/ Shopping

Receipt sir? Yes, send it to my email please

Every year, British retailers give us 11.2bn paper receipts, at a cost of £32m. These apparently weigh over 7.5m kilograms – around the same as 1,380 male elephants. Is it time to switch to digital receipts?

According to receipt processing and management service ExpenseMagic, if you put those 11.2bn receipts end-to-end they’d measure 1.8m kilometres. That’s equivalent to 140 times around the equator, or the same as going to the moon and back twice.

What a colossal waste of paper.

The charm of a paper receipt

Still, I’m in two minds about this. After switching to online banking and billing, I’m happy that my doormat isn’t covered in piles of post (apart from the odd junk mail).

But I still think there’s something reassuring about getting a paper receipt when you’re shopping on the high street. You can pop it in your wallet and keep it just in case you need to return your purchase. You can even keep it as a souvenir in order to remember that special day out with your significant other (or not).

Yet, when I look at US retailers, like Apple, Sears, K-mart, Gap, Banana Republic and Best Buy, issuing digital e-receipts for their customers, I start to think about the amount of paper, money and wallet space we could save in ole Blighty.

With many UK shops now offering contactless payments, perhaps it’s time they modernised further and ditched paper receipts altogether?

Bulging wallet – money or receipts?

It was only yesterday that the Which? Convo team was denied a discount on our pub grub, due to this particular establishment refusing a digital voucher. They were adamant that they needed a paper copy to put into their till – we were keen to push them into the 21st Century.

Most of the time paper receipts wallow in my wallet, building up over the weeks before they make it impossible to shove my wallet into my back pocket. Then comes the task of sorting them into the ones you want and the ones you don’t, and then shredding the latter so you can dispose of them safely and responsibly.

With an e-receipt, there’s no such problem. Pop them into a secure folder in your email inbox, or sort them into a spreadsheet – job done.

Paper, scissors, phone

Of course, there are a few negatives to digital receipts. You’ll have to give retailers your email address, which then potentially leaves you open to their maddening marketing messages. Sure, that might be good for them, but not so much for us.

Perhaps they’ll soon be able to ping e-receipts directly to our smartphones when we swipe for a contactless payment, hence removing the need for an email.

Of course, if you don’t have a smartphone or rarely use your email, digital receipts might not be suitable. My response would be to say that if Britain’s retailers can at least start offering e-receipts to those of us who want them, maybe we can stop wasting so much paper.

Should shops offer digital e-receipts?

Maybe - as long as I can choose between paper and digital receipts (45%, 148 Votes)

Yes - I'd like receipts emailed to me (29%, 94 Votes)

No - I like getting paper receipts (26%, 87 Votes)

Total Voters: 330

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“1.8km. That’s equivalent to 140 times around the equator, or the same as going to the moon and back twice.” Really ? Im guessing you’re not meaning km = kilometer then

No probs. I just hope they’re using recycled paper and not helping to cut down rainforests. Now that’s a scary thought.

Stephen says:
29 April 2012

The report said 1.8m kilometres in the first place. William should have read more carefully before criticising.

My original comment in quotes was cut and pasted directly from this web page. (I’m too lazy to re type it). Patrick has since corrected it. Maybe someone should have read the whole thread and you’ll see Patrick thanking me and commenting he’s edited it. Sigh

Ricki says:
7 February 2015


The ideal way of dealing with large numbers is of course scientific notation, something many of us will have learned at school. 1.8m kilometres then becomes 1.8 x 10^9 metres. That is so much easier than expressing large distances in the number of London buses end-to-end or using the old imperial system.

kamesh says:
14 March 2016

@ Patrick Steen, Impressive article, I would like to get a similar figure for india – how do we get the quantum of paper receipts consumed by india

Kameswaran says:
21 March 2016

Thank you Patrick.

I recently bought 8 items in my local Tesco , the receipt is almost 10 inches long. But that’s nothing compared to Shell, top up with £50 of petrol and get a receipt that’s almost 9 inches long, although unlike Tesco don’t then print out even more junk for me. Supermarket s could safe alot of paper if they just discounted your current shop rather than try and tempt you back in with a stream of paper.

My one (from M&S) is only 7 inches long. Do they offer enlargements? 😉

If it’s from M&S you can take it back and change the size. 🙂

eReceipts? Yes please. And I’d save them all in Evernote http://go.which.co.uk/IaHNtb

ExpenseMagic says:
30 April 2012

eReceipts are the future but until then we at ExpenseMagic hope to make your life easier. Take a photo of your receipt and we will type all the data into a spreadsheet and send it to your Evernote account.

