Last updateWed, 08 Jul 2020 11am

Paper receipts preferred by consumers despite environmental misconceptions

A global campaign called Choose Paper has launched earlier this week to advocate for consumer rights to continue receiving paper receipts and raise awareness of their practical benefits and sustainable features.

The campaign is backed by independent research which reveals that the majority of North American (NA) consumers prefer paper receipts over digital alternatives. The research, conducted by global polling company Toluna, surveyed 2,508 consumers across the US and Canada and found that 71% of respondents prefer paper receipts over digital alternatives and 77% in the US believe paper receipts are more practical for returning goods.

As well as consumer rights, the Choose Paper campaign also wants to highlight other issues at play to retailers and consumers – those of data protection, environmental facts and the safety of paper receipts.

Almost three quarters (70%) of US consumers and two thirds (64%) of Canadian consumers surveyed said they were concerned that by giving retailers their personal information, such as email and postal addresses, they were at a greater risk of being hacked. Many (62% of US and 61% of Canadians) were also worried that their transactional history may be used for unsolicited marketing activity.

Greg Selfe, Campaign Manager for Choose Paper, said: “Our research shows that most people do not want digital receipts. Consumers prefer and trust paper and there is a very real worry about data security that needs to be considered. Customers are only hearing one side of the argument and there is a risk that consumer choice is being taken away. Choose Paper calls upon retailers to respect their customers’ preferences and consider the environmental facts before adopting digital-only solutions.”

Despite the overwhelming preference for paper receipts, many consumers are concerned about paper’s impact on the environment and underestimate the impact of digital receipts. For example, 56% of US and 55% of Canadian consumers believe that digital receipts are better for the environment and 49% of US and 44% of Canadians surveyed believe that sending emails has no environmental impact at all. In reality, total emissions generated by worldwide emails is estimated to be 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year – equivalent to the annual emissions of 63 million cars.1

“The environmental performance of paper manufacturers has improved significantly in the past several decades, including considerable investment into sustainable forestry practices,” said Selfe. “Sustainably managed forests breathe for the Earth, absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and producing the oxygen we require in return. By storing that carbon, forests help to regulate the global climate, absorbing nearly 40% of the fossil-fuel emissions produced by humans.2

“In considering a move to digital alternatives to paper receipts, consumers and retailers need to bear in mind that this option is not free of environmental impacts. Server farms and data centers require vast amounts of energy to operate, with many using fossil fuels as their source. As technology progresses, the demand on these data centers increases and so does the carbon footprint. The share of digital technology in global GHG emissions could reach 8% by 2025, i.e. the current share of car emissions.3,4,5 This is roughly eight times the current share of the pulp, paper and print industries.”

In September, the California State Senate rejected a bill (AB 161) that would have placed a ban on paper receipts. The bill proposed by the California State Assembly would see a ban on paper receipts unless requested by a customer and would have required businesses to implement point of sale (POS) systems to capture electronic data and provide a digital receipt to customers. The cost burden of implementing this system would fall to the retailers, many of them small businesses without the resources for additional data security and technology. It would also open up consumers to the possibility of data breaches.


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