It’s time to end the receipt spam, come on!

Will mobile finally put an end to receipt spam? I am hopeful. Or, at least, it might change the dynamic to something a little friendlier.

Here’s the problem that I frequently encounter when I’m shopping at Boots here in the UK:

1. You walk up to the till and hand over the goods you wish to purchase

2. The person itemises the cost and asks for payment. You hand over payment.

3. The receipt for your transaction is printed and the cash (if appropriate) is tendered.

All well and good, right?

Until the machine prints another flipping receipt. This one is a special offer. Worse, the till opens and they sales assistant actually pulls out a voucher and hands you that voucher with the receipt. It’s usually oversized and inconvenient. You have to look at it. Arse.

If you pay with the automatic tills, then you get your receipt. And then it prints out another one. And, depending on what’s going on with the marketing team that day, it might even print a further one. All of which you really have to pick up. 

Boots do this a lot. They seem to love spamming folk. WH Smiths are big, big fans. So are Sainsburys and then Tesco, goodness me, if you go to Tesco on the wrong day, the flipping machine prints reams of nonsense detailing just how expensive your transaction was compared with other retailers. 

I’ve written and spoken a lot about the absolute annoyance of receipts, particularly in today’s transaction heavy world. Issuing bits of paper is positively archaic. Yet it’s still utterly critical for almost every High Street business. 

I’m on record as saying I absolutely love the physical experience at Apple Stores, principally because they’ve sold the annoying receipt business. Complete the transaction with the Apple Store dude and he’ll ask for your email. Oh, he’ll give you a paper one if you insist on being a luddite. But the next time you buy from the Apple Store (doesn’t matter which one), they’ll recognise the card you used last time and confirm your email. Genius. 

The Apple Store receipt is important because 6 months later when your machine stops working or if you lose it, somebody somewhere (usually from your insurance company) is going to ask for the serial number of the computer. And guess what… the serial number is right here in your Gmail on the receipt. Rocking.

A few shops have caught on and started offering similar. It is my erstwhile hope that the idea of emailing or digitising receipts will catch on properly. 

At some point, somewhere, someone has to fix this, no? We’re almost there with a lot of companies. PayPal for example is moving very much in the right direction, especially given the amount of work they’ve done on their web and mobile experience. I remember trying to look up older transactions and having to wrestle with their 1990s interface — those days are gone. 

I think we need a bit more work in the wallet department before we’ll get to receipt nirvana. Do we need a global receipt standard? Probably. Ideally you need some kind of Gravatar equivalent — so that if I purchase with Marks & Spencer online, they’ll query my email against the Ravatar (“receipt avatar?”) system and see that I’m registered … and file my receipt correctly with a central system. Equally, I should be able to sign up via my Visa card system to be able to have all my Visa transactions ‘copied’ to my central receipts system. 

Enhanced transaction records are the way ahead. I remember being astonished when I looked at my Amex statement recently and found that the £200 I’d spent with British Airways actually detailed the To and From airports for my reference. Seriously valuable. 

But it’s the receipt spam that’s annoying me. It’s so indicative of a system that’s broken. Especially tonight. I went into Boots at Waterloo and bought some Clarityn for hay fever. 

I used the same card I always use in Boots. That means they should have identified that I have bought shaving foam, shavers, toothbrushes and all that jazz from them in the recent past. I’ve also bought a good amount of cough medicine and whatnot. I don’t have a Boots loyalty card. I expect these fuckers to sort it out themselves and stop oppressing me with having to provide a third party identifier.

The flipping identifier is my Visa card number. Come on. 

So you’d think that the profile data that Boots CLEARLY have yet are doing nothing about (this, incidentally, is what commentators really mean when they say, “Big Data”) would have precluded me from being spammed with the following offer: 

“£5 off No7 skincare of £3 off No7 make-up”

Yeah. Total spam as far as I’m concerned.

Even some generic shit about holiday insurance or something would have been more relevant to me. 

Perhaps the worst though — and this is a slight side issue — is when you walk into WH Smiths and they almost spam you. 

Have you seen this? It’s usually something like a Graze offer or something similar. Some poor Marketing executive has signed up with WH Smiths to get them to give away a flyer with every transaction. The hard working sales assistants are meant to hand over a little flyer with every transaction and in doing so, they have to scan the flyer’s barcode. That obviously records the ‘exposure’ and the fact the customer has been given the flyer. All well and good, especially when you think, “Geez, WH Smiths must serve millions of folk per month.”

The bit that irritates me is when I’m doing the transaction and the sales assistant scans the flyer and doesn’t bother to give it to me because … well, because they don’t want the hassle of me glaring at them. Or they just want an easy life. . Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want the spam in the first place myself. But I do feel for the company — Graze for example — who are getting the weekly report telling them that I’ve been spammed when I haven’t. 

I write this post to record my current feelings about receipt spam. Hopefully I’ll be able to point to this in 2020 and say ‘look, look how bad it was,’ when it’s all been fixed. 

First world problems, I know. 


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  • James Vincent

    Oh I am so glad someone has Said It! It’s been one really irritating subject for years. Hate the Boots process too. The offer receipts, if they insist on handing them out. Why can the sales advisor have an option for Male or Female, just so the offer could be a bit more relevant to us. Instead of always being women products.
    Tesco… Just love wasting paper. And Morrisons insist on printing two receipts. One with the products, other with details of your card payment. Really???

  • I’m pleased it’s not just me James!

  • maethorechannen

    You get an email receipt when you use Argos’ FastTrack service. I look forward to the day when the staff stop reminding me of that every time I buy something from them.

  • That’s pretty smart!

  • James Vincent

    OK, It’s been a while, but I thought of you & this post this morning while I was at Vive Juice Bar [in LifeStyle Fitness gym] Vive now takes card payment. Finally! The guy [Pete] saw I was gonna pay by card and asked if I would like to load a loyalty card with £10 credit. I like this idea. Although at the moment they’re white sticky lables over Personal Trainer cards, It’s a start!
    Anywho, He handed me a rather small PayPal chip & pin machine. Entered number, took card.
    ‘Would U like a receipt James’?
    I said yes. Now here’s the interesting bit.> He said ‘I’ll Text it to you’.
    I replied ‘sorry, what?’!
    I’ll text it to you he repeated. So he picked up the tablet and typed in my number. I happened to get a quick glance that it was a PayPal app he was using. Now this is more my style. No paper to faff about with.
    Now I’m not saying throw our phone numbers about, but due to where I was I didn’t mind.
    Maybe email would be the best option when/if this is more widely adopted.
    I’m not sure if this is recently new from PayPal or how long this has been Out There.
    It’s just good to see that someone ‘Gets it’. It’s about Mobile!


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