12 innovations around Christmas - 8: Receipts

Important for many purchases is the receipt: the slip of paper that proves you bought the product. Importantly for many, especially around birthdays and the Christmas period is the ability to provide a receipt if the purchase isn’t exactly what was wanted. The lack of a receipt for some can be akin to forgetting the batteries!

Receipts seem to have been around forever. The ability to prove that you have purchased something from someone underpins a large part of society and the way we interact with others. For many, receipts give us surety around the products we have purchased and that we can redress numerous issues later on, within legal means. This proof of purchase benefits customers and allows a seller to determine that the customer has a legitimate purchase.

Receipts can and have been for a very long time, handwritten slips of paper indicating the type of purchase, cost of purchase, seller details and depending on the type of sale, the buyer’s details as well. Many businesses still offer the paper receipt and many revert to this method when technology fails.

Printed receipts are a large component of modern sales transactions. Visiting a supermarket and receiving an itemised printed piece of paper with individual costs of items, sales taxes and discount details is all common place to the Australian shopper.

Previous innovations in the receipt space included businesses like Shop A Docket, providing deals on the back of receipts from retailers. These are pre-printed on the receipt paper rolls and add value deals for customers to visit other local businesses for discounts or special offers.

In more recent times, supermarkets have added additional promotional items and information on loyalty programs to the final receipt. When a customer scans their supermarket loyalty card and then pays, their printed receipt indicates the amount of loyalty points earned for the shop and the total they have on their account. Additional items are added by many supermarkets to pair coupon barcodes to the end of receipts - many of these offer discounts on fuel or other in-store specials which can be tailored to customer preferences or big sale events.

Stores such as Apple encourage as part of a purchase, the receipt to be sent to an email address. It certainly offers convenience and makes it a bit harder to lose the receipt. For this author, having walked out of the store with a new purchase but no printed receipt in hand, certainly felt like a new (and scary) way of shopping.

For online shopping, the digital receipt is a must. Selling platforms such as eBay and Amazon provide receipts on purchase to an associated email address, usually the one tied to your account, or stored with your account information on the platform itself. Payment gateways such as PayPal can serve receipts almost instantly to your inbox, allowing for you to confirm that you have paid and who you have paid.

There are some obvious benefits of digital receipts compared to the paper format, such as the lifespan of the receipt - ink can fade fast, where digital can be easily moved, stored and retrieved. Of course, depending on how fast technology moves, might mean that the technology we use today becomes obsolete and potentially not recoverable in the future.

So, what does the future look like for receipts? Could they be integrated into the product itself? What about a QR code that holds owner and purchase information? How will we manage our receipts and the threat of losing old information in new technological advancements?

19 December 2016