Should we scrap paper receipts or will it simply lead to more spam?

Updated on 23 April 2019 | 7 Comments

Millions of us simply ditch paper receipts as soon as we get them, but going digital isn't without its risks.

What do you do when a cashier hands you a receipt? If you ditch it as soon as possible, then you certainly aren’t alone.

According to research from the Beat The Receipt campaign, people across the UK chucked around ten billion paper receipts straight in the bin last year.

Two thirds of receipts go into the rubbish immediately, while one in five is lost or too faded to actually be of any use. That’s the equivalent of around 53,000 trees, or the whole of Sherwood Forest.

This is not just a massive waste of time, but there’s an enormous environmental effect too.

About half of receipts are printed on thermal paper, where the typing is burnt on. But the chemicals used mean they can’t be recycled.

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Are you a binner or a saver?

I have to say the study certainly struck a chord with me.

I know that holding onto receipts is a good idea from a consumer rights perspective  if something goes wrong and you need to get a purchase replaced, then having a receipt to hand certainly makes it easier to get your money back.

But very often I simply shove the receipt in my wallet or pocket, only to forget it’s even there until my wallet is sufficiently lumpy that I need a clear out.

Equally, there are plenty of occasions when I get handed a paper receipt, only to immediately stick it in the bin.

Let’s be honest, I’m not likely to need to go back and get a refund for some paracetamol from Boots. Whenever given the option I say not to worry about a receipt, but all too often it’s in my hand before I have the chance to say no.

And I’m clearly not alone. If we aren’t making use of receipts, either leaving them to linger in our bags or chucking them straight in the bin, then what’s the point?

Digital receipts: spam risk?

The current receipt situation is particularly galling when you consider that there is a very simple digital alternative.

A host of retailers offer customers the option of a digital receipt rather than a paper one, including the likes of Halfords, Gap, New Look and Currys PC World.

So when you pay you simply provide them with your email address, and the receipt is then sent electronically.

This strikes me as a very sensible move.

Not only does it save on environmental issues, but it makes it much easier to find those receipts should any issues occur  a quick search of my email is going to be a lot more productive than going through my wallet, pockets and shopping bags in order to hunt down an elusive receipt.

Of course, these aren’t perfect. An investigation by consumer champions Which? last year found that a host of retailers that offer digital receipts use them as a marketing opportunity, even if you explicitly tell them you aren’t interested in receiving any further marketing info.

But I’d gladly ignore a banner on the e-receipt promoting ‘hot new styles’ over the current wasted paper arrangement.

Similarly, it will be important to actually keep an eye on your spam filter to ensure that receipts don’t end up being prevented from reaching your account.

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It won’t work for everyone

It would be wrong to assume that digital receipts will be the preference of all shoppers though. There are plenty of people who aren’t comfortable online, such as the elderly.

And just as there are some who prefer to handle their spending with actual cash rather than cards and contactless payments, there will be those who prefer the physical aspect of paper receipts.

But we don't need to ditch them entirely, but rather provide shoppers with a choice.

If more retailers start offering digital receipts, it will not only help people like me become a bit more organised with the paper trail for your spending, but it will provide an environmental boost too.

Do you find paper receipts useful? Would you be happy with a switch to digital receipts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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