Leigh Eigel of Sandy Springs popped into Lenox Square’s Apple Store for a computer tuneup and left with an impulse buy — a car charger for her iPhone. But when the part-time interior decorator and mother of four realized her husband already had one, she took it back the next day.
A few finger swipes across her iPhone called up the e-mailed receipt and a store employee scanned the bar code from her screen to accept the return.
“It is crazy to print paper when you don’t have to with the technology,” Eigel said. “It seems more convenient to whip out your smart phone. You don’t have to rifle through your purse looking for a receipt.”
Retailers have been exploring the idea of digital receipts for at least a decade. Several years ago, Apple made it a near standard practice — it issues a printed receipt upon request — while retailers in other industries ranging from grocery to apparel have begun moving in that direction.
Avis and Marriott are among the larger companies that have ventured into the digital receipt arena, and Kmart offers the choice. Anthropologie stores (owned by Urban Outfitters) recently used a new store in Atlanta’s Westside Provision District as a test site for digital receipts. Last year, Best Buy and the Container Store partnered with Intuit to store digital receipts for consumers (an iPhone app lets you manage receipts on the go).
Eigel said she is accustomed to receiving receipts via e-mail for online purchases, but Apple is the only brick-and-mortar retailer in Atlanta she frequents that is truly paperless. She is the kind of customer who hauls a big canvas bag on shopping trips to avoid using plastic bags and encourages her children to minimize their environmental footprints by using scrap paper for notes or draft printing.
For Eigel and some other consumers, the green aspect of paperless transactions is key to their motivation, while for retailers the ability to capture and use consumer information in new ways has increased the appeal of going digital.
In 2009, Atlanta-based Transaction Tree began educating retailers about digital-receipt systems. The firm works with a number of retailers, including specialty merchants and grocery stores, CEO Jason Shapiro said.
In addition to building digital-receipt programs for point-of-sale companies, Transaction Tree manages every aspect of digital receipts for retailers — e-mailing and storing digital receipts, allowing consumers to access those receipts and developing marketing based on purchase habits gleaned from the receipts.
For example, if a grocery store has a loyalty program, Transaction Tree can embed with the program, issue a digital receipt and use that purchase information to generate automatic shopping lists or provide calories counts.
Questions about privacy and ownership have cropped up. Consumers are concerned about how their information is being used, and retailers are concerned about who owns consumer information if they outsource gathering and warehousing.
“When you get into areas that involve government regulation and privacy concerns ... that landscape is changing and it is unpredictable,” said William Rossiter, vice president of global marketing for Hypercom Corp., an Arizona-based company that manufactures payment systems used in 130 countries.
“There will be tremendous opportunity to integrate technology like digital receipts ... that bridge the gap between the digital world and physical world,” Rossiter said.
All the company’s next-generation products are equipped to handle the innovations of the future — if or when the rest of the world catches up.
TIPS FOR SHOPPERS
Stay tuned for more software options to help manage your digital receipts. For now, try creating an e-mail address solely for shopping transactions. You won’t have to sift through all manner of e-mails to find receipts.
When you have to return an item for which you received a digital receipt, avoid printing by pulling it up on your smart phone. Don’t have one? You may have no choice but to print a copy.
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