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Endangered Species: the Printed Receipt

Call me a nut, but I like to know that I’ve actually bought what I’m paying for. I save all my Visa receipts and each month check them off against the charges on my statement. A couple of years ago I found a $790 charge for an Air India ticket I never bought: it was the work of a phisher.

For this reason I am distressed that it’s getting harder to obtain a receipt for my credit-card purchases.  Until fairly recently I could get a receipt 100 percent of the time.  That is no longer the case. Have you noticed that recently cashiers ask you if you want a receipt? Not long ago this question was never asked, you just got your receipt automatically.

I first noticed the new regime at Clover Food Lab, a “healthy” fast-food business in Harvard Square.  They sell more nutritious versions of popular things like the falafel sandwich.  (Yes, falafel is a fried food, but they add more lettuce and salad greens to the pita pocket.) Clover uses an unconventional process of ordering and paying—but it’s one that may be the wave of the future.  The Clover customer gets greeted near the doorway by a roving employee with a handheld device. This person answers questions about the brief Clover menu and inputs orders to the handheld, which sends it via radio signal to the kitchen.

Once this had happened, I paid the rover with Visa and asked for my receipt…but Nooooooo!  Clover provides no printed receipts, either because their handhelds won’t transmit to a printer, or Clover just doesn’t want to bother. What they will do is send a receipt to my email address. Thanks a ton, guys.  That means opening their message when I get home, printing it out on my home printer, and filing away an 8 ½ by 11 inch receipt instead of a small sliver of paper.

The “no receipt” merchants have just gifted us all with a fresh helping of shadow work. They’ve made the task of printing out a receipt your job instead of theirs. You buy the paper and ink and track down the file and print it out at home on your printer.

Recently, American Airlines introduced me to a new type of no-receipt policy that is even more of a hassle. My girlfriend and I had a couple of Heinekens on our flight and I paid the $14 tab, as usual, with my Chase Sapphire Visa card. This time, though, there would not be even an emailed receipt. The stewardess politely informed me that by going to the American Airlines website I would be able to obtain a receipt.

Really?  So after I got home I  remembered to go to the AA homepage.  No sign there of any way to obtain a receipt.  I entered the word receipt in their search engine, which yielded a link. Clicking this took me to a new page with more hoops to jump through:  a form in which to enter my last name, the last four digits of my credit card number, a date range, and my flight number (who remembers flight numbers?) Having looked up all these data and entered them, the response came back: “No search results were found. Please try your search again at a later time.” Lots of hassle, but no receipt.

Online shopping transactions, like those on Amazon.com, typically occur without receipts. Making customers responsible for crafting their own receipts (if one is available at all) is becoming the new normal. Rest assured, the merchant does have a record of the transaction. It’s only the customer who, nowadays, does not.

One Comment

  • Eric Bulfinch on Apr 26, 2015

    Paper receipts? Who needs them? They’re all right here on my hard drive … awaiting my next computer crash.

    Best wishes for success with the book!