Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Chaos of Digital Receipts in 2016
By Mark Johnson, CEO of Receipt Reliance Pty Ltd, an Australian company promoting digital receipts(

The interest surrounding digital receipts continues to grow with a sense of expectation that a universally accepted solution will emerge soon. Currently the market is going through a 'try and test' period resulting in a myriad of solutions for consumers and merchants alike. Unfortunately, having so many choices has created its own set of issues. Because of the many methods in use, the digital receipt space is fractured and there is no clear winner in sight.

At the moment, from a consumer perspective, it's not just a matter of choosing one solution over another and then having all your receipts issued to a single location. 

Instead, consumers are being dictated to by the selection each merchant makes, so when making a purchase you never know what you're going to get.  

On one hand, a few of these ideas might gain traction - if they were the only idea and brand being deployed. But the reality is there are many companies vying for market share resulting in a multitude of apps/solutions being utilized.

On the other hand, if some of these solutions are replicated at every merchant we visit, in particular those that require our payment card details, not only personal data but also our sensitive financial data could be held at any number of locations. Is the burden of keeping those details secure really what merchants want?  Given the significant data breaches some major retailers have experienced over the last couple of years it is a risky path to take and could lead to the downfall of some businesses.

While there are many apps and third party companies available for converting receipts into a digital format by taking photos, scanning or sending paper receipts off somewhere to have the data extracted, our aim should be to develop a solution that gives us the choice of not having to print a receipt at all. What we want from a digital alternative is to automate the process of receiving receipts and to unburden ourselves from the storage and management of them.

So let's look at some of the solutions currently in use that give us the option of not having to receive a paper receipt. There are many ideas emerging and a lot of merchants and receipt companies are offering combinations thereof.


Email is probably the most common solution to date. Initially, providing for this option involved some kind of POS add on or integration supplied by a third party receipt company, however many POS vendors themselves are now  incorporating email address capture and email receipt issuance as part of a maintenance upgrade of their POS software. Vendors new to the market include it as standard. I think consumers are divided as to whether divulging some personal information as a trade off to receive a digital receipt is acceptable.  There is also privacy, storage and management considerations, the increased risk of fraud, phishing scams and unwanted marketing material to consider.

SMS to mobile
This requires an app, cloud account and/or loyalty membership to set up phone details.

Consumers scan a QR code or barcode to receive a digital receipt.
Consumers use NFC to 'tap n go' a receipt to their mobile.
Merchant app that allows you to pay and then store a receipt accessible via the app or cloud account.

Consumers scan a loyalty card to receive a digital receipt via email or sent to a cloud account.

Payment Card
Solutions that require the consumer to register their payment card details with a third party so that when that card is used at participating merchants the digital receipts are automatically sent to the consumer's digital post box, a cloud storage account, or sent to an email address.
With so many different approaches to providing a solution, new problems of added friction, management, storage, consolidation, privacy and security present themselves for consumers. Additionally, there are no guarantees that a merchant or third party providing a receipt facility will remain in business; they could cease operation at any time. Maybe the old shoebox wasn't so bad after all! 

It's becoming obvious that for any digital receipt solution to be successful it must be all about the consumer, and for the most part current solutions are all about the merchant. They are marketed to the merchant as a tool for post sale communication with their customers, however from some customer’s  point of view this tack can come across as aggressive and invasive, and why should consumers have to trade off some personal information just to receive a digital receipt anyway? They don't have to do that to get a paper version. 

If we stop thinking from the merchant’s perspective, “These are my customers”, but instead think from the customer’s perspective, “I share my business with many merchants”, then the direction we should take becomes a lot clearer.

An idea that's been around for a while now is a concept whereby the digital receipt is generated at the POS, linked to the originating payment transaction and then made available to consumers via their online/mobile banking transaction history.  It's an interesting prospect to think we could just make a card payment and that's it; no email addresses, phone numbers, user ids, passwords, apps or payment card details required - nothing. The receipt would be available to us whenever we needed to access it - and only when we needed to access it - a pull solution which puts the customer in control rather than a push solution which puts the merchant in control. The issuing, storage and management of receipts would effectively become invisible. Banks store our financial information securely and privately, maybe it's the best place for our purchasing history as well.  They are certainly a trusted partner for both consumers and merchants, more so than many new third party companies.