Sam Levenstein says:
27 April 2012

£32million saving for a £3.8 billion industry ???? WHO CARES IT’S ONLY 1 HUNDREDTH OF A PERCENT no where near enough to make any real economic impact

Well, I think card providers should have been thinking about this long ago.

Have an opt in scheme where when you auth transaction with a PIN the card machine takes a feed from the EPOS system of the transaction details. This is then transmitted at the same time as the auth request to the CCard company (XML/PDF/etc ideally formatted in the same way as the receipt but could just be smple info on each item bought) . The Ccard company then send that image / document /data to your nominated email address. You get all the information and easy storage of receipts. Would also possibly help with fraud and warranty claims?

Technically it isn’t too much of a stretch – I would guess the software on pin terminals would need a bit of a rewrite to send individual item data / the receipt doc.

steve says:
27 April 2012

Think of the economic impact on all those employed in paper manufacturing and forestry (paper manufacture has little to do with the rain forests – the timber comes from sustainable sources grown specifically for the purpose)

I recently ordered some bed linen online and returned it to the store (as instructed to do on the invoice). The shop assistant said she couldn’t refund my money because she didn’t know how much I paid for it – for some reason this wasn’t on the invoice. Luckily I had my phone with a copy of the email and was able to provide evidence of the price I paid. Not sure I’m ready to go cold turkey and only use digital receipts but it was a welcome back-up on this occasion.

If this is going to work without the time-consuming process of having to give your e-mail address separately to each retailer, it will have to be co-ordinated globally by the card networks (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club etc). Maybe the retailer could e-mail the receipt automatically for example to 4321432143214321@receipts.visa.com etc (i.e. cardnumber@receipts.cardnetwork.tld), and the card network would then forward it on to the card holder without divulging the card holder’s e-mail address to the retailer.

There remains a major problem, what about HMRC who require paper receipts as do the agencies involved, to prove expenditure on things like petrol and food when this can be claimed as a tax relief.

ExpenseMagic says:
30 April 2012

HMRC accept photographs of receipts.

Morag says:
30 April 2012

HMRC only require you to have proof, an email receipt is valid proof of purchase. I use digital versions all the time for business.

My agency requires the originals for the HMRC.

My email, my information, my shopping choices are MY business and my business only.
If they want to ask me using a survey, etc, then I can say no.

All evidence points to customers being charged higher prices for any extra costs involved in schemes that are supposed to benefit the customer, many cases even involve the business making a bit of extra profit on top.
Look how fair and beneficial card payments are!
Businesses get our information, charge higher prices based on our information and charge us way above the actual cost to authorise each card transaction, taking yet more money from every customer’s pocket.

Come on which? this post has a paragraph ratio of 8:3 in favour of digital receipts, this is after Patrick posts that he is, “still in two minds about this”
No mention or thought towards jobs in the paper industry, whether or not recycled paper is being used, ie, the bigger picture.
Ending the post with, “Of course, if you don’t have a smartphone or rarely use your email, digital receipts might not be suitable” – is dismissive of the public you proclaim to represent.

Who is pulling the strings here?
The majority of people in the UK do not use smartphones to shop, I would wager by a country mile.
Do more than 50% of the 63 million population even have an email?

I for one would like to be able to get a paper reciept only detailing what/when and where. The real basic stuff, and not all the promotional junk they like to add throughout the bill.

I do some work for a charity and claim expenses for purchases I have made on its behalf, supporting my claim with the receipt. If I lose the receipt or forget to claim, it’s effectively a donation.

If I had some electronic receipt, how would I present this as evidence that I have spent the money and what would prevent me accidentally or fraudulently making a second claim for expenses?

I would assume each electronic receipt would have a unique serial number, on which you can only claim once.

E-receipts are the future.

In time it will be possible to have our receipts put automatically into a spreadsheet which shows how much we are spending on certain goods. This will not only help us to budget but to manage our life style reviewing (for example) how much saturated fat. sugar and alcohol we buy each month.

Personnaly i think a receipt that goes direct to our payment card which is then forwarded to us in our bank or credit card statement is ideal. I dont have to try and keep those important receipts that i can never seem to find again, the store keep records of transactions, so no quibbles at getting a refund and it helps the environment. The majority of people do have a debit or credit card but i do feel that those who dont and sometimes those of us that do would like to be able to have the option of being annonymos and just receiving a paper receipt. The other thing i thought of is if most of us do then shop with cards to get the automated receipts then would that affect the amount of cash people use? It would surely though be possible to insert your card to give the information needed to send the receipt but pay by cash, of course the card companies would want to charge us then for this use because we didnt pay by their card. I believe it would be worth a small fee to ensure safe keeping of my important transactions. I would be against giving my email address and then being flooded with adv.

