Retailers are increasingly offering digital receipts instead of paper, but is this really what consumers want? We find out.
Like most industries, retail is going through a number of fundamental changes. The rise of online shopping, the decrease of high street stores, ethical concerns about products and materials – every brand has its own list of concerns it’s having to grapple with. But one concern that’s creeping towards the top is the issue of paper versus digital receipts.
Since the very first commercial transaction many centuries ago, paper receipts have provided irrefutable proof of purchase, offering a huge range of legal rights for both consumer and retailer. They settle disputes quickly and easily, and offer instant peace of mind for shoppers.
But consumers are increasingly being offered digital receipts instead of paper ones, accompanied by claims that retailers are simply doing their bit for the environment. But while there are clear cost-saving implications for the retailers, are digital receipts really what shoppers want?
The people’s choice
To investigate consumer opinion on the issue of paper and digital receipts, independent research company Toluna conducted a worldwide survey of 8,883 consumers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US. In the survey, consumers were asked a wide range of questions about their attitudes towards paper and digital receipts, as well as their preferences, concerns and environmental perceptions. The results are a fascinating look at what people truly think about paper and digital receipts, and should be essential reading for retailers keen to shift their customers online at the point of purchase.
“58% of the total survey group said they preferred paper, with 64% saying that paper receipts are more practical than digital”
The key question in the survey is whether consumers prefer paper or digital receipts. When asked, 58% of the total survey group said they preferred paper, with 64% saying that paper receipts are more practical when goods need to be returned and/or a refund needs to be obtained. Drilling down into individual countries, the US showed the highest preference for paper, with 71% favouring it over digital, while the UK was close behind with 69%.
Digital security and privacy
Across the board, there are clear concerns about handing over personal information such as an email address to a retail company, with unsolicited marketing and digital security two large issues. In total, 62% of consumers are worried that personal information held electronically is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost or damaged, while 56% are concerned that their transaction history may be used for unsolicited marketing purposes.
This tallies with a recent cross-generational study by Adobe, which found that 93% of all UK consumers worry about how brands use their data. “Across all generations, brands need to build trust by being open about how they use personal data,” said Gavin Mee, Vice President of Northern Europe and Middle East and Africa at Adobe.
But while the survey showed that consumers clearly trust paper receipts over digital, the survey also uncovered a number of environmental concerns, with 41% believing that paper is bad for the environment, and 55% believing an excessive amount of paper is used in paper receipts.
People’s perceptions about the environmental impact of paper receipts are largely the same as those about paper in general, namely deforestation, the amount of water consumed, greenhouse gases emitted, and paper waste generated. But the reality is that paper is one of the most sustainable materials on the planet, with a high recycling rate (currently 73% in Europe), and the trees that are used in the manufacturing process are taken from sustainably managed forests. (For more information, go to www.choosepaper.org/forestry)
The right to choose
Over the next few years, people, companies and organisations will debate the advantages and disadvantages of paper and digital receipts, looking at the issue from every angle and coming up with new and different ways to provide proof of purchase. But one of the key findings in the survey was that people want the right to choose which format they get their receipt in. Over half (51%) of consumers would be unhappy if stores no longer offered paper receipts, while 41% said they wouldn’t trust a retailer that didn’t offer paper receipts.
So, the answer? Put the choice in the hands of the consumer – they know what’s right for them.