saved 48 million yards of receipt paper! Great job, but much further to go. . .

You can read more on pp.119-120 of their Corporate Social Responsibility Report

Why e-receipt adoption has been slow?

There are a lot of theories why adoption has been so sluggish.  Here are five good guesses:

  • It takes time - while 10-15 extra seconds doesn’t seem like much, it adds up, and many consumers just want to complete their transaction and leave.  In fact consumers site speed of checkout as one of the most important things when judging a retailer
  • Consumers are protective of their personal data - getting an electronic-receipt Requires giving the retailer personal information like email or phone number (for the few text receipt programs). Many consumers have grown cautious of sharing this type of information with retailers given how many breaches have happened.  One study shows that 62% of US consumers are concerned they’ll receive unsolicited marketing if they give their information, and a similar number are concerned that their personal information is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost, or damaged
  • Consumers aren’t sure they will need a receipt later - Consumers may want a digital record for items they know they might return, but not want one for something they know will be consumed right away especially for small transactions (like for a bottle of coca-cola).  Unless it's something you expect to return, you may not think about the receipt as being important to you
  • Personal consumption - many people save receipts for business transactions, but not for personal transactions since inmost personal cases they don’t need proof of purchase unless they are making a return
  • Consumers just don’t get asked -cashier training typically doesn’t happen, and so the customer often isn’t even asked if they would like an e-receipt. For the cashier, if they hear customers saying “no” most of the time, they feel bad asking, and so they stop. This becomes a spiral that takes adoption rates all the way down

So, what’s the difference between an e-receipt and a digital receipt?

Not much, but a lot. Both are digital forms of receipts, but the big difference is that a digital receipt doesn’t require sharing any new information with a retailer. … it’s all in the consumer’s control. As we noted above, a traditional e-receipt requires the consumer to give their email to the cashier.  As we know, people can be very reluctant to do that for all of the reasons above.

So a digital receipt allows the consumer to get their receipt directly to an app or online login without having to exchange any information with the retailer, or even remember to ask, it's automatic.  And, it’s that simple!

You may want to check out an article that the CEO of Banyan wrote: “Do Consumers Have a to Right to Their Own Receipt?”

How Banyan is making a difference

Banyan cares about the environment, and about eliminating the friction between consumers and their own receipt data.

Banyan is a brand-new company that enables financial technology companies (like Quicken, Mint, or Concur), and banks (like Citibank, Bank-of-America, or others), to let consumers tap into their own receipt data.  Banyan is the intermediary that makes that possible.  And Banyan does this without taking in personal information, by being completely transparent, and by respecting and protecting the privacy of all parties involved.

Retailers can also enable their customers to get receipt data directly into their own retail apps using Banyan’s SDK protocol. Consumers can have their receipts available at any time, and get loyalty credit for shopping, without ever having to show a loyalty card, give a loyalty number, or provide their email address. No more little plastic dangles on the keychain.  It just happens automatically!

About the author:

Bart Sichel  is a senior advisor to Banyan. He is President of bps Captura, a former Chief Marketing Officer for a Fortune 500 retailer, and former Partner at McKinsey & Company.  He writes frequently about consumers, business, and life.