Chris says:
29 April 2012

I like paper receipts, before leaving the store I always check to make sure the receipt is correct and all the discounts have been applied. If there is a mistake, and there often is you can head straight to the service desk. For card transactions I keep all my receipts and once a week I balance my accounts and file the receipts. I keep the receipts for 5 years after doing my tax returns receipts older than 5 years are shreaded and put in the recyling. Mind you my wife thinks I am strange and I suppose I do have issues. Dont get me wrong all my banking and finances are done online and I am happy with that but trying going back to a shop and try to explain that they didn’t apply the correct two for one discount on a previous trip.

Most of the receipts and payment transaction slips I get I don’t need and I put them in the recycling straight away. However, I still like to have one as I sometimes check back through the list of purchases to check prices or discounts or quantities [I have sometimes been charged twice for the same item but having a receipt is no help in that situation]. It’s also useful to have a record of cashback. Sainsbury’s seem to be able to print their receipts on both sides of the till roll thus halving the length issued; presumably the data is stored until the end of the checkout process and then printed in one go. If more were done like that, and if identical purchases were aggregated to save lines of text, there is scope for even more savings. Receipts probably also perform a valuable audit function and inhibit any possible tendency towards irregularities by staff. The extra bits of paper I get at the supermarket are as nothing compared with the reams of stuff that fall out of every magazine I buy [and – with the sole exception of Which? magazine – subscription ones are the worst]; I can’t find a way of preventing that.

Paper receipts for me, I’m afraid. (I await the flaming from the digital team).

I made the mistake of signing up for paper-free banking and bills, and now I have no proof of my address needed for swapping bank accounts etc… 🙁 the copies I can download are (apparently) not valid to send in for this.

How do I make an expenses claim when I have no paper receipts to attach to the form?

How do I know that companies who I give my email address and details too have a secure enough system to stop it being compromised and my details stolen? (I’ve lost count of the number of emails I have in the past 12 months alerting me to security breeches that include my details).

What happens when there’s a powercut, your laptop dies, or your phone runs out of battery (my (no-so) ‘smart’ phone needs charging twice a day just to function normally..!)..?

Our local Tesco has a big problem with shoplifting, I always get a receipt which you sometimes have to show to the security guards on the way out to prove you’ve paid – how would this would with digital receipts? Especially if you don’t happen to have phone signal to get your digital receipt up on your phone?

What about all those people, especially older people, who don’t have smart phones?

And lastly, I keep all my receipts so that at the end of the month I can tally up my (online) banking, then they’re all recycled. I think this would take much, much longer if I had to pile through a hundred digital receipts that are burried in between all the other hundreds of digital ‘junk’ emails I get each day.

I previously commented (28 April 2012 at 2:40 pm) on how e-receipts could help money and diet management with appropriate apps.

Lias Galliers raisers the issue of expenses management. I would like to see an estimate of the cost of claiming expenses throughout the UK and a predicition of how e-receipting could reduce this. I am not just raising this because I am boring. When the Telegraph produced all those heavily redacted MPs’ claims I had a letter published in the Times pointing out that the day after the PM had made a speech exhorting the country to communicate electronically, Parliament had published information indicating that its members lacked the means to make claims on line. Within days an online system was proposed. MPs hate it and I can probably claim credit for annoying more senior politicians than anyone else in the country.

Now is the time to get the phone-apps industry interested in user-friendly gismos for expenses management – not dismissing it because there are issues to meet.

At last Lisa, some good old fashioned common sense!

My local council will ONLY accept original receipts – No original – no parking.

Agree completely with Lisa’s comments.

Actually, though, I think someone has fallen for a PR puff by an expense management company and few retailers here – if any – are seriously considering digital receipts.

I would be gobsmacked if no retailer had seriously considered digital receipts, if only for the cost-saving involved. Others have pointed out the potential for marketing (if you give your email address to all retailers, for example), so again I think this is something that may have been considered.

I’m more than happy to get digital receipts – even more importantly, I’d prefer to have the option to *not* have a receipt if, for example, I’m just buying a sandwich in Tesco. I’m a bit annoyed with the rise of shops that have signs saying “if we don’t give you a receipt, your order is free!” – why? I don’t *need* a receipt, especially if it’s a train station cafe where I’m just buying a coffee. I think in this situation the onus should be on the customer to ask for one.

