Ardent shopaholics may have noticed the steady, yet silent, rise of digital receipts over the past few years. An increasing number of retailers are now offering customers digital receipts rather than their paper counterparts, and the savvier retailers are using these digital receipts to their advertising advantage.
Digital receipts are not, however, retailers’ first attempt at engaging with customers through the medium of receipt. Early examples of customer engagement, powered by the humble receipt, include hyperlinks to retailer websites to give customer feedback, enter prize draws or receive special promotions. Digital receipts are therefore merely accelerating the ways in which retailers continue to engage with shoppers post purchase, and allow for far more sophisticated and subtle forms of engagement or targeted advertising. The growing list of retailers who have started to embrace digital receipts includes Apple (who began sending digital receipts in 2005), Debenhams, Topshop, Monsoon and Argos.
The attraction of a digital receipt to customers is obvious: no need to worry about losing it (especially important for those impulse purchases) and it is better for the environment. Historically however there has been a slow uptake of digital receipts by retailers, likely attributable to the need for new software for tills and payment systems. As the technological barriers are now coming slowly down, retailers should change their stance on digital receipts given their ability to provide a greater insight into customers’ shopping habits.
Digital receipts allow retailers to get one step nearer to clarifying whether a recent purchase was caused by, or correlated with, the customer interacting with a specific advert. By capturing a shopper’s email address, retailers are able to link a shopper’s in store purchases with their store account, so learning more about a shopper’s overall spending habits. Retailers will be able to see if a strategically placed online advert or personalised promotional offer, tailored to that specific customer results in a purchase. Other data which is identified by digital receipts include basket size, frequency of visit and total spend; data which would otherwise be lost for bricks and mortar retailers.
However before retailers can jump onto the digital receipt bandwagon, they need to fully appreciate the data protection implications of using digital receipts. Shop assistants, being the customer’s primary retail contact, need to properly explain the role (both obvious and secondary) of these receipts. As commented by Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, shop assistants must make clear what retailers hope to do with customers’ email addresses. This avoids customers being unpleasantly surprised with unexpected uses of their personal data.
Whilst revealing their true intention may be a daunting prospect for retailers, individuals are far more likely to give up personal information if they can understand and appreciate a clear gain in exchange. Examples of gains for shoppers include being notified of recommended products based on previous purchases, personalised promotions or updates about whether certain items are back in stock when a shopper is near a retailer’s branch.
Retailers should also balance their desire for capturing customer data against irritating shoppers. Retailers would do well to avoid using their customer email address database to bombard them with email marketing; doing so may result in customers treating their digital receipts as junk mail and not actually taking the time to scroll through, read and engage with them.
A slightly different approach could be taking the stance that retailers simply want to make their customers’ lives easier, rather than trying to extract value directly for themselves. Tesco has launched its first “paperless till” this week in its Harlow store as part of a 3 month trial. The system has been introduced to make it easier for customers to keep track of their past purchases, as well as being potentially beneficial for the environment. The system will allow Tesco to send its customers proof of purchase directly to their smartphones, and does not require a customer’s email address or result in the collection of additional customer data.
So is it time to bid goodbye to the paper receipt? Not quite. Whilst more and more retailers are slowly embracing digital receipts, the upfront costs of upgrading internal systems and changing consumer habits seem to be the obvious hurdles. Retailers should however be encouraged to use digital receipts. Doing so will allow retailers to continue to learn more about their customers, without their customers needing to make any conscious decisions; quite the powerful and silent ammunition.