eReceipts - Why don't we have them yet?

, posted: 12-Jan-2012 10:01

An offhand comment yesterday to an owner of a Cafe about digital (or electronic) receipts got me thinking, why don't we have these already?

We've probably all seen the emailed receipts that some retailers seem to send out.  Apple sends your receipt as an email.  Some retailer send PDF files with an invoice/receipt for online purchases.

But I was thinking about what can we do to rid ourselves of all this paper you collect in your wallet.

A quick browse around the internet last night brought me to this page:

I really liked the idea of a iCalendar/vCard type implementation rather than a formatted email/PDF file.  The reasons are as follows:
  • It's data, can be loaded to a smart phone app, finance program, or just saved somewhere as a file.
  • It could be generated as a QR code - you can create a vCard QR Code that contains contact information - why not a receipt.  The QR code could be printed on the bottom of a paper receipt - meaning those that want electronic and possess a smart phone can scan it (rather than the current standard of taking a photo and OCR or manually entering the data)
  • It could be transmitted via NFC/Email/SMS or presented as a QR code on an LCD screen (this might be a bit slow though at a POS terminal).
So the next bit to look at is a standard.  Guess what, someone has already thought of one.... The Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) already has an xml specification for a Digital Receipt: Here

Next I thought quickly about implementation.  It would be hard, and very unlikely, for every retailer to set up LCD screens/email gateways etc to send these receipts I thought why not think a bit higher up the food chain...what do all the retailers have (well most of them here in NZ) - EFT POS terminals.  All leased or bought through one or two companies. 

With a bit of modification, the EFT POS receipts that are currently printed could include a QR code of a Digital receipt, or on authorisation the EFT POS merchants could send out receipts via email/sms (obviously this last idea would be a subscription based system), or include NFC technology (terminals which include this technology are already being implemented with the likes of snapper, Visa's PayWave or Mastercards PayPass).

It seems like we have most of the pieces they just need to be connected...

Do you like the idea of digital receipts?  Do you keep your paper ones?  Do you throw everything away?

How do we deal with the fact that a receipt is proof or purchase, and is used for your warranty claim?  Those that scan receipts, have you used one of those to validate your purchase?  Did the store accept it?

Sure there are some kinks to work out, but I don't think they're insurmountable.




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Comment by Shoes2468, on 12-Jan-2012 11:02

This sounds like a great idea, I sure would like to rid my wallet, completly, but thats a bit unreleastic at the moment, but certainally this would be a step in the right direction.

Comment by Bob, on 12-Jan-2012 12:39

Can't stand digital receipts. Hate the stores that send them when I tell them I only want a print receipt.

Comment by wasabi2k, on 12-Jan-2012 12:58

Who does it benefit? - The consumer
Who pays for it? - EFTPOS provider, shop in question, another provider
Is it enough of a benefit to attract customers? - unlikely

While I can understand the attraction (expense claims on paper receipts is always a pain) I don't see the business case.

1. Added expense (managing the web service that hosts receipts, upgrading terminals, back end infrastructure, support)
2. Privacy Issues (all transactions recorded in one place able to be looked up - how do you secure a QR code? have a password on the receipt? more complexity).
3. What percentage of consumers actually care? I don't really want to swipe my phone to get my receipt.
4. Email/SMS are not free, who will pay for it? How do they get your email address or phone number?

That's 5 minutes worth, while I don't think these are insurmountable I see a lot of cost and complexity for very little benefit. PDFs or emails for online purchases make sense - you have normally provided an email address to buy and you are establishing a relationship with that vendor.

I would never expect (or want) the coffee shop or supermarket to know my phone number or email address.

