Can We Please Get Rid Of Paper Receipts?

Written by Todd L. Michaud
April 29th, 2010

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

It seems like everywhere I look I find receipts. They are my number one “mess-maker.” Receipts are in my pockets, my wallet and my car, in addition to being on my nightstand and my desk. Have you ever stopped to think how many receipts you get in a given week? How is it that in today’s world of technology and “going green” we still manage to collect so many tiny pieces of paper? It’s time to go electronic. We did it with postal mail. We did it with music. We are doing it with movies and books. I vote we tackle receipts next.

Some companies have dipped their toes in the water, trying both paper and electronic receipts. If I stay at a hotel, I can easily pull up a copy of my receipt online. But one is still pushed under my door the day of checkout. Same goes with renting a car. The nice person checking me into the lot provides me with a paper copy; I can easily retrieve it online, though. Frankly, if I can get a copy online, I really don’t want a hard copy. It’s just a waste of paper and one more thing to keep track of.

Then there are things I purchase and get receipts for that I just don’t need. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to return the single donut I paid for in cash, so why did I get a receipt? Movie tickets? No receipt needed. Why not make receipts “available on request” for these types of purchases (assuming they were made with cash, of course).

Anyone who has purchased something from a brick-and-mortar Apple store knows that the technology exists. When you purchase something in the shop and the Genius rings up your order, you are asked if you would like the receipt e-mailed to you, printed out or both. If you are like me, you probably paused the first time this question was asked, unsure of what to do. E-mail seems like a good idea, but how can you just walk out of the store without anything physical to prove you paid for your item? Most people are skeptical about this option but still willing to try it, immediately checking their e-mail when they get home. Sure enough, there is the iPod receipt, just like Apple said it would be. Huh. Maybe there is something here.

An electronic receipt just makes sense for so many purchases. Fast food restaurants and grocery stores are a couple that come to mind. Both offer items that you are unlikely to return but still need a record of purchase. If people are worried that their computers are going to crash, they can just print out a copy at home and keep it in their files.


16 Comments | Read Can We Please Get Rid Of Paper Receipts?

  1. Richard Dodd Says:

    Suspect that Smartphones and mobile payment will provide the final elements to enable the end of the paper receipt. One action to pay and receive a receipt instantly.

    Like your thoughts on a enhanced analysis of spend on line.

  2. Giridhar Says:

    Great Idea. as Richard says with mobile payments, may be the receipts could be transfrerd to the mobiles as well.

  3. Raja Jeevan Kumar Maduri Says:

    I would believe that adoption of the receipts can still be extended to support warranties. If there is a customer who would want to store all of his receipts online, why shouldn’t the manufacturers maintain warranties or guarantees online. And so can be the case with the manuals. With the penetration of the internet into most households, we should be provided the option to opt in for electronic manuals, receipts, warranty, loyalty points be delivered electronically, which way customer does not have to seek out the receipt for getting the product to the retailer. In fact, manufacturer can get first hand feedback from this direct customer in case he needs any. Wouldn’t that be an ideal world to live in?

  4. A reader Says:

    I’d love to get rid of paper receipts. Any suggestions for how a customer should accurately provide their contact information that takes all of the following requirements into account?

    A) Doesn’t violate PCI, HIPPA/Privacy, SOX, GLBA, or cause other security problems
    B) Won’t slow down the checkout process
    C) Doesn’t require distributing “things” to customers that they have to remember to bring in
    D) Is difficult to forge so they can’t be abused for refunds
    E) Can only be accessed by the customer, so that a booster can’t use other people’s e-receipts for fraudulent returns
    F) Is cell-phone technology “neutral” — not requiring all my e-receipt customers to have a specific iPhone App, for example
    G) Allows the customer to walk out of the store with confidence that security won’t stop them

  5. Another Reader Says:

    The paper for supermarket receipts are funded by the ads that are printed on the back.

    For costs to go down, this revenue will have to be recovered by placing the same (or better) ads on the digital receipts.

  6. Rob Martell Says:

    Privacy – To me, if I buy something, the most I want exposed (if credit card) is the total. If a cash transaction, then sorry, none of your business, and I will use the paper receipt to return it if necessary.

    Retailers already know too much about me, and all they’re data-gathering still doesn’t do ME any good.

  7. Tim Dickey Says:

    Great article. Thanks for writing it.

    I am one hundred percent behind you in eliminating this waste, but also understand the concerns of many of the commenters above with respect to security, front end throughput, fraud, privacy and security. I’ve heard these same concerns with retailers I work with.

