E-Receipts Cut Clutter, Boost Marketing Opportunities

Aug 21, 2011

Shoppers may not have to worry about bulging wallets stuffed with old, crumpled receipts much longer. Retailers have found a solution — e-receipts — though it may come at a price.

Apple has been doing this for years now; Nordstrom and Patagonia have also made the switch. And this summer, Gap Inc., which owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, launched e-receipts at more than 2,600 stores.

Shelley Perelmuter, Gap's vice president of customer relations management, says e-receipts are convenient.

"We saw a number of people come in with wallets stuffed with old receipts," she says. "And returns can sometimes be a hassle for someone who's time starved. So we just thought, 'Let's think of a way to make this more convenient and streamlined for the customer and also go a little bit green.' "

Saving paper is really more like a bonus — the driving force is actually branding.

"It's an opportunity [for companies] to connect with their customers, to participate on the social networks, to review their products, to visit their sites, to read their news," says Ilya Mezheritsky, who works for Seamless Receipts, a company that designs e-receipts.

E-Receipts' Real Value

Sometimes users have to opt-in for such marketing programs. But with e-receipts, that can be as easy, or accidental, as clicking on a graphic in the receipt.

At Gap Inc. stores, once shoppers give sales clerks their e-mail addresses, they're automatically enrolled, but company officials say customers can opt out later.

And like reward cards, e-receipts give retailers another way to track shopping behavior, which has great value. If a company knows how its customers shop, it knows what products to push.

Just outside an Old Navy store in Birmingham, Ala., Jillian Houston loads up her twin toddlers into her SUV and whips out her BlackBerry. What happens next seems almost magical to her. The receipt on the screen — her first e-receipt — shows a confirmation of her purchase and what items she bought.

Houston says she likes that the receipt won't fade, and she's not too worried about spam because she keeps a separate e-mail address for shopping and online contests.

And experts say if keeping up with multiple accounts isn't your thing, you can always just say no.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.