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Paper receipts fall out of favor as businesses turn to email

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Nicole Orlando, 38, of Moon checks out at Macy's in Ross Park Mall on Tuesday and opted to receive an email receipt instead of a printed receipt. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Nancy Beyer left the women's apparel checkout counter at the Macy's in Ross Park Mall on Tuesday without her receipt.

No problem. It would be home in O'Hara before she was — and on her mobile device.

E-mailed receipts, instead of printed ones, are becoming the preferred proof of purchase for more retailers and shoppers these days, retailing experts say.

Eight of 25 major retailers, or about one-third, said they offer customers the option of receiving receipts by email, according to a survey by market researcher Epsilon last fall.

“Whatever store offers it, I do it,” said Beyer, who is in her 50s. She first opted for electronic over paper at Nordstrom about a year ago “to save trees,” she said.

“It was really born out of our company's sustainability strategy,” said Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski in Cincinnati. “And one of those objectives is to use less paper in every part of the company.”

Other retailers adopting the practice include Sears, Old Navy, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and the Gap. The new wrinkle in receipts includes Marriott Hotels and Wells Fargo Bank, for automated teller machine (ATM) receipts.

South Side-based American Eagle Outfitters does not offer electronic receipts, said spokeswoman Stephanie Oschwald. PNC Bank's advanced-function ATMs do not provide that option, but the bank is evaluating it, said spokesman Patrick McMahon.

“For the most part, it's your big-box retailers, but it's grown to mid-tier retailers, too,” said Pam McAtee, senior vice president of client services at Epsilon, an arm of Alliance Data Systems Corp. in Dallas.

“I've been doing this whenever it's offered,” said Nicole Orlando, 38, after purchasing apparel at Macy's in Ross Park.

“I can pull it up on my email, and it helps me organize things,” said Orlando, who began spurning paper receipts about two years ago.

The first company to adopt electronic receipts was Apple at its retail stores in 2005.

Retailers have several reasons to email receipts, rather than issue paper ones, experts say.

“The primary reason we've heard is better customer satisfaction,” McAtee said.

“Some retailers also like it for the opportunity to cross-sell” related merchandise, McAtee said. “Because the receipt is in an email format, it can link back to the company's website.”

Macy's piloted electronic receipts in about 50 markets in fall 2011. E-receipts fanned out across all its stores in February, March and April. About 12 percent of Macy's 20 million account holders choose e-receipts.

“That's a lot of folks and a lot of paper,” Sluzewski said.

John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., said e-receipts represent an environmentally friendly strategy for retailers, a cost savings and a better customer experience.

“It's certainly greener,” Talbott said. “It saves printer ink and paper. And we all know what it's like to be in line at the store when the register tape runs out or malfunctions.”

Experts say consumers can keep better track of purchases with e-receipts, and returning merchandise is easier for customers with mobile devices.

But e-receipts are not for everyone.

“I prefer paper receipts because I can keep track of them easier,” said Macy's shopper Jen Hartman, 38, of Cranberry Township. “A paper receipt can't get lost in all the email I get.”

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.

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