Retailers are increasingly offering customers the chance to receive a receipt digitally instead of on paper, and there are clear advantages to consumers. E-receipts are eco-friendly, for instance, and may be harder to lose than slips of paper.
But perhaps the greatest benefits go to the savvy marketers who view e-receipts as messages that are more likely to stand out in a cluttered inbox because they have been requested by a recipient. That makes the real estate on e-receipts extremely valuable and ripe for marketing messages that can be all the more enhanced with the integration of big data analytics.
“There’s an opportunity here for brands to begin a story with their end user,” says Michael Hershfield, vice president, business development at Sailthru, a messaging and personalization platform. “[Brands] may be worried about the leaky bucket – [customers] buy one thing from you and you never see them again. This is an opportunity to begin to engage with them on multiple channels.” Sailthru acquired a startup called Seamless Receipts in 2012 and is in the process of integrating that company’s e-receipt technology into its full product suite.
Apple stores began offering e-receipts in 2005, and other retailers and merchants that have since followed include Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s and Avis.
Rising Interest Among Retailers
The uptick in interest in e-receipts can be seen in a recent survey of clients by Experian Marketing Services, a provider of integrated consumer insights and targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. Last year about 20 percent of clients in its cross-channel marketing services division said they were sending e-receipts or wanted to in the coming year. When the group asked clients the same question this year, the number rose to 40 percent, according to Liz Gould, director of strategic accounts for cross-channel marketing at Experian Marketing Services.
Some companies are keeping it simple, sending a mere replica of the receipt a customer would otherwise get at a register. Technology issues with the point-of-sale companies they work with may lead some to stick to the basics, Gould says.
But others are optimizing their emails with interactive marketing elements. For instance, they may include links to visit the company’s website, to follow the company on social media channels, to share purchase details on social media, to contact customer service, or to join the company’s email list and loyalty program. They may also include promotions about other products.
Likewise, retailers could employ analytics to send product recommendations based on a customer’s past purchases or even the sale that prompted the receipt. Those kinds of applications can be tricky, however.
“If I just bought a sweater and a pair of shoes and you want to make the next recommendation based on that, the recommendation engine – the logic you use – has to be crunched in real time, so when that trigger goes out in real time, the recommendations make sense for that email,” Gould says. “There’s definitely a lot going on to get really advanced in these types of e-receipts.”
Still, Gould says many of her clients want to enhance their e-receipts and are testing elements like content and subject lines. Her firm’s research spotlights the upside: Its Q1 2013 Quarterly Benchmark Study looked at 12 brands that deployed e-receipts and found those emails have a 33.7 percent open rate compared to a 16.2 percent open rate for bulk, or promotional, mailings. The study also found e-receipts have slightly higher transaction rates and saw revenue per email of 13 cents for e-receipts compared to 9 cents for promotional mailings.
Relevant Regulations and Errors to Avoid
But there are two temptations with e-receipts that marketers must avoid. First, they can’t overwhelm the e-receipt with marketing messages that can transform it into a commercial message. This is important because while transactional emails are exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, emails deemed to have the “primary purpose” of being commercial must comply with its requirements.
Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission says emails that contain both transactional and commercial content can be considered as commercial if recipients would reasonably think it’s a commercial message based on the subject line and if most of the transactional information doesn’t appear at the beginning. “You have to be really careful about the way you’re setting up your transactional messages if you’re including promotional information,” says Fawn Young, marketing strategist at email marketing provider Bronto Software, which requires clients to get transactional messages approved by its support team.
Secondly, it’s also bad practice to assume customers who give their email addresses to receive an e-receipt want to be added to a company’s email program with promotional content. “This has been a major pain in the space for consumers,” says Jason Shapiro, chief executive officer of digital receipt provider TransactionTree. His system doesn’t allow addresses to be automatically added to lists. (TransactionTree also enables companies to send SMS, or text, versions of receipts to mobile devices.)
Some retailers ask customers if they’d like to sign up for promotional email at the same time they ask about sending an e-receipt. And if purchasers decline? Shapiro says that’s all the more reason retailers should provide highly targeted content with each e-receipt. He says, “They know that unless a consumer opts into their additional marketing, this may be their only opportunity to drive [that person] to become a return customer.”