Upgrading the Shopping Experience: Design Beyond E-receipts

 I was recently thinking about how I could routinize and improve my shopping experience…

First, physical receipts are useless for me. I am never going to keep track of them, especially when the item will pop up on my bank account anyway. I can always go online to see what I spent and where; I don’t need a receipt to do that. Another issue I have with receipts, especially at the grocery store, is that they often do not show you what you bought. Many items come up as codes or uninterpretable strings of letters and numbers that get me no closer to figuring out what I purchased.*

There are several companies out there providing e-receipt services (Proximiant, Transaction Tree) and retailers moving towards emailed receipts (Nordstroms and many others). However, in the ‘advanced’ e-receipts services like Proximiant, the end product is simply a picture of a traditional receipt on your phone. Is that really the best way to view a receipt? This is such a great opportunity to redesign what a receipt looks like and what it does, but companies are simply pushing to give customers exactly what they got before, and didn’t use.

Thinking through this redesign requires laying out what purposes the receipt is supposed to serve.

  1. Proof of purchase (for returns, reimbursements etc)
  2. Record of items purchased and cost

I think that proof of purchase is really the only intended purpose of the receipt, but the use of receipts for record keeping and budgeting has become a standard use.

Now, how can receipts be redesigned to serve those purposes, and possibly more? The receipts should be accessible on your phone or on the web. This is not a particularly revolutionary thought, and has already been accomplished. The receipts should also break down what you purchased in a way that lets you interact with individual items. For example, if you go to a large department store and buy a variety of items from groceries to sporting goods, that purchase shows up as one item in budgeting applications like Mint. If your digital receipt displayed your purchase by item, and was designed to interface with budgeting applications, you could categorize different items within the purchase and budget more effectively.

If receipts were broken down by item in a way that allowed third party applications to interact with the data, all sorts of uses are possible. In the specific context of grocery shopping, it would be great to be able to quickly pull up what you purchased in your last visit. You could then add items to a digital shopping list. Little things, like knowing how much food you bought and how much you went through, would allow you to optimize how much you purchase in future visits. Grocery stores could send you sales and coupons based on your purchases, which you could then add to your digital shopping list. 

E-receipt services already exist, but they are not upgrading the receipt, just making a digital image of it. These companies are also very focused on the business side of the interaction; using the information to connect with customers, provide targeted content, business analytics etc. Offering these services to businesses is important to get businesses on board, but I think the focus could be more on the customer experience. 


*This also happens on online banking platforms as well with a transaction name that does not match the vendor name.