Communication Makeover: Receipts

April 10, 2014 | Melanie Chapman | Communication Makeover | 4 Comments

I recently read a great blog post about how one of the coolest untapped marketing tools out there is receipts. Yes, receipts. Think about it. People take receipts home. They hold on to them. They’re used to them—no one has to be trained on how to use and interact with a receipt, unlike some trendier marketing tools.

“What if we see the receipt more as a publishing medium—a product unto itself that people actually want to take home, that they want to engage with, be fully interactive with?” said Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter, at the National Retail Federation’s expo. “What can we do with this everyday tool?”

Curious, I un-balled some receipts from my purse and decided to see how retailers were handling the receipt marketing opportunity.

Receipts in a bag

My findings: most receipts aren’t doing much marketing at all. My receipts fell into three basic categories: no marketing, some marketing and a decent chunk of marketing. Here’s some examples of each level of marketingitude.

Category 1: No Marketing

Just the facts, ma’am. This is what you bought. This is what it cost. You’ll only look at me again if you need me for an expense report.

A basic receipt

Other features of Category 1 receipts: codes you don’t understand, maybe the date of purchase.

Category 2: Some Marketing

Mostly how much you bought and for how much—but hey, look at how much you saved!

A receipt that shows how much you saved

You got a pretty good deal. You should remember this happy feeling of saving money, and come back again.

Other features that popped up in Category 2 receipts: the name of my cashier, the hours the business is open.

Category 3: Decent Chunk of Marketing

Thanks for shopping with us! Now, here’s an offer so you come back as soon as possible! And also, why not share information so we can tailor our marketing to your needs (aka, make it as irresistible as possible)?

Receipt survey

Maybe we’ll even talk to you like a human. This PetSmart receipt has an offer that’s using the words “you” and “your.”

Receipt offer

There’s a theory that speaking directly to someone is more effective than a formal lecture tone because the brain thinks it’s in a conversation, and therefore has to pay more attention. So that little word “you” can make all the difference.

This receipt also has a “look at the savings” section that also uses “you.” Compare that to the savings section on the Category 2 receipt. Doesn’t this feel a little friendlier and more human?

Receipt how much you saved

Other Category 3 marketing features: offers based on my purchase history, contests to win a prize if you fill out a survey.

But hold on, Category 3 receipts: don’t rest on your laurels. I think we can step up the receipt game even more. If we think of receipts as a publishing medium—a chance to be delightful, to show your brand’s personality, to create an emotional connection with your customers—what can we do to make them more memorable, engaging, and effective? Here’s a couple communication makeover ideas for receipts, using my PetSmart receipt as an example.

Uber Personalized

PetSmart knows my dog’s name is Archer. How? I told them so when I signed up for their loyalty program.

Oh, you want to see Archer? Sure, let me throw in a totally gratuitous picture of my puppy here:

Archer the Puppy

So PetSmart knows my pup’s name. Why not throw his name in there so offers and product recommendations on the receipt seem even more personalized?

Just for Archer:
25% off dental treats because he’s got the cutest little smile, yes he does!


What pet owner could resist a product suggestion made especially for their special little guy? Not for me, that’s for sure. I’m a damn sucker.

Have Some Fun

Even the best receipts in my purse weren’t exactly a party on paper. Fun helps marketing messages grab attention and keep it, so it makes sense to shine up the normal, dull receipt with some humor and surprise.

Some fun ideas for the PetSmart receipt:

  • Customer-submitted pet “wins” and “fails,” like the time my childhood Sheltie ate an entire gingerbread house. (It was a win for him and a fail for the humans who had to clean it up.)
  • Pet News: updates on interesting smells and yummy things found in the trash from noted canine reporter Bowwow Walters.
  • A personal note from your pet:

A Message from your Cat
“Hey, owner! Sorry again about the “surprise” I left on your pillow. All’s forgiven, right? So you bought me the treat I like, right? Great, see you at home!”


Go nuts! Your only limit on how much fun you can have is the length of the receipt paper.

Any other communication makeover ideas for this relatively untapped medium? Tell us about them in the comments.

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  1. Well, I took the bait and looked through some receipts that were lying around. There were a few of each type around, though I generally visit a limited set of shops. The smaller businesses tend to have more of the Category 1 factual receipts. The larger business tend to be more Category 2 or 3, but in quite a few cases, the bulk of the marketing (at least through offers) is on the back of the receipt. Though there are sometimes indicators to look at the back on the front, who actually reads through the stuff on the back of the receipt? Honest question.

    Anyway, the post is an interesting take on how receipts are used these days. It’s sparked a couple of ideas I might want to try out… might. Also, Archer looks so confused.

    Matt "Misery" W | | Reply
    • Woohoo, now there are at least two crazy people examining their old receipts.

      Archer looks confused because he’s not quite used to this “humans taking a million pictures of me” thing. As soon as he’s acclimated to that, I’m going to teach him about selfies.

      Melanie Davis | | Reply
  2. What about category 4: The nine miles of receipt paper you get at CVS with thousands of discounts that are only valid for about 20 seconds?(P.S. I like hyperbole.)

    Evan | | Reply
    • I once got a nine-miler after buying a carton of milk. Just milk.

      Melanie Davis | | Reply

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