The receipt revolution!

I am mad about receipts. As I have written before:

– The receipt is the perfect example of a broken experience, as defined by Seth Godin.

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Look at any typical receipt and you would have a hard time understanding most of it. Batch numbers, RRN, Terminal Id, Merchant #, and other random pieces of numbers and letters. In most cases the product name is not even recognizable and the merchant name is broadly defined. If you try to remember where you bought a product, how much it was etc, chances are al receipt will not help you because it is not designed for the customer.

But improving the receipt is not just about making it more clear, sending it by email, putting it on the web… Making receipts an experience may become a key aspect of mobile payments. The question is : what needs to happen when payments disappear?

One of the goals of Square (and Card Case is a first step in this direction) is to change the payment experience:

“This is truly the most seamless way to pay,” said Megan Quinn, director of products for Square. “It becomes more about the interaction between customer and merchant and that relationship rather than the actual act of the payments. We want to make payments fade away. People don’t appreciate that; they enjoy making a purchase and feeling like a regular at places they shop.”

Square’s “magic” has nothing to do with its dongle but is with its capacity to be the first coherent and complete link between the merchant and the customer. Controlling the all experience is key to extract the most benefit from the payment graph : always accurate product catalog, real identity, metadata on payment (localization, time, previous payments and patterns), all these elements create a rich data set for each payment, that can benefit both the merchant and the customer. In the middle of this, as a memento of each purchase made, is the receipt. But a purchase is not/ should not be a static event. If your best customers are regular customers, you need to maintain a constant relationship with them and they may be interested as well in engaging more with your business. Receipts could become implicit social graphs.

The first and most obvious use of social in receipt is for guarantees, support and repairs. No more digging around for a piece of paper when your computers fail, no more search for cryptic reference numbers (most people have a printer at home, not a HP Laserjet P2015-G). This becomes even more important for companies that aim at sustainable product management such as Patagonia: Patagonia Asks Its Customers To Buy Less.

“We realized that what was really needed was a mutual responsibility between company and customer for the full lifecycle of stuff,” Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s environment VP. “So we would try to reduce the amount of stuff that people buy, fixing products if they were broken, and asking people to clean out their garages and closets, so that if you have clothes you are no longer using, you put them back into circulation.”

Receipts are also the best resource to create community of users around products. These communities already exist, in a relatively unstructured way, in forums, blog posts … a central point of reference per product would help structure this content, link it together or link to a platform maintained by the producer. Receipts could also be used in collaborative consumption to track the use of a product when it is reshared, recycled with others.

In VRM, intelligent receipts could play an important role, as it empowers customers with data that represent their relationship with a merchant. This information could be leverage by them to reverse their relationship with merchants.

Using this data is not new … some digital companies have been doing it for some time. Tripit is a good example. It mines data contained in flight / hotel receipts to create a travel plan or even share this information with others. In theory, it could also mine price data to determine if you are overpaying for your trip.

Interest in receipts is growing and several companies are trying to position themselves in this market. Onereceipt, Lemon, Slice are all trying to aggregate users receipts and transform them in usable data. Most focus on expenses management for users, but I am not sure this is the best angle to adress this market.

Hopefully these will be soon definitely something of the past.

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  • Yann, good post. As I read it, I wondered whether retailers actually want to improve the receipt experience. A little story: many years ago I did a fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate School of Banking. I vividly recall one of the classes about customer service. The case study was Nordstrom. The professor pointed out that Nordstrom’s official return policy specified that the department store would take back anything, and I mean anything. Once, a consumer brought in a used, old tire that he had never purchased at Nordstrom to begin with. True to form, Nordstrom took “back” the tire, and I think gave the consumer some sort of store credit. Now whether this story is true or not is beside the point. Rather, I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of retail outlets do not subscribe to a “customer service above all” approach. When you turn receipts into data, you are also turning the receipt into a more actionable vehicle. How many of us have warranties on products, but because we cannot find the receipt, we cannot act on that warranty? Do retailers or manufacturers truly want consumers to be able to act on their warranties, for example? I’m not so sure, despite the obvious benefits to consumers.

  • Anonymous

    Yes but longer term, who would you rather shop with? The store that supports you or the other one? I think the success of the Apple Store and their Genius program shows the most likely answer.

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