More retailers offering to email shoppers receipts

December 27, 2011 8:12:31 PM PST
Like almost everything paper, receipts are going digital. More and more retailers are offering to skip paper and email shoppers a receipt instead. That way you get an instant electronic record of purchases. But should you be giving out your email to all those merchants?

The trend took off at Apple retail stores. For the past few years, customers who bought a gadget could instantly get their receipt in their email inbox.

"I think it's better; you have it you can always search your email," shopper Chad Wolbrink said.

"I like them a lot because my purse gets super cluttered," a shopper named Melissa said.

Now other retailers are following the lead. Nordstrom now offers receipts by email. So do the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Urban Outfitters.

"Five years from now, based on projections we're seeing and what retailers are saying, I think this will be ubiquitous," Seamless Receipts CEO Keith Cowing said.

Seamless Receipts makes the software for paperless receipts. He says it lets shoppers organize their records and retailers have a new way to reach customers.

"It's an opportunity for the retailer to hook the customer to get them to either come back for another purchase or go to the website," Cowing said.

He says 30-50 percent of customers say yes when offered the emails. But is it a good idea to give a retailer your personal information just to get a receipt?

"It's easier to keep track of and I can keep a file on my computer," a shopper named Alison said.

"It's definitely greener and I don't like wasting paper," a shopper named Zume said.

Others, however, see it as an invasion of privacy.

"I politely decline and say, 'Mo you may not have my phone number or my email address,'" shopper Sara Molstad said.

You may see your inbox flooded with promotions, but most retailers let you opt out of receiving ads by clicking a button or going the larger extra step of calling customer service. Others, like Gap stores, won't send any promotions unless you specifically register to receive them.

Cowing says receipts themselves can be marketing tools.

The Urban Outfitters receipt links customers to its store catalog and Banana Republic's receipt lets customers click through to the store's Facbeook page.

Some shoppers say it's too much interaction.

"I don't need my email account getting all clogged up with save 20 percent here and save 20 percent there," Molstad said.

"The technology is just starting to get adopted, so we aren't necessarily seeing the long-term implications or how that technology could be abused later," Electronic Frontier Foundation spokesperson Rainey Reitman said.

Reitman says her biggest concern is hackers getting hold of your personal shopping records.

"Our financial transactions are often very sensitive; we may purchase things from stores at particular times that we don't necessarily want a record of that's exposed just because you didn't have the strongest email password you could have," Reitman said.

She recommends a separate email account for items like e-receipts.

"I have my email address for friends and one for everything else -- junk mail and everything," Wolbrink said.

All the retailers mentioned in this story have privacy policies that promise they will not sell or share shoppers' email addresses; however some will keep track of your purchases to send you promotions. Before you hand over your email address, shoppers should ask the merchants how the data will be used.

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