November 26, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized


It occurred to me a while ago while clearing out my wallet of annoying pieces of paper that, the vast majority of the time, receipts are largely unnecessary. Most of them you will never use, and either get binned or put into a filing system to never be seen again. The problem is, of course, you don’t know which ones you might need in the future. Will they already have that game you’re gifting? Will the new TV develop a fault? You just don’t know.

So, receipts: a necessary evil (and by “evil”, I clearly mean minor nuisance).

What can we do to improve receipts? First, if we must store them, then let’s make that more convenient i.e. let’s make the receipts digital. This could be relatively straightforward:

  • Ask the customer for an email address and send it to that,
  • If they pay by credit card, store their email address against it for later use (if you’re worried about security, hash the credit card details),
  • If they have a store loyalty card, then use the email address tied to that,
  • If they don’t have one or don’t want an email, fallback to paper-based methods.

Simple. As an extra convenience, it might be worthwhile trying to get credit card providers to store a minimal amount of secure data on credit cards. This is definitely possible (though unlikely) and would ease the first-time pain.

Additionally, if we’re doing this electronically, I’d also consider providing a machine-readable version of the receipt; a standard way of marking up sales information. If that were to happen, then you can start to build tooling. You can do all sorts of deep interesting tracking if you have your financial information available electronically. If you imagine the sort of thing that Wesabe do just now, then you can start to see where we could go from there.

Are there issues? Yes, absolutely. If you want to return something, you need to be able to get your receipt (not strictly true, but that’s how you do it easily). In the digital world, that would either mean a print-off or, I imagine, getting the ID from the receipt. That ID should be sufficient to prove that you own a product and bought it in the shop you were in as all the transaction details should be available. The shop would need to rescind the receipt based on the ID to prevent multiple people trying to use the same receipt but that wouldn’t be very hard.

Another issue is that smaller shops would have an obvious overhead to pay. Well, there are two outcomes here: they can not participate (keep things the way they are, which is absolutely fine), or get someone else to run most of the system as a managed service. There’s actually really very little of this that would be shop-specific so it would be easily built and sold on.

That’s another worthwhile point: it could start a nice little niche business. People supplying these systems and building tooling around it.

Now, technically, my understanding is that receipts are not strictly necessary under UK law at all, but are a de facto part of how sales tend to work. To that end, I think that making them digital would be reasonably beneficial. Just an idea.