Blog: Beyond the Receipt: New Tools Combined with Old Offer Consumer Behavioral Insights
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.
Receipts Tell Us about Past, Not Future
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. To create the kind of complete portrait of an individual that can drive deeper engagement and more lasting loyalty, it takes more than just the location, time and price of past purchases. Much richer indications of future intentions can be found in the clues people offer when they click on a jacket while browsing online or pick up a pair of pants off the rack at a store. New Web tracking technology, new in-store beacons, new tools like something called “dwell time analytics” tie these together with the record of past purchases contained in a receipt, and you begin to get the kind of complete picture of a consumer’s needs and wants that can truly transform the relationship between a retailer and its customers.
The key here, though, is the concept of individual identity. The potential for customers and retailers to connect in more meaningful and human ways is very powerful, but whether this potential is fulfilled will ultimately depend on how much information consumers choose to share about their preferences and desires. In the end, this will be a matter of trust. Is information and financial data safe and secure? Is privacy respected? Is real value offered in return for the information that’s shared? Is shopping truly made more convenient or more fun?
These are the questions that we ask every day at PayPal and the principles that we’re focused on. And while the receipt can certainly play a useful role as an artifact of past shopping activity, a much broader view is required to create the kind of long-term relationships that people prefer and merchants seek.
Carey Kolaja is vice president, global product solutions at PayPal. She also has served as chief of operations for global product at PayPal, where she led all aspects of business, financial and organization performance. Earlier, Carey was the head of the emerging opportunities group where she led a new global product function, chartered to identify and nurture new product ideas, and strategic partnerships beyond the “core payments” business.