It's time to get rid of cash register receipts

It's time to get rid of cash register receipts

Summary: Cash register receipts are environmentally irresponsible things, yet we could get rid of most of at a stroke using cheap technology that already exists.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Jack Dorsey, speaking at the National Retail Federation expo yesterday was opining on the topic of cash register receipts. 

Now, to be honest, I'm not clear what he was actually saying. I've read all the coverage of his talk, and it seems I'm not alone. Various outlets are covering him saying that we should "printing advertisements on the receipts" all the way through to "let's get rid of receipts and go electronic!"

Either way, whatever he was talking about ultimately he was there to push Square -- his product that allows SMEs to take credit cards using a smartphone. Square is now apparently worth about $5bn on top of Twitter's already ample $34 billion market cap. 

He's clearly doing something right.

But as a society, we're doing something wrong. Whatever Dorsey thinks about receipts, the bottom line is this: we need to be putting as much distance as possible between us and cash register receipts as possible.


Like most human beings, I’m not good at keeping New Year Resolutions, but back in 2012 I made one which I have kept -- mostly. I made a resolution to get rid of paper.

I got rid of as many paper bank and utility company statements as possible, and I stopped buying books that weren’t on Kindle. A big change I made was getting rid of all the odd bits of paper, Post-It Notes and the like. I now put everything that I need to remember on Evernote.

(If you don’t use Evernote, you should. It’s a simply superb piece of software.)

The one thing that I can’t crack though is receipts. Seemingly every time I leave the house I collect some new piece of paper that I simply do not need.

Imagine a world where there were no receipts. Imagine how much carbon and other resources we would save if we only got receipts when we actually needed them.


What’s stupid about this is that it’s the companies that provide the point-of-sale (POS) systems that can change this. In the first instance, all they have to do is not print the receipt by default, which of course they're all rigged to do because these systems all work like it's the 1980s.

Last year a Tesco branch local to me was running a pilot scheme to this effect. Above the till they had a sign saying that if you liked a receipt, you needed to ask. But because the software couldn’t handle not printing a receipt, they actually printed them out and threw them in the trash. Which if you’re standing in a store thinking about such things creates something of an “uh, what?” moment. But I get it – at least they’re doing something, and I guess it’s a pragmatic way of collecting data without a boatload of IT hassle.

Tesco - Would you like a receipt
Well, would you?

A more sophisticated thing to do here is to tie loyalty card usage through to electronic delivery of receipts. Most of the UK supermarkets run loyalty cards, and as such customers are used to swiping their cards as part of the transaction. A bit on the customer record that can be set using the store's online portal to say “please don’t spew out wasted paper for this transaction, just email them” is all that’s needed.

And then, voila. The POS system processes the loyalty card, pings the server and finds out I don't want a receipt, stops the print process, finally zapping a request into a queue to email it to me instead.

Again, that’s down to the provider of the POS system. To me though there’s a fantastic business case there. “Hey, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Safeway, Walmart, Whoever, can we save you $$$$ a year by selling you this system upgrade for $$? And in doing so can we give you a good pro-environment story to tell?”

It amazes me that this hasn’t happened yet.

I must mention though that there is one store in the UK that does electronic delivery of receipts, and it’s the Apple Store. I bought some stuff from them over the Christmas period and my receipt was delivered to my (Android) smartphone before leaving.

Expensify and Doxie

I should make some honourable mentions on this topic whilst I’m here.

Expensify is a super little app for capturing expenses whilst you’re out and about. I’m writing this in a restaurant, and when I’m done I’ll take a photo of the receipt using the Expensify app. Ultimately, I’ll get Expensify to send the receipt to my accountant, saving more carbon than sending it to him in the mail.

Expensify has a smart little feature called SmartScan. This takes the receipt and works out what it is. It’s a mostly automated process, but if the system gets stuck it’ll fire the document over to a human to look at. You can upload as many receipts as you like to Expensify in a month, but you only get a limited number of free SmartScan hits. Go over that, and they’re 20 cents each.

Expensify screenshot
Capturing a receipt using Expensify.