Author's note by davidcole, on 12-Jan-2012 13:37


Thanks for you comments.  Yes when you think about it there's not a lot of business cases for the business to do it.  but re some of your points...
2. How do you secure your receipts currently?  The information on the receipt - and lets just think of a pure eft pos one at this point - has trans number, merchant number and amount etc.  There's nothing really sensitive on here.  The QR code (initially) would just be a rendition of this information.
3. Valid, how many people keep their receipts now?  How many throw them out?
4.  This is where I thought the eft pos provider could provide a subscription service to get around the shops having this information.  Otherwise it would have to be tied to banks....and the retailer would have to send the information as part of the transaction details.

Comment by mushion22, on 12-Jan-2012 13:49

Yes, this is what I want. 

I want this to be largely magic, and I want it to include transaction details and individual items rather than just the summary. I want it to also integrate into an asset tracking system so I can easily retrieve a receipt for my expensive items. I dont want to have to rely on remembering my card, although having an NFC/QR code option would be good as an ID mechanism for when I use cash. 

Two ways I can think this could be possible:

1. Retailers add an API to their POS systems that accepts a transaction reference and passes back the eReceipt. Eftpos provider or bank take tx ref from eftpos tx, then query the API and pull back the receipt, adding it as a "drill down" option for transactions on your online statement, and also exportable and perhaps available thru and API or feed. 

For cash tx's, retailers pass a file at some interval, or use a real time feed/api, to transfer your cash receipts to the provider/bank. 

2. Eftpos terminal manufacturers make their terminals smarter and allow POS systems to pass eReceipts to the terminal for it to pass it to the provider/bank. The NFC/QR option will still be needed for cash along with the file/feed mechanism. 

The reason for using an eftpos provider and bank is that the bank knows who each card belongs to. If you want to avoid that, you'll need to identify yourself with the retailer each time (eg NFC/QR) and then either have some aggregation party, or have software that can poll many different retailers through an API. You could also maybe register your cards with each retailer so they can identify you automagically but that seems like a hassle. 

Some retailers might require significant changes to their POS systems, others might be more straight forward. Dick Smith would be a good case to start with - their POS can already track customer details (eg VIP cards, or can just set a customer id) and aggregates all transactions back to a central DB. 

Why is your part taking so long?

Comment by nickb800, on 12-Jan-2012 16:03

Feeding receipt info back to the banks would be brilliant - most banks already have at least a limited option to export transaction history through CSV file or similar, so ultimately you could import your purchase history into a software package of your choice (Xero, similar, or some new software that analyses the items you purchase).

By tying it to your card, next time you need to return to the store to return a faulty product, you could just swipe your eftpos card for the store to bring up the transaction on their POS system.

This has got me thinking about systems that track your purchases - such as OneCard at Countdown - in an ideal world you could download your supermarket purchase history from them!

Comment by wasabi2k, on 12-Jan-2012 16:34

I don't secure my receipts, but that's not a big deal as they live in my wallet or the bin - it's a bit different when you have millions of receipts all in one place - much juicier target.

I don't see EFTPOS providers being interested in dealing with consumers unelss they are making a hefty profit, which again comes down to the business case - how much would you be willing to pay for such a service?

In theory you should be able to request any information they have on you (re:onecard) under the privacy act.

Having it in a nice webform would be great though. 

Comment by naggyman, on 12-Jan-2012 21:38

It could be tied to your bank account. When you make a EFTPOS transaction, the recept can be sent to your bank account. They would be avaliable on online banking.

Comment by Scott Fletcher, on 18-Jan-2012 16:42

Hi David,

My company currently offers this exact service right now in NZ. We have one store in Wellington, and are currently talking to many more.

We enable retailers to send receipts via email with their existing equipment. All they need is a computerised Cash Register and an internet connection.

If you know any stores that would like this we would be happy to give them a free trial to see how their customers like it.

Let me know

Comment by Bob, on 19-Jan-2012 01:41

Systems that track your purchases---the main reason why cash is still the best way to go. Only one person has any reason in the world to know what I buy, where I buy it, and when I buy it. Me. Protect your privacy; never purchase with plastic!

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davidcole Cole
Lower Hutt
New Zealand

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