• March 16, 2020



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The waiting game

The British are experts at queuing, but with the introduction of digital receipts, those queues could be getting a lot longer


“Arranging the delivery of a digital receipt could mean big delays and the shopping experience spoilt”


There’s a BBC Comedy video that’s currently all over social media. Titled ‘If High Street Shopping Was Like Online Shopping’, it shows a young woman trying to buy a couple of bread rolls from an artisan baker. She starts by simply asking to buy the rolls, but is then told by the shop assistant that she must register before making a purchase. ‘Your full name please?’ he starts, then moves on to ‘Mother’s maiden name?’, ‘First car?’ and ‘First teacher?’.

Throughout the next three minutes, the woman is faced with more questions, different shop assistants and verification requests. At one point, the assistant even holds up a frame split into nine and asks her how many cars she can see in the picture. The video isn’t long, but it perfectly sums up the exasperation felt by many when shopping online. And this exasperation could soon be repeated in real stores as they try to move their customers from paper receipts to digital.


What’s the hold up?

Of course, the video is an exaggeration of what could happen if companies use complex online systems to serve a customer in person. But these frustrating practices are already creeping into our high street stores with the introduction of digital receipts. In many large shops, customers are now encouraged to accept digital receipts in place of paper ones, with consumers asked to hand over personal information such as their email address in public.

This has troubling implications in terms of privacy and data security, but in more practical terms, it also means that the check-out process is suddenly slowing down. Just as you want to make your purchase and move on, rather than simply paying and receiving a paper receipt, you’re being asked for your email address, which needs to be typed into a check-out console. And then there’s the self-scan machines – tricky enough without having to input your own details in just to get a receipt.

Now, if you have a simple email address or a fast-fingered store assistant then this process could delay you by just a few seconds. But when the store is busy and the queues already long, arranging the delivery of a digital receipt could mean big delays and the shopping experience spoilt.


There’s always one…

While the introduction of this new layer of interaction at the check-out is frustrating for the customer, consider the implications for the store assistant. Working in the pressured environment of a busy high street shop, they could soon be expected to ask each and every customer, young and old, for their email address, having to type it precisely into an increasingly complex computer system while a queue of people impatiently tap their feet and look at their watches.

And what happens if a particularly nervous shopper doesn’t want to hand over their personal details to a stranger or asks what their email address will be used for, and whether their data will be safe with the company? In every queue there’s likely to be at least one suspicious customer with enough time on their hands to demand answers to tricky questions.


The solution is already here

Right now, the check-out process in almost all high street stores is as quick as it could possibly be. Aside from more assistants on the tills, it’s difficult to see how it could be made quicker – bar codes are scanned, cards tapped, paper receipts spat out, and the customer’s on their way. It’s in a store’s financial interest to get people through the check-out as speedily as possible, and there’s little doubt that asking every customer for their personal details will drastically slow down this process.

It’s likely that there will be innovations that could transfer email addresses, phone numbers and any other personal details more quickly and easily, but not everyone will be comfortable with handing over such information so readily. For the moment, it looks like a stark choice at the check-out: accept the inconvenience, delays and intrusion of digital receipts or stick with the simple, accessible and private paper version.