    I’ve thought a lot about this, and know that retailers and consumer facing organizations of any kind will be hard pressed to justify an up front investment to remove an ongoing paper cost to which they’ve become accustomed (or if it’s free via ads). Quite frankly, consumer facing organizations and consumers ourselves are resistant to change even when it’s logical and for the right reasons.

    One way to tackle it is for the debit/credit card companies to take this on. The payment information is already passed to them centrally and they have to adhere to PCI, EMV in Canada and all the myriad security requirements. No special devices would be added; there is nothing more to carry than current debit or credit cards. Additional details could be passed via the credit card terminal. The e-receipts could be leveraged online and printed in the event of a return requirement.

    The card companies could offer this as a great service offer to credit card users and justify their fees. This doesn’t cover cash customers, but could eliminate 50-70% of receipts here in Canada.

    Sound far fetched? Perhaps. But then again, Paypal ( and Square ( are providing the same sort of service today. Card companies could do the same with no devices.

  8. Raja Jeevan Kumar Maduri Says:

    Probably companies like Transaction Tree can possibly come up with neutral smart phone applications that interface with their system to intimate that they have received receipts into their smart phones once the retailer sends them out receipts (one needs to consider the receipt delivery time!!).

  9. Walt Conway Says:

    While there may be lots of alternatives, what do I do about my clients – and maybe your own companies – that require “only original receipts” be submitted with expense reports? I can submit neither electronic copies nor even scanned copies of the paper if I expect to be paid. Nope – only good ol’ paper accepted.

    Maybe we should start in HR instead of IT?

  10. Jason Shapiro Says:

    Great article. It is very interesting to me how people keep their receipts for insurance, for an example. However these receipts are normally stored in your home. What happens if your home floods or burns? Then all the receipts you kept for insurance is lost.

    Just a thought.

  11. Cranston Snoard Says:

    The article is interesting, but I feel it has failed to consider several unintended consequences.

    If one wishes to get rid of receipts one had better be prepared to provide customers some other unintrusive means for proof of purchase or you’ll could end up with a lot of false detainment — and resulting law suits — for shoplifting, etc.

    When consumers are shopping in malls, and shuffling from store to store, how do they prove they purchased an item at one store or another if challenged by your store security? How do they prove they paid for a purchase if challenged upon leaving a your store?

    Yes, there might be means of tagging, but does that really save paper or resources in the long run? And how do you do tagging without damaging the product? And if the tagging is designed for easy removal so as to not damage the product, have you now opened a new channel for shoplifting?

  12. cestmoi Says:

    Email receipts are being adopted by forward thinking CEOs already. Redbox is one business that comes to mind that deals strictly with email receipts.

    You rent a movie, a receipt is emailed to you indicating what movie you checked out. It is emailed to you when you return it. Not sure what happens if you accidentally entered the wrong email address though… All the info it has on you is your cc# tied to your email. You can change your email anytime you rent a movie.

  13. Cranston Snoard Says:

    “Forward thinking” CEOs may indeed be adopting E-mail receipts, but the real acid test is if their customers accept them or if it will drive away business because of its intrusive nature.

    The e-mail receipt et al reminds me of the Spandex argument — just because you can wear Spandex doesn;t mean you should.

  14. cestmoi Says:

    Here’s another scenario where virtual receipts are more desirable… let’s say you are asked to prove your whereabouts and you just tossed your boarding pass away. You can then log into your airline of choice’s website, and click on your itinerary showing the flights that you’ve taken and air miles earned.

    Look ma, no paper needed!

  15. Greg Litchfield Says:

    It’s not an all-or-nothing idea. Couldn’t we start with purchases that are extremely unlikely to EVER be returned, like breakfast at McDonald’s or coffee at Starbuck’s? We don’t often get receipts from vending machines; just extend the paradigm.

  16. Lee Says:

    Greg makes an excellent point – let’s start with the small purchases that won’t be returned. Lots of hurdles for other places – e.g. Cranston makes a point about stores that check the receipt on exit (e.g. Costco). My favorite grocery store has saved paper by doing something I’ve not seen elsewhere – printing on both sides of the receipt! Since their primary customer base is lower income shoppers, I doubt that email receipts would fly. And a couple of my favorite dept stores have receipts that show how much I saved – seeing that at the time of purchase always makes me feel good! What I could do without are the incredibly LONG receipts you can get at a place with mail-in rebates – they each seem to be about 2ft long (or the ones with the customer survey info, or coupons for your next visit, or the status of your loyalty points, or the progress towards a reward…)


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