Scrap the Paper: The Environmental and Economic Case for eReceipts

 Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto

Creating and distributing paper receipts requires vast amounts of natural resources resulting in high costs for retailers and problems for the environment. In addition, paper receipts are a nuisance for consumers: they can be overly long, cluttering purses and pockets, and are often difficult to recall when necessary. To make matters worse, repeated exposure to harmful chemicals within paper receipts represents a danger to the retail associates that handle them each day.

The Consumer Outcry Against Paper Receipts

A cogent example of consumer outrage regarding paper receipts is found in the infamous story of CVS, which issues long scrolls of paper for each in-store transaction. The uproar began in 2010 on Twitter (refer to Twitter handles @cvsreceipts and #cvsreceipts) where CVS customers began registering their contempt by uploading photos of ridiculously lengthy purchase receipts. The protest hit a tipping point in May 2016 when Jimmy Kimmel of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” called out CVS for its abuse of paper. Soon after, CVS president Helena Foulkes appeared on the show to publicly proclaim that CVS was adopting digital receipts and committing to reduce the length of its paper receipts by 25%. Despite this commitment, in January 2018, Kimmel followed up to discover that the situation at CVS had not changed. "I thought we fixed this! Don't make me boycott CVS. I'm putting you back on notice, CVS,” Kimmel said. While the CVS example may be considered by some as an extreme case, the outcry demonstrates strong public sentiment and provides a clear warning for retailers.

Environmental Risks Associated with Paper Receipts

Huffington Post contributor Will Hines highlights the impact of paper receipt manufacturing on the environment when he declared that “Over 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees and 1 billion gallons of water are consumed each year in the creation of receipts in the United States alone, generating 1.5 billion pounds of waste.” A Green America analysis further stated that “If just one company as large as Walgreens…ends the use of paper receipts, over 55,000 trees and 58.8 million gallons of water are saved, and 17.6 million pounds of CO2 will be prevented from entering the atmosphere.” Stepping beyond the environmental concerns, paper receipts are also problematic from a public health perspective.

Health Risks Associated with Paper Receipts

According to PayJunction, many print receipts should not be recycled because they are printed on “chemically treated thermal paper.” The coating applied to this paper often contains BPA (bisphenol A), a known endocrine system disrupter that is dangerous to people when repeatedly exposed. Unlike BPA in bottles and cans (which is bound within the products themselves) BPA found in paper receipts is in a free form that can easily be absorbed through the skin. A 2014 Newsweek article, citing a study by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, confirms this. “Initially,” the article says, “all participants handled the receipts without wearing gloves.” Then, “about half of the participants handled receipts again, but this time they wore gloves. Two hours after touching the receipts without gloves, the BPA levels in the participants' urine was significantly elevated, rising from 1.8 micrograms of BPA per liter to 5.8 micrograms per liter.” The participants without gloves were tested again eight hours later and researchers “found that the BPA levels went up 11.1 micrograms per liter, an almost five-fold increase.”  Similar studies from the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Center and Medscape underscore the very real health concerns related to BPA exposure in humans.

Powerful Economics

As if the environmental and public health implications were not enough, the economics related to print receipts are equally concerning. Maxwell Arnold, analyst and content producer at Global Blockchain, breaks down the receipt costs for retail brands. He notes that “while receipts are viewed as a trivial expense if you’re… doing 100,000 transactions per day (or 36.5 million transactions per year), and each transaction costs you a cent, you're spending $365,000 per year in receipts alone.” Extend those numbers across the retail industry in the U.S and the amount of receipt paper consumed points to “roughly $4 billion in thermal paper expenses per year” reports Celerant Technology Corp.

An Ideal Alternative to Paper

Although BPA-free paper receipts succeed as a healthier alternative, electronic receipts represent an ideal solution that is not only consumer-friendly but also environmentally conscious and economically sound. Today, up to 75% of customers opt for digital receipts. eReceipts are convenient at checkout and are easily recalled by the consumer in cases when a proof of purchase is required. Beyond these comparative benefits, digital receipts further enable retail marketers to capture more, valid emails. And because email receipts boast the highest open and click-through rates of any consumer email (up to 80% open rates and click-through up to 15%) they are an ideal vehicle for boosting loyalty signups, increasing survey responses, and generating bounceback revenue.  For retailers like Aldo and Destination XL, adopting eReceipts has resulted in a six-figure incremental revenue stream and an ROI of 320%. How’s that for a paper alternative?

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