Strictly Business: A short way to happier customers

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

At the risk of revealing my true inner self (as an old woman who is crabby and Andy Rooney-like), don’t you just hate when the sales clerk hands you a 1-foot-long receipt for a one-item purchase?

You can only relate if you’re like me and save every receipt. Each one gets carefully folded over in triplicate (and sometimes quadruplicate) and stuffed into my checkbook-style billfold, increasing the pressure on its little snap closure as the paper piles up.

By the end of the week, my wallet is so stuffed with receipts that it looks like George’s exploding wallet (as in George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander. You know, he was Jerry Seinfield’s sidekick from the 1990s sitcom, “Seinfeld.” Oh, just look up “George’s exploding wallet” on YouTube.)

Told you, I’m crabby and old.

Anyway, I got to thinking maybe those retailers would cut back on the length of receipts if they could see how irritating it is to customers. If it annoys you, be sure to let the CEO know. I mean, what business wants to tick off its clients?

Even a business that doesn’t really care about its customers may cut down its store receipt lengths if doing so made a significant difference to the bottom line. I mean, we’re all watching that these days, right?

So, I emptied my wallet the other day and did a little receipt measuring.

Babies R Us was the biggest offender with a whopping 3-foot-long receipt for my one-item purchase. Sheesh. The printout showed what I bought, followed by six coupons (each set to expire within one month), a customer service survey (which I will never take -- it’s a self-serve store), and a gift receipt, which I had not asked for.

Here’s my question for the Babies R Us executive: What’s your company’s return on investment for the expense of its receipt paper?

I did a quick online check and found you can buy about 50 receipt rolls for around $114. Granted, Babies R Us probably buys cheaper in bulk, but let’s just estimate a price of $2.30 for each 273-foot-long roll. That would mean the store spends about $0.025 for each 3-foot-long receipt, and if that were the length of all receipts, it would cost about $2,530 per year to hand out 100,000 receipts.

That store could shave about 66 percent off the cost of receipt paper just by cutting the receipt to a 1-foot-long length, a cost savings of about $1,685.

That’s probably chump change for big retail chains that shell out millions of dollars in debit and credit card fees. But that’s no excuse for Babies R Us and other retailers to create offensively long receipts.

Target’s receipt was about 1 foot long for three items and a company disclaimer that was printed in several languages.

Interestingly enough, WinCo Food’s store receipt was only 10 inches long for 15 items. It was a fairly impressive use of space, using only one line for each item name, code and price -- with no white space in between.

One can’t help but imagine the receipt savings for Boise, Idaho-based WinCo, an employee-owned company known for its discount prices.

Then again, maybe some retailers see enough return business to make those lengthy receipts with store coupons and surveys worthwhile. It quite possibly outweighs the extra cost and risk of annoying store patrons.

After all, not every customer is old and crabby, like me.

Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner, http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business or cami.joner@columbian.com.

Editor's note: This story has been modified to reflect a math correction. The store would spend about $0.025 for each 3-foot-long receipt.