Another honourable mention here is Doxie. Doxie make a number of scanners, the goal of which is to make scanning easy. I have a Doxie One, which scans to an SD card. (Although on their website it says the One doesn’t have SD card support – so caveat emptor as they may have changed things since I bought mien.)

Mind you, I also have a laser printer that can scan. The Doxie is easier, and so I use that. Any paper that comes into my office that I want to keep, I scan it straightaway and then now and again file the scanned PDFs onto Google Drive.

It works well.

Doxie One
The Doxie One.


Much as I admire Jack Dorsey for Twitter, and Square, whatever he's doing with receipts he needs to be working to get rid of them, not working to make more of them.

We can only hope that struggling for things to talk about he came up with this idea thirty seconds before walking on stage and blurted it out without thinking about it.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • be sure to have that loyalty card so they can track you and your purchases

    this way you can have your receipt saved electronically for you or emailed. No worries they will never leak or sell your information... until they do or give it to the NSA and Police if they ask. We need to know who is buying the fertilizer and diesel fuel you know and other things too...
    • Perfect

      And prices are always the same on the shelves as they are in the computer, and hard drives never crash, and transmissions never get interrupted, and servers are never compromised, and POS terminals are never RAM scraped, and RAID 5 never has two disks fail...

      No, wait, all of that happens.

      Why would you advise getting rid of the cheap, reliable, obvious backup to failure? In the event of failure, what should the retailer do?
  • Till Receipts.

    Sorry, but I insist on a receipt at the till so I can see that I have not Been overcharged. We have two shops in my town, one that the shelf price never matches what you pay at the Till. The other shop has No Till receipts so one never knows if we are being overcharged. If you say we can use an App on our iPhones, the I can see everybody standing around the Till holding up the Que.
    I once had a Boss that said," if it's not written down then it did not happen ".
    Michael Munsey
    • Register output

      What I hate are those that only print out, and give me, a total for the credit card transaction, so I can't compare what I got to what was charged before I leave the area. This is especially important at fast food places, who routinely, and systematically, rip people off every chance they get. Not giving a receipt would just make this more pandemic than it already is.
      So, as the department store, ok, IF the transaction is charged to a credit card, but if the transaction is case, a receipt is needed.
  • Oh, for crying out loud

    Paper is made from renewable resources. Sheesh. So, swearing off paper doesn't make you better than me, just more stupid.
  • Unless I need it for warranty purposes . . .

    Unless I need it for warranty purposes, I generally toss them. I enter the data directly into YNAB's iPhone app (YNAB is the budgeting software I use).

    And I actually worked at a retail place once where I asked people if they wanted their receipt - a good 99% of them said no. When asked, very few people actually want it.

    . . . and yeah, the POS system would print the receipt regardless. If the customer didn't want it, it went in the trash.

    "(If you don’t use Evernote, you should. It’s a simply superb piece of software.)"

    It's okay. I do prefer the way OneNote allows you to organize things.
  • Go from paper to loyalty card

    How many loyalty cards do you want to carry with you? Maybe you have a big key ring or wallet or purse. And it's not like finding the right card will slow down the checkout process.

    You need to validate your purchase at the time of sale. Were you overcharged? Did they miss an item? Did they add the next person's item to your bill?

    Why would I give them my email address? So that I can get more spam? It's not like they'll sell my information. Oh wait, they do that, too. Or maybe I should have a receipt-only email address. Still get the spam there, but at least it's eliminated from my regular email.

    I'll stick with the paper. It's easy to recycle. In fact, it's usually made of recycled paper.
    • Why not.....

      Create ONE universal loyalty it stands now, I have to cary around a mess of them and that is a huge waste as well, when you think about it.

      But I do agree that it's time to get rid of paper receipts. Really, the easiest way to do this is for credit/debit card companies to provide a way for retailers to send a receipt through them. This would also help with disputes, because the credit card company would already have the receipt.
      • Why not? I'll tell you why not.....

        One day, i found a set of keys, house keys, car keys, office keys and who knows what else the keys were for. On those keys were a dozen loayalty cards, a library card, a gym membership scan in card, i beleive a home security pass card and who knows what else.
        I picked out one of the store loyalty cards (i will not name it) where i would probably get the answers i needed (young adults working behind the counter). I walked up to the service desk and proclaimed, "I found the set of keys and would like to return them, do you know who owns them?" and showed them the store loyalty card. Within two minutes, i had their name, phone number and home address. They handed me back the keys and I said thank you and left.

