When the futurist idea of paperless offices is discussed, it’s often in the context of law firms, banks and bureaucrats. The purported cost savings alone make it worth looking into. Tesco trialled digital receipts at its self-service checkouts: instead of paper, the evidence of your daily shop shows up by email or through an app. Eliminating fraud is a big consideration here, but it is also about giving customers choice – paper or no paper – and providing a new marketing channel as offers and promotions are highlighted on the digital receipt.

Speaking of choice, paper receipts and forms will remain, it seems, for as long as the generations of non-digital natives expect them. Meanwhile, the minority without a smartphone simply aren’t in a position to see digital receipts or loyalty apps replace paper-based and card-based systems. The likes of Apple Pay and Stocard, which holds all of your loyalty cards together, obviously presume the user has a modern device.

Digital receipts in action

A more purely digital mechanism was adopted early on by UK fashion retailer Seventy Three Retail in the form of yReceipts, digital versions that replace the usual ribbons of soft paper that get thrown in the bag. Customers always have the yReceipt on hand as long as they have not forgotten their phone, which removes a little stress when handling returns and warranties. Plus, a properly branded e-receipt offers a way to engage with the customer well after the purchase is over. As yReceipts are integrated with point-of-service technology, they confer not only cost savings by forgoing all that paper and ink, they also provide data for better analysis of the customer base.

Time, space and resources

For retail operators, the driving factor for going paperless/cardless is usually just efficiency, but saving space and money do come into play. There’s also the better security afforded by a password-protected email account. Compare that to crumpled paper receipts, which often end up in the nearest public bin.

When buying a woolly jumper, we just don’t think about the hidden costs lurking behind a harmless receipt: enormous amounts of oil, pulp, energy and water go into paper production. Retailers worried about their carbon footprints could do worse than push for paperless transactions. (That said, charging devices and transferring data use up resources as well.)

While non-smartphone users go about their business, Internet shoppers and iPhone users are the mainstay of the customer base. Research tells us that expectations for how we shop are increasingly streamlined (and personalised), cashless and paperless. Retailers will be leading the way or following suit.