E-Receipts Cut Clutter, Boost Marketing Opportunities

Aug 21, 2011
Originally published on August 23, 2011 6:50 am

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.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

If your wallet's bulging, well, maybe you're rich; maybe you just have a lot of credit cards. For a lot of people, it's a pile of crumpled receipts taking up all that space. Of course, you can never find that one receipt when you need it most. Well, some retailers have a high-tech solution to your problems.

Gigi Douban reports.

GIGI DOUBAN: It all happened so fast.

(Soundbite of beep)

DOUBAN: You've been waiting in the checkout line. Then finally, it's your turn.

Unidentified Woman: You're going to get back $10 and a nickel.

(Soundbite of clicking sound)

DOUBAN: And just when you think you're through, the sales clerk pops the question.

Unidentified Woman: And can I have your email address, please?

(Soundbite of keys clicking)

Unidentified Woman: All right.

(Soundbite of printout)

Unidentified Woman: And this is your receipt. You can look for special deals in your email address now. And we will also send your receipt of this purchase.

DOUBAN: More retailers like this Old Navy store in Birmingham, Alabama, are emailing receipts to customers. Others stores, like Nordstrom and Patagonia, do the same. Sometimes, it's instead of a paper receipt but most of the time, customers get both. Apple has been doing this for years now.

This summer, Gap Inc., which owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, launched e-receipts at more than 2,600 stores. Shelley Perelmuter is Gap's vice president of customer relations management. She says e-receipts are convenient.

Ms. SHELLEY PERELMUTER (Gap, Inc.): We saw a number of people coming in with wallets stuffed with old receipts. 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 greener.

DOUBAN: Saving paper is really more like a bonus. The driving force is actually branding. Ilya Mezheritsky is with Seamless Receipts, a company that designs e-receipts.

Mr. ILYA MEZHERUTSKY (Seamless Receipts): It's an opportunity to connect with their customers, to participate on the social networks, to review their products, to visit their sites, to read their news.

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

At Gap Inc. stores, once you give the sales clerk your email address, you're automatically opted in. Company officials say you can always opt out later. But like reward cards, e-receipts give retailers another way to track shopping behavior, and that's worth money. If a company knows how you shop, it knows which products to push to your email inbox, and when.

Just outside that Old Navy store in Birmingham, Jillian Houston loads up her twin toddlers into her SUV, and whips out her Blackberry. What happens next seems to her almost magical.

Ms. JILLIAN HOUSTON: They say, your receipt - OK, I received one, a confirmation showing that I did purchase, and what items I did purchase. So I guess Old Navy does work.

DOUBAN: This was Houston's first e-receipt. She says she likes that it won't fade. She's not too worried about spam. She keeps a separate email 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.

For NPR News, I'm Gigi Douban in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.