My wallet is bulging – with paper receipts

I prefer to pay for nearly everything using my debit card. (The exceptions are the snack vending machines at work, because they talk back to lusers with an annoying Sirius Cybernetics voice. I prefer to receive receipts, and keep them to check that the entries on my bank statements are believable. However, this means my wallet tends to bulge with valueless pieces of paper.

It struck me tonight that this is a huge waste of resources too: paper, printing ink, electricity, whatever the printer is made of, people’s time putting rolls of till receipt into machines (been there, done that, bought the t-shirt with the image of trapped fingers) and so on. And there is no need for any of this!

A café I used to frequent emailed receipts to customers in its loyalty scheme. Apple  emails receipts when I buy things in their physical stores. If I buy anything online, guess what? I see a confirmation web-page, which I could print (or save as a PDF) – and an emailed receipt. So emailing receipts is far from impossible. By the way, I bank with Smile – I’ve not handled a paper bank statement for at least 10 years.

So I asked myself ‘why can’t every store do this?’ it’s pretty simple to answer that (i) I’m not sure I want my email address on that many organisations’ records. What happens if I make a mistake when I tell the store my address, or the till operator mis-enters my address into the till? Why should other customers wait through conversation along the lines of

No, that’s Bruce with a ‘c’, not an ‘s’.

No, there is no ‘k’ in that part of my address.

Look, can I type it, please? I’ll get it right.

So, what if instead of receiving a paper receipt, the receipt ended up on my debit card? No wasted time, no wasted paper, no wasted ink, no assistants taking time off to deal with wounds inflicted receipt-printer teeth.

Then when I get home and have time, I wave my card at my computer and the receipts are automagically downloaded, possibly even going directly into my accounting package, to be reconciled with entries in my bank statements.

That ticks my techie and environmental boxes. I know many people aren’t as rigorous as I am about checking things, and many more don’t even want paper receipts, except to validate expenses claims or to be able to return unwanted or substandard purchases. So they are not going to care if they don’t receive paper receipts every time.

So are there any reason why this won’t work? I understand that currently expenses claims must be validated with paper receipts. (My employer insists on them.) But securely signed digital objects surely aren’t impossible. Also, I’d need to get my own card reader – another expense. Digital receipts would need to be in open, cross-platform and human-readable formats. (So that any digital receipt can be taken into any other producer’s accounting package, either automagically or by opening, copying and pasting into my spreadsheet.)

And how do I trust the system? For example, what if I remember being told the price is £25 but later find the receipt says £50? Should I see on my card’s screen at the time of purchase ‘You have just spent £25’ – and then write that down as some form of ‘proof’? There are other conceivable issues, such as what happens when buy something for £6, then later find my bank statement says £12. I’ll care about this if it’s a reimbursable cost but only the amount on the receipt can be reclaimed?

So there are things that could go wrong, and ways that such systems can be inconvenient. But would they make up for all the wasted resources? Answers in the comments please!


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