Most are very aware of the common consumer in-store checkout experience – items are totaled, the price is tallied, and the consumer exchanges cash or credit for their goods, which are condensed into a bag for easy carrying and accompanied by a receipt as proof of purchase.
But most are not aware of the layered environmental impact of this exchange.
For example, an estimated 5 trillion plastic bags are used every year, which is equivalent to 160,000 every second and 700 per person. That plastic bag is used, on average, for 12 minutes and it takes up to 1,000 years to break it down in a landfill. (Source: The World Counts)
In addition, the paper receipt production process uses more than 3 million trees and 9 billion gallons of water each year. The production also produces about 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide and 320 million pounds of solid waste. (Source: Green America: Skip the Slip report)
So as retailers and consumers, what can be done to address the growing environmental impact of the retail purchase exchange?
There are two ways to create change, both of which are already in use by some of the top retailers. Those changes include reducing the use of single-use plastic bags and replacing paper receipts with e-receipts.
Plastic Bags Be Gone
The argument for banning plastic bags is simple: fewer bags are used, fewer are produced. That means less plastic waste in our landfills and blowing around in the oceans and less pollution from production.
Currently, there are eight states that initiated single-use plastic bag bans for retail shopping. Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. There are also myriad cities enacting similar rules – such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston – with the hope that retailers and consumers will accept the trend, and at some point in the near future, single-use plastic bags will be eliminated from the retail experience.
This focus, while can be an inconvenience for those who forget to carry their own reusable bags or continue purchasing alternative bags at checkout, is proven to greatly reduce the environmental impact of plastic and help slow climate change. (Source)
Consumers Prefer Less Paper, More Data
There are plenty of reasons why consumers and retailers require receipts: proof of purchase, warranties, recalls, refunds, etc. However, none of the reasons should deter retailers and consumers from using the alternative to paper receipts, which are e-receipts, and can meet those needs. The EU agrees with making this shift and is pushing an agenda to replace paper receipts with e-receipts by 2025.
Also, according to the Green America Receipt Survey, 9 out of 10 consumers want merchants to offer a digital receipt option. Retailers such as Apple, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Nordstrom, and even one of the notorious paper receipt offenders, CVS, are moving toward digital documentation. In fact, in the company’s 2020 CSR report, CVS reported sending more than 104 million digital receipts to CVS Pharmacy customers (and also joined the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag to rethink single-use retail shopping bags).
For those retailers, offering a digital receipt experience aligns with their sustainability focus. However, the benefits extend well beyond a commitment to sustainability. This shift is also about improving the customer experience and making data more accessible.
According to Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on past purchases, or knows their purchase history.
So, consider the data contained on a receipt for a transaction: purchase date and time, product description and SKU number, total cost including taxes and fees, and method of payment. This information can be used by a retailer to help manage expectations, provide customization for consumers, and create a better overall experience.
For consumers, there are times when they need a receipt to show proof of purchase or check a product SKU or purchase date in the event of a recall. With paper receipts, the consumer must fumble around to find the paper receipt if it wasn’t already tossed shortly after checkout. Whereas digital data is stored in a consumer account on a retailer’s website or within a mobile app. The information can be easily accessed, searched for, and recalled when needed, eliminating the challenge of searching for faded and crumbled physical receipts and then reading through the dates and products to find the one that matches.
Data That Delivers
Now take all of that one step further. What if e-receipt data could be aggregated to show specific stats to a consumer? For example, merging SKU-level data with purchase details could invite a consumer to learn more about their spending habits. So rather than only being able to view a category of charges on a bank statement, an expanded view could offer SKU-level details about the transaction and be readily available as needed.
There’s a recall on lettuce? Okay, let’s check the e-receipt data to find out if the lettuce was purchased from the tainted batch and if the consumer should toss the lettuce and submit the purchase data to a manufacturer for a refund, or go ahead and eat the lettuce if the purchase information does not match the recalled batch.
In general, e-receipts are not only a positive solution for reducing waste and pollution, but also a way to help retailers provide a better customer experience and for consumers to have a better handle on their behaviors, spending, and even their health.
What Happens If We Do Nothing?
The biggest lingering question is: What happens if we do nothing? If retailers and consumers do not push for more environmentally-friendly experiences, then nothing will change. Climate change will continue to follow an accelerated trajectory and the fallout will be felt for decades to come. But if retailers and consumers join forces to address sustainability concerns and work toward creating a healthier environment, both retailers and consumers can reap the benefits of a cleaner planet and an improved customer experience.
EU initiative to move to eReceipts by 2025: https://www.valtiokonttori.fi/en/uutinen/the-benefits-of-an-e-receipt-for-use-by-businesses-by-2025/
Plastic bag movement:
8 states banned plastic bags: Eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags.