Paper vs. Digital Receipts

Although Apple was one of the first companies to offer Americans the option of a digital receipt instead of a traditional slip of paper way back in 2005, e-receipts are still only a fraction of receipts given to customers at brick-and-mortar stores.

So what’s holding customers back from making the conversion from printed to e-receipts? Afterall, e-receipts save paper and they’re easy to file away and hold on to without taking up space in kitchen drawers. Well, it turns out there is a flipside to this convenience that gives some shoppers pause.

From digital receipts to digital marketing

A digital receipt—one delivered instantly to your email inbox upon purchase—is easy to file and to find if you want to return an item, make a warranty claim, or need a receipt for tax or business purposes. However, with your email address now on record, a merchant can use this access point to cross-sell you more products, offer personalized sales incentives, deliver their e-newsletter—basically sell you more stuff. Your inbox could become flooded with frequent sales emails.

You can always unsubscribe or opt out of any merchant emails you no longer wish to receive, but it’s still a step you might need to take for each company you receive e-receipts from. Not all merchants and not all sales systems automatically sign you up for these additional marketing emails; they may give you an opt-out option right at the counter.

If you shop with a vendor who uses a Square to process transactions and give your email for a digital receipt, that address becomes linked with whatever credit card you use. All future transactions with that card through a Square device will trigger an automatic e-receipt to your email address, even if you chose to receive a printed receipt. While your email has become a secured part of that credit card’s profile, businesses themselves will not have access to the email address, preventing any spam-like marketing emails.

While the thought of more marketing emails in your inbox might induce a nervous twitch, it’s not all bad news and inconvenience. Linking purchases with your email address allows sellers to offer your personalized coupons and sales offers, which can be convenient. It also allows you to keep the coupon with you at all times (assuming you have a smart phone that can access your email).

Keeping your info safe

Anytime you give information, like your email address, to another party—a retailer, for example—there’s a chance that information could be stolen or abused. If your favorite clothing store has your email address on file for e-receipts and their customer information is stolen by hackers, it could be used to develop tailored phishing attacks against you. The hackers could send you emails that look just like the retailer’s emails in order to trick you into giving away more information, like banking or credit card information.

Another problem you could run into is having a sales clerk enter the wrong email address for your digital receipt and it gets sent to someone else. Now, not only do you not have a record of your purchase, but someone else may have some of your payment information. To avoid this, ask anyone signing you up for an e-receipt to read back your email address (if you’re not entering it yourself) and then wait to receive the e-receipt email (assuming you have a smartphone) before leaving the store.

Are printed receipts toxic?

Maybe you’ve decided with these concerns of information safety and spam emails that you’d like to stick to good old-fashioned printed receipts. Unfortunately, these are not without their own faults and dangers.

The non-profit Green America reports that, in the U.S. alone, paper receipt production uses an estimated 12.4 million trees, 13.2 billion gallons of water, and emits 4 billion pounds of CO2 per year. Well, at least you can recycle those paper receipts once you’re done with them, right?

Not necessarily.

Some paper receipts contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS), chemical compounds that prevent them from being recycled, forcing pounds and pounds of paper receipts to be dumped into landfills. Some reports claim these chemicals pose health risks to those who are in regular contact with them as well as environmental risks.

So, where is the happy middle ground between the pros and cons of digital and printed receipts? Much of it comes down to practicing digital safety—only providing your email address to merchants you trust and educating yourself on email phishing scams—and only accepting printed receipts when you know they are phenol-free.

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