The Perils of Going Paperless (Also: Shaping Consumer Behavior)

I recently started scanning all of my receipts. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but i never really got around to it until now. I've had some big life events over the past few months, and all of them came with a lot of important paperwork. I'm trying to keep whatever I think is really important while throwing out everything that I think I don't really need a hard copy of.

The last time I tried going paperless I used Microsoft's Office Lens on Android. It sucked. the scans were not very good quality, and it was hard to keep them organized or get them onto my desktop.

Now, I'm using ScanBot, and I'm really happy with it. It scans to PDF (or jpg if you delve into the settings), and optionally uploads everything you scan to a folder on DropBox. This feature is key because now I can scan something and have it show up almost instantly on my computer. Very useful for scanning and emailing. It also keeps all my scans backed up.

Everything was going quite smoothly with my new paperless dream until I tried to return something to Walmart today. I had the scan of the receipt on my phone. When I showed it to the clerk, she told me they couldn't accept receipts on phones unless they were "Deal Catcher" receipts. (I'll talk about Deal Catcher more later.) I thought this was a pretty stupid policy since they just scan the barcode on the receipt and use their computer to look it up anyway.

In the end, I asked if I could return it without a receipt, and that worked out fine. From what I read elsewhere on the internet, returning things without a receipt gives assumes you bought the item at the lowest recent sale price, is limited to three receiptless returns in a 45-day period, and only gives you store credit. (They asked to see my ID when I returned my item. I guess that's how they enforce the limit on the number of receiptless returns.

Those limitations were fine for me. The item I returned is almost never on sale, I don't return many things, and I can use store credit pretty easily since I live less than a mile from this store.

However, I wanted to look into this issue a little more. I downloaded the Walmart app to find out what this "Deal Catcher" business was all about. I don't have it completely figured out yet. It seems that it lets you scan the barcode on your receipts. It then searches for sales on items on your receipt and gives you store credit for the difference between the price you paid and any advertised sale price at nearby competitors. That's not a bad deal for about 5 seconds of work on my part.

Of course, the policy about only taking original receipts or Deal Catcher receipts isn't there to prevent customers from using scanned copies of receipts. (To add a receipt to Deal Catcher, you have to scan your receipt.) Whether they take Deal Catcher receipts or scanned receipts doesn't prevent fraud because both ways would require them to look up the receipt in their database anyway.

The policy is there to encourage people to download and use the Walmart app. The app notifies users of sales constantly. By adding this seemingly annoying and idiotic policy, they can drive users to their app and increase sales. It's pretty brilliant and very representative of the kinds of management decisions that make Walmart so dominant in retail.

Photo by Sascha Erni, .rb