Why the environment isn’t the only winner when you eliminate paper receipts

With electronic receipts, merchants can get ‘the digits’ of shoppers and keep interacting with them, says the founder of I Hate Receipts.
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4 min read

If you own a checkbook, chances are you don’t know what drawer it’s hiding in, but it was only 20 years ago, in 2003, when the number of electronic payments (credit cards, debit cards, and ACH) finally overtook the number of payments by check.

But while the notion of handing a single-use piece of paper to cashiers is an anachronism, cashiers handing a single-use piece of paper to shoppers—in the form of a receipt—is all too common.

And all those little (and not so little) receipts add up:

  • In the US alone, receipts use ~3.7 million trees and 10 billion gallons of water annually, according to a 2022 report by Green America.
  • An estimated 93% of receipts are printed on thermal paper coated with chemicals that renders them nonrecyclable, according to Treehugger.

Now it’s not only environmentalists that are targeting paper receipts. Vendors who sell paperless receipt software are highlighting that along with being green, texting a receipt to a consumer opens a digital line of communication that, unlike e-commerce, is not a given with brick-and-mortar transactions.

The “environmental waste” of paper receipts is “a huge part of it,” Ryan Greene, founder of I Hate Receipts, an app and cloud-based receipt-issuing platform, told Retail Brew. “And it’s also what we view as a wasted opportunity [when] a merchant would say to a consumer…‘Do you want a receipt?’ and then they’re out the door.”

Slip and fall: Paper receipts are getting the stink eye from some lawmakers.

A bill before the California legislature requires businesses to offer consumers the option of an electronic receipt before printing one. Phil Ting, an assembly member from San Francisco, first introduced the bill, known as “Skip the Slip,” in 2019. At the time, it drew enthusiastic support from Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“I believe a receipt for a pack of gum should not be tall enough to ride Space Mountain,” Kimmel told the audience at his March 25, 2019 show.

Last month, the Wallonia region of Belgium—which accounts for almost one-third of the country’s population—enacted a law that prohibits merchants from giving shoppers a paper receipt unless they request one.

Not a fan of such measures is the Paper Receipts Converting Association, a trade association that represents manufacturers of paper receipts.

“You can’t hack a paper receipt,” the group declares on its website. “Our industry’s product offers a safe, reliable, and tangible way for consumers to keep track of their transactions—with little fear of hacking, invasion of privacy, and spamming that may occur with e-receipts.”

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Litmus text: Peter Stewart, president of the North American region of Ingenico, a payments acceptance company that partners with I Hate Receipts on digital receipts solutions, said digital receipts are at an inflection point.

“We think there’s a big chance to bring innovative and disruptive technologies that not only improve the merchant experience but have a sustainable benefit as well,” Stewart told Retail Brew

Greene, of I Hate Receipts, recalled when he first met the woman who’d become his wife.

“My buddies and I had a phrase back then, which was, ‘Get her digits,’” said Greene. “And so I got her phone number, followed up, and 20 years and three kids later, here we are.”

When a cashier rings someone up, Greene continued, the merchant “has two seconds to engage that consumer” but if they just print a receipt for them, “they’re walking out the door. What we allow them to do is get the digits, and be able to follow up after the transaction.”

“The objective of our technology,” Stewart added, “is to turn the transaction into an interaction.”

When merchants collect a phone number to text a receipt, Greene said one tactic to engage quickly with consumers is to text to ask them to rate the service they just had from one to five stars, or to text them later that night and suggest an item that complements the one they bought, or, for subsequent e-commerce purchases, to offer tracking updates.

“So it’s really a gateway into their website, into their online purchases, [and] into their out-of-store engagement,” Greene said.

CV…less: Perhaps no retailer is more associated with conspicuously long receipts than CVS, which even inspired one Halloween celebrant to dress up as a 12-foot-long CVS receipt—and go shopping at CVS.

But Green America worked with the chain to reduce its use of paper receipts. In April 2022, CVS introduced a choice at cash registers for printed, digital, or no receipt.

“Four months later, the receipt prompt saved 87 million yards of receipt paper, enough to circle the globe twice,” Green America said on its website.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.