When Receipts Waste Space (and money)
Recently, there was something of an online uproar regarding the length of the receipts printed by CVS. Pictures of children holding up receipts as long as they were tall abounded—and it’s not like these kids’ parents bought out an entire toy aisle; each of these receipts was only for a few items. Absurd, right? Right. But that’s nothing new; the absurd length of CVS’s receipts has long been commented on by environmentalists and comedians alike. But, something new and interesting happened this time around—CVS absorbed the criticism and decided to make a change. Starting next year, CVS’s rewards offers—which are what makes the receipts so ridiculously long—will no longer be printed. Instead, they will be electronically linked to each customer’s rewards card. Sounds like progress to me.
Since CVS’s announcement, I’ve been paying particular attention to the length of receipts. None of the receipts I’ve received recently have come close to CVS-length; with the possible exception of a two-foot grocery store receipt. But, that length is not so much a commentary on A&P’s receipt printing policy as it is my grocery shopping style—I have a marked tendency to stock up on sale items and anything else that will help me put off my next grocery shopping trip as long as possible.
What about my other receipts? Here is how a sampling breaks down:
A receipt from a local gas station: 2 ¾ inches wide by 4 ¾ inches long for the purchase of 5.59 gallons of unleaded, including about ¾ inch of white space above and below the receipt’s text.
A receipt from GameStop for the purchase of one item: 3 1/8 inches wide by 8 inches long. One inch of white space above the GameStop logo, only about a quarter an inch of white space at the bottom. About 6 square inches are occupied by a request to take a customer service survey.
Next, we have Starbucks. In exchange for $6.34 I got an iced coffee, a ham and cheese breakfast sandwich and a 3 1/8 inch by 5 7/8 inch receipt. Procuring the receipt took some work however. I noticed the cashier wasn’t printing any receipts, and I thought that was a great way to conserve paper—most people don’t want their coffee receipts, after all. But when I asked for mine, I learned that the receipt printer was simply out of paper. The cashier put in a roll and printed my receipt. I waited around long enough to see what happened to the receipts after mine. As soon as they printed (automatically), they were crushed into balls and thrown away by the cashier. I left with the distinct and awful impression that an entire roll of receipt paper was going into the trash because I asked for a copy of our transaction. I saw a similar phenomenon at a Dunkin’ Donuts the following day; my receipt was thrown away by the cashier before I could even ask for it. Talk about wasteful.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for the registers to work like gas station pumps and ATMs that ask the customer if they would like a receipt and print it only if they answer yes?
Lest you think I only buy coffee at chains, I also purchased a delicious latte from a small locally owned business over the weekend. This receipt was large, all things considered; only a fraction of an inch shorter than the GameStop receipt. It came in at 3 1/8 inches by 7 7/8inches, and the top two inches were occupied by an ink-heavy ad asking me to join their rewards program.
Moving away from coffee, a couple of weeks ago I bought book from Barnes and Noble. The actual receipt is a reasonable length—5 1/8 inches (and, like so many others, a standard 3 1/8 wide), but dangling from its bottom was a piece of paper with the heading, “YOU MAY ALSO LIKE…” followed by five recommendations based upon the book purchased. I no longer have this supplemental piece of paper, so I can’t tell you its exact length, but if memory serves it was about 3 inches long. It was also a complete waste of space. The book was a gift for a toddler, an introduction to mazes. Four of the five books recommended to me were by the same education publisher and could probably be found on the shelf directly next to the workbook I’d just purchased. The print out seemed to me excessive and unnecessary. Would I feel differently if the purchase had been a novel that I ended up loving? Maybe, but I doubt it. Recommendations based on a single item aren’t usually very useful. In sum, these recommendations occupied only an extra couple of inches at the bottom of the receipt, but they seem like wasted inches to me—just as bad as empty white space.
Of all the stores I visited, only one offered to email a receipt in lieu of printing one. This was the Verizon Wireless store, where my husband was shopping for a USB modem. Unfortunately, the offer to email the receipt was quickly rescinded, as we needed the paper receipt for rebate purposes. As soon as I saw the receipt, I had grand visions of measuring it for this piece; it was a monster, clearly the longest receipt I’d seen yet. I thought it might even be as long as all the others combined. However, in an ironic twist, my husband promptly lost the receipt. So, it is with the earnestness of an old fisherman that I attest: it was this long, as long as my arm-span, the longest receipt ever seen in local waters. I swear.
Not counting the lost (but not forgotten) Verizon receipt, or any of the receipts tossed in the trash by cashiers, the total amount of paper used for the transactions detailed above was approximately 95 square inches. This is of course an entirely unscientific sampling of receipts; but it seems fair to conclude that many, if not most, companies are wasteful when it comes to receipt printing.
Do customers care about this wastefulness? The recent outcry regarding CVS makes me think that yes, at least some people do care, which means that business owners should care too. Who knows, perhaps the next public uproar regarding receipt wastefulness will take the form of a YouTube video of a barista mechanically trashing automatically printed receipts.
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