I appreciate the points about not everyone having email/smart phones, and I don’t think anyone’s seriously suggesting this is implemented immediately for all customers – there will be many who would prefer to opt for a paper receipt, and I imagine that any shop will probably still offer this facility for those who’d rather have it. But introducing paperless, cheap, environmentally-friendly digital receipts for those who want them? I think it’s a great idea.

Couple of final points- digital receipts will be easily searchable if they’re in your inbox. Not so with paper receipts, as I know having recently had to dig out a receipt for a phone I bought over a year ago. Secondly, many people are raising the issue of expenses/tax returns, etc. Could these digital receipts not just be printed out? There’s nothing wrong with printing a digital receipt, it just means that only the ones that are actually needed (e.g. for submitting expenses) will take up valuable paper.

Cost saving – Nikki you miss out one very important cost factor, the cost of setting it all up. Burden would fall on business which would be passed on to customers via prices.
As the public has already witnessed to their cost, with card fees, actual set up costs are ignored if there is so much as a whiff of a bit of extra profit, it also leads to misleading on prices charged from those advertised as we have had with flights/holidays etc.

Environmentally friendly? – Would they be?
More computers/printers/ink/paper would be required, both by business and customers, to issue, receive and store the receipts, more energy used to run them as well.
Printing out recipts on a full sheet of paper instead of shops presenting what they do now.
The bigger picture doesn’t look that environmentally friendly.

We were told from the outset that modern technology would benefit the people, but when we need to prove who we are, original documents are often all that are accepted (costing us more to send them) “to prevent fraud” and that is another factor to consider – if legislation is changed to accept digital receipts and copies, the opportunity for fraud would be huge.

There won’t be “many” who opt for paper receipts, there would be a clear majority IMO.

As Lisa asked, what happens when there are power cuts/equipment fails/mobile needs charging, etc?
Why are other options not called for on this post?
What about the effect on jobs? Why not force all companies to use recycled paper?

Hmm, you’re right that there would be set-up costs, frugal ways, but I genuinely think that the investment would probably be worthwhile in the long term. Think about every single receipt you’re ever given – how many of them do you really need? I have had occasion to provide a receipt for something probably 10-15 times over the course of the last year – 10-15 sheets of paper versus the hundreds that would no doubt be produced if you included the receipts I get given every time I buy something.

Perhaps one of the first stages in this would be to get shops to only print a receipt if the customer asks for it – far too many of them simply hand you a receipt or insist on giving you one even if it’s completely useless – why do I need a receipt for a sandwich, or a coffee?

On equipment fails/power cuts – that happens with paper receipts too! You might not be able to get one if the printer’s down or if there’s a power cut. At least with email it will send when the service gets back online.

I also don’t think that this situation would mean that all customers would need to have a home printer to print out receipts – a lot of the problems you’ve identified would (I think) be overcome by businesses moving to a more electronic model, meaning that they would have to start accepting proofs other than paper ones.

Businesses accepting proofs other than paper receipts is already in place.

I am not happy “trusting” businesses with my shopping information, as time and again they have shown they cannot be trusted.
One supermarket publishes at regular intervals, an income tracker, based on the findings of their shoppers paying by credit/debit card, if our information is being held securely, how do they have access to this?
Digital receipts would add to this information, and as is common knowledge, the more a business knows about you, the higher prices you pay for their goods and services.

I also do not trust any of the so called regulators, protecting our interests.
They have shown themselves to be completely incompetant in stopping incidents before they happen and work far too closely with businesses in the interest of businesses.

“Convenience” always ends up with the customer paying more.

I’m in favour of not giving out receipts for small things like a quick cup of coffee, unless you ask for one. If you’re not claiming the coffee on expenses, why would you need a receipt?

Digital receipts should be sent securely, using encryption, to a special e-receipts account (perhaps attached to your credit card account) and not just emailed.

The consumer should have the choice of digital or paper, but they shouldn’t be asked for their choice every time they shopped. That would waste time and make queues longer. There must be an automatic way. Perhaps, first you register your credit card for e-receipts, then you first first shop at a certain store you are asked, and from then on that shop remembers your choice for future transactions (but should not store your credit card number in order to remember your choice; there should be a different mechanism).

Given a choice, I would opt for paper receipts at some store and digital receipts at others. When I shop at Tesco, I memorize the shelf price of most items, and after checkout I examine the receipt and get a refund from the customer service desk if I see a discrepancy (I’ve done that a couple of times in the past 2-3 years.)