This solution also works independent of the payment device used.  In the same way a payment transaction is processed regardless of whether you're paying by physical card, virtual card, mobile, or wearable etc, so the receipt would be too.  It doesn't depend on providing an email address or having a smart phone in your hand. Everyone should be able to enjoy the convenience of digital receipts.

I've seen a lot of articles talking about shopping in a Virtual Reality mall, shopping via an Internet of Things  connected device, shopping using wearables, and while watching some pretty neat videos showcasing how these applications might work, one thing jumps out at me immediately; what about the itemised merchant receipt? It made me wonder why merchant digital receipts are for the most part absent from the payments industry dialogue.  

One reason for this may be about the perception of what is the end point of the payment process. For payments entities the issuance of the payment receipt is the conclusion of the transaction, whereas for consumers, receiving the merchant receipt signifies the end of the shopping experience. Technically, the merchant receipt has nothing to do with the payment transaction, but in a consumer's mind it has everything to do with it. While providing this functionality has not been within the purview of the payments industry in the past, the wave of digital innovation sweeping over the globe has perhaps changed our expectations. 

The notion of having receipts connected to the payment transaction is percolating throughout the payments industry. Several examples are:

American Express OPEN offers ReceiptMatch for their business cards. It works by allowing users to upload photos of receipts and email receipts and then it attempts to match them to corresponding transactions. If it is unable to determine a match the user has the option to manually match it to a transaction themselves.

Capital One allows users to capture receipts via their Capital One Wallet by snapping a photo of a paper receipt to connect it to a payment transaction in the app.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) allows for receipt capture via their Ink from Chase app. The user can snap and save a receipt right after their purchase.

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is adding digital receipt functionality to their mobile wallet according to NFC World. Royal Bank of Canada’s Jeremy Bornstein says “We know that there’s a number of companies that are trying to do truly digital receipts. We think it will be an incredibly powerful tool that completes the cycle of commerce".

 Mondo allows customers to attach a photo of a receipt to a payment transaction via their app.

 Pleo is introducing a company payment card (physical for in-store purchases and virtual for online) along with supporting mobile and web apps which allow the matching of receipts to transactions.  In-store receipts are captured by taking a photograph of them right after a purchase, and for online purchases Pleo keeps track of email receipts arriving in your inbox.

Consumers and financial institutions are seeing the value in connecting the receipt with its corresponding payment transaction but the real advantage will come from this being automatically done via POS integration. This is the key to reducing friction, the possibility of error and fraud, and will truly make a difference to our daily lives.

There's no denying that all of us, at least once in awhile, and for any number of reasons, wish we could drill further down into a transaction. Many financial institutions are now seeking to add enhanced transaction data functionality to their software and although there are improvements, they cannot give you the full itemised details of each transaction. Connecting the receipt however, gives us all the information we need.

Today there is an increased focus on tools to help us manage our finances and monitor our spending patterns in a real time and contextual way. The feedback provided by these tools is only as good as the information fed into them so the more granular the information, the better. Receipts will supply a rich source of detailed information that can be analysed to give us a more complete and accurate picture.

An advantage that stands out for businesses relates to expense management. Many accounting systems already receive bank feeds to automatically load transactions. Now imagine how useful it would be to have the receipt already attached to the payment and transferred at the same time. Instead of separating them at the POS only to have to match them again later, why not keep them together from the start thus maintaining data integrity;  a trusted and true source of information from the POS to accounting.

The convenience, simplicity and universality of paper receipts has contributed to the longevity of their use and these factors will certainly be the key to what will eventually prevail in the way of a digital receipt solution. If it is customer oriented, can remove friction, have the potential to become ubiquitous, and offers security and privacy from the moment of creation by the merchant through to delivery and place of storage, then we may be looking at the future of digital receipts.


  1. Thanks for sharing this insightful analysis regarding how receipts of goods and services can make everyday living so much less of a headache.