When stores first started to ask if customers wanted a paper receipt or an emailed receipt, I always took the email option. I knew I was giving up a little privacy when I did because the store now had my email. The stores that offered it were typically clothing stores, and I appreciated that I could always get the receipt if I needed to make a return or an exchange.
Then in 2014, one of my local grocery stores, Shoprite, sent me an email saying it would be offering digital receipts. It's a free program that allowed me to "print, search and categorize" my receipts. At the time, the program was still in the testing phase, so I still received paper receipts at the register, but it was a start.
Now years later, digital receipts are increasingly common at a lot of different businesses — and that's a good thing.
Why it's time to retire paper receipts
Digital receipts offer a few improvements over traditional paper receipts. One is health-related. Lots of receipt paper contains bisphenol-A, or BPA. This chemical can potentially influence or outright alter some bodily processes, like hair growth, hormone function and cell repair. Reducing receipt paper reduces the risk for BPA exposure for not only consumers but also for employees who handle the paper on a more routine basis.
The second improvement is environmental. Receipt paper consumes a lot of trees, some 10 million of them a year, according to Green America. (And at least half of that is probably used by CVS for their still-too-long receipts.) They also use up about 21 billion gallons of water a year — and these stats are just for the United States! That's so many trees and so much water, all when emailing the receipt is a lot easier. Pile on the fact that BPA-coated paper can't be recycled and you end up with a bunch of receipts in landfills.
The third improvement has to do with economics. Receipt paper costs businesses money, between $5,475 to $18,250 per year if they're printing 1,000 receipts a day. That's a lot of receipts, a lot of paper and a lot of water. It's also a lot of money, money that could be used elsewhere, say giving employees raises or covering health insurance or lowering prices.
The fourth reason digital receipts are better just boils down to convenience. You can access those receipts through your email and archive them in a separate folder or with a specific label for easy sorting. Or, if you need more help on the organization front, try a receipt tracking app. Physical receipts require you to physically keep track of them, and that means a shoe box or an accordion folder or a big thumb tack on a cork board in the kitchen. There have been times when I've let something go unreturned because I didn't have the receipt. I'm betting I'm not alone on that.
Returns aren’t the only convenience digital receipts offer, though. For tax purposes, if every purchase I made at a brick and mortar store gave me a digital receipt, it would be wonderful. If I received a digital receipt every time I bought office supplies or picked up a prescription or paid for a restaurant meal I can write off as a business expense, my life would be so much easier when I did my taxes.
Some businesses, particularly local ones, use newer point of sale systems like Square that will automatically send you a digital receipt if you've already received one from another business that uses Square. When you pay with the same credit or debit card you did at the first vendor, and you've already provided an email address to the Square system, you'll automatically get a receipt in your email minutes later. This can be a little unnerving, but it's easy to stop the automatic flow of receipts if you want.
Then again, why would you want to do that? Or maybe you just enjoy having random slips of paper everywhere.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was originally published in January 2014.