        I now had several choices what to do with those keys, now that i know WHO they belonged to, their TELEPHONE number AND their HOME ADDRESS. And keys to everything they own. By the way, the car keys were for a Lexus....You can decide what i did with them.

        I no longer key loyalty cards on my key ring (nor anything else that would make them distinguishable). I always have a second or third set of keys now.
  • Mostly agree

    While the paper used in most areas is from trees specifically grown for this purpose, & trees have a tendency to have seeds to grow more trees, I do wish there was an electronic alt. Some kind of electronic check book that retailers could just send that info to. One of the reasons I do so much net shopping, easier to keep track of "paper" trail.
    • trees have a tendency to have seeds to grow more trees

      Please elaborate on why this is bad. I was under the impress that growing more trees is a good thing - literally as well as figuratively green.
  • Receipts

    Two reasons for a receipt: reconciliation and returns. One should be reconciling purchases with credit card and bank statements. If you do not have a receipt that would be flag. Returns require proof of purchase which a receipt provides very quickly.
    • Returns

      One of the department stores my wife really likes has electronic receipts, and it is not necessary to have the paper receipt for a return, just scan the item number, and find when you bought it. Of course that convenience requires you have their store credit card...
  • Apple Stores haven't used paper for a while now....

    Receipts and warranties are issued via email.
    • oh f*** Apple!

      enough already!
  • Not Going to Happen…

    in my world. (1) Getting a retailer to accept a returned product without a receipt would require extensive new software so the cashier could look up the data about the sale. This won't be possible soon (or ever) soon for lots of small retailers, and the difficulty in getting required information about the sale from, "My wife bought it sometime last week" will be unacceptable to both the customer and the store management. (2) I make many small purchases with cash. Giving my e-mail address to the clerk to send to my computer in these cases would be a stupid waste of time, as would having me type the information into a terminal. (3) I don't give out my e-mail to just everyone, particularly to a clerk at a convenience store where I stop in to buy a candy bar. I don't need/want a receipt in most of these cases, but if I happen to buy something expensive or that I may want to return, I want a written record of the purchase, wherever it's made and however it's paid for. (4) Lots of older people don't have internet access so they can receive a receipt.

    All in all, I think it's a solution to a problem that hardly exists.
  • Authors idiocy in appealing to mindless consumers

    One more entity holding and selling your personal data for the sake of sending you tons more email spams about crap you do not want or need.
  • It's not the receipt, it's the length

    If I buy one item from Safeway, I get a 12 inch receipt telling me about rewards program, their gas points, their online store, and their ad nauseam ancillary things that some VP in marketing thought I should know about. Getting rid of that all that non-sense can add up. Think about it. Save 8"x3" paper times 2,000 receipts per day per store times the number of stores times 365 days per year adds up to a lot of paper.

    I like the idea of opting-out using rewards cards, but that doesn't do much for people who want to maintain their privacy. For those people, I would offer the option of receipt that had a QR-code or short-link, so you would save 90% of the paper but still be able to lookup all the details if you need to.
    • I agree, receipts are way too long.

      And some companies put LOTS of white space above and below their logo, sometimes putting their survey information right below the logo, sometimes below the totals and above the date and time stamp. Then they put several ads, disclaimers, etc. below that. Since I like to keep receipts in a limited-width pocket (plastic coupon holder), I have to find creative ways to fold and/or cut the paper to make the store name, total, partial card number, and date and time stamp visible on one short page, to make it easier to enter them in the computer and match them up with the bank statements.

      If receipts were shorter, consisting of just the vital data, with a partial cut (allowing for tearing off) separating this from the "extras" they want to add, this would be much easier for consumers who want to reconcile receipts with statements later.
  • Had to stop reading

    All this "carbon" B.S. really distracts from the real reasons to ditch receipts. Why can't intelligent people understand that they've been hoodwinked by Algor. CARBON is not an issue, get over it. There is NO GLOBAL WARMING. The Sun rises and sets, the climate changes. NATURAL OCCURRENCE. For god's sake, lets move on.