More than anything else, what makes this an exciting time to work in the payments industry is the chance to reexamine every aspect of how we shop and pay, and to ask fundamental questions about the value and convenience that is being created – or hindered – by each step of the process. From discovery to offers to checkout, and from loyalty programs to ordering, fulfillment, and even returns, there are incredible opportunities to eliminate unnecessary friction points and unlock information that can make shopping experiences faster, or more fun, or more personal.
The receipt is a good example. The printed paper record of past purchases seems necessary. Without it, how would you establish proof of payment for a particular item or service?
But there’s something about it that also makes it feel like an unwelcome remnant of an old way of doing things. Is there any more obvious bit of friction in the entire purchasing process than the wad of receipts stuffed in your wallet? Merchants offer them mostly in case evidence of purchase is required at some later date for anything from returns to expense reports to taxes, depending on where you are in the world. As consumers, we hold onto them because we have to, not because we want to.
Still, there are those who suggest that the receipt is a hidden vein of untapped data that can somehow be mined to influence future shopping decisions. And while receipts do contain information about where and when customers shop and how much they pay that hints at further insights about purchasing preferences and patterns, I believe its value as a predictor of future behavior is sharply limited. Rather than an indicator of what consumers are likely to do down the road, receipts are useful mostly as a way to retrace the path they followed in the past.
In this way, receipts are a little like the fossilized dinosaur tracks that paleontologists have found preserved near ancient bodies of water: while they offer tantalizing indirect evidence of past activities, they tell us only a very modest amount about the habits, personalities, or needs of the creatures that left them, and nothing about what they did in the minutes, months, or years after they left their footprints behind.
For merchants, it’s where consumers are going next – and why they’re going there – that really matters.
Read the rest of this post on the PayPal Forward blog.