Choice is a cornerstone of retail competition, but the right to choose a paper or digital receipt is being taken away at the tills.
There’s a war currently being waged at tills and payment counters around the world. Whether it’s fashion stores, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants or DIY warehouses, retailers are slowly trying to move their customers away from paper receipts to email receipts.
To the customer they will try to persuade using reasons of ease (“No paper to carry around!”), organisation (“Keep your records in one place!”) or even the environment (“Go paperless, save a tree!”), but the bottom line is that retail companies want to decrease the amount they spend on their bricks and mortar stores, and stopping paper receipts is one of the ways they can do it.
A slippery slope
At the moment, most stores that offer an email receipt will also offer a paper receipt at no extra charge. But, like utility bills and bank statements, it may not be long until there will be an associated cost with taking the paper option, a customer being charged extra for something that’s their legal right to receive. Once this stage has been reached, demand will dramatically fall for paper receipts and the option will be quietly dropped from many stores.
Of course, you may argue that this is progress, but taking the choice away from customers brings up a number of serious issues around privacy, security, consumer rights and, most worrying of all, an ability to manage debt.
Safe and secure?
Since the key part of receiving a digital receipt is the customer handing over their contact details, taking away the paper option raises alarming issues around privacy and security. Despite GDPR, it’s clear that many companies are misusing customer data, whether it’s adding their names to a marketing database or selling on their details to a third party, which can result in a daily bombardment of unwanted communication.
Alongside the clogging of people’s inboxes, there’s also the risk of personal information being lost or stolen, opening up customers to potentially devastating computer viruses or criminal behavior – all from a single email address in the wrong hands.
The forgotten demographic
“What are you supposed to do if you haven’t got broadband or you have a major disability that means you can’t go online?”
As with many developments in technology, it’s often the more vulnerable in society that get left behind – the elderly, disabled or those that cannot afford electronic devices. And for those on a tight budget, paper receipts can be vital for keeping track of what’s being spent to ensure they don’t get into financial difficulty.
“There are a range of vulnerable people in our society that are told to go online but simply cannot,” says Judith Donovan, Chair of Keep Me Posted, a Europe-wide campaign to give people choice when it comes to receiving bills and statements. “What are you supposed to do if you haven’t got broadband or you have a major disability that means you can’t go online? Or you can’t afford it because you’re unemployed or you’re a student? It’s terribly unfair.”
Use it or lose it
What this comes down to is the customer retaining the freedom of choice, to be able to choose how they receive their receipts, without penalty or charge. And since it’s unlikely government legislation will step in to guarantee that choice, it’s down to the consumer to safeguard their ability to receive a paper receipt.
So the next time you’re at the till and you’re asked if you’d prefer a digital receipt, ask for paper and retain your choice.