Your Receipt Sir: Receipts as Art Form?

There is some attention being paid to what receipts should look like from an art contest titled “Re-Think Your Receipts” asking artists to reimagine what a receipt is. I submit that receipts should provide utility as described here and that they should offer beauty in their functionality. My vision would live in digital form and so I’ve submitted the digital assemblage above as my representation of the receipt as art.

What is a receipt today? A slip of paper (or a digital representation as PDF), with a list of prices paid for each item, a subtotal, taxes, date & time, retailer name, company logo & with location address, phone and website. All the above is expected on our receipts and we may briefly review that little slip of paper for accuracy and then throw that in a box or file folder for taxes or expense reports. Today, it’s mundane data we treat lightly and either discard or forget.

Re-imagine What Receipts Mean to Us

Why are receipts still on paper? We may have paid for our items with an app on our phone or smart watch using NFC (near field communication). But most retailers, vendors, and restaurants hand a paper receipt to us as we’re leaving – even gas pumps will spit out that flimsy piece of paper at the completion of the transaction. Why? Some receipts are kept with owner manuals for potential warranty claim proof of purchase. But nobody expects consumers to cherish those scraps of fading data or treat them as museum pieces.

If we’ve stuffed that receipt into a wallet or purse or pocket, it can be wrinkled or crumpled, smudged, faded or smeared by the time it is needed again. More likely, we’ve forgotten where it is or can’t find it among all the others in that shoebox holding only the “important” receipts or the random file folder you failed to file which is at the bottom of a stack of paperwork in a desk drawer. What could make our receipts more worthy of our attention and care?

Could Receipts Change for the Better?

Some large banks are now partnering with retailers to send receipts directly to your banking app and tie that transaction to your spending when using their debit and credit cards. But that only records the receipt when spent through connected bank cards that are transacted through that connected bank account, and only if that financial institution has an agreement with that retail chain. And that means more data has been collected on your spending habits. Why should the move toward technology mean a willingness to give up financial data privacy? Let’s be more creative.

Receipt scanners and now document apps on your phone can record that stack of paper receipts and save them to your DropBox account or Google docs, or even to dedicated receipt apps – but they are not organized or searchable by the random file names assigned by the app or easily retrievable for use or sharing. The receipt can be emailed to you by the retailer (if they have the capability within their POS). But again, that email is not organized and properly filed to a unified home for all receipts. We should consider tech innovations that serve us better than this.

Receipt Utopia – It’s Possible

We should have all receipts in a single app, which stores, encrypts and protects spending data for you to share transaction info with anyone you choose (spouse, accounts payable, tax preparer, manufacturer warranty claims). It should all be searchable by date, by retailer, by memo line, both itemized and with transaction totals. Nothing should be available to marketers, financial institutions or product manufacturers unless you choose to provide that data to them for some exchange of value. We should each own our spending data, both by individual transaction and in aggregate.

Point of Sale software and retail cash registers should make that itemized transaction data available via NFC to your phone at the time of transaction with a copy of the same purchase data shared to any apps or any payment providers you choose to use – so it can be downloaded to your receipt app later if needed. This spending data should be provided in an encrypted form to the owner, but in an open-source & non-proprietary way so that it is accessible to tax software, bookkeeping software, phone apps and is printable for those not yet weaned off of paper.

Looking Good! – Receipt Data as Art

Once the elements of spending data are gathered and organized – it’s a trivial matter to present that information in any of dozens of ways. Any level of design emphasis can be customized, with variable colors and fonts, transition animations, all determined by the owner of the data. There are those who would be quite happy with a spreadsheet look, while others may prefer some level of whimsy or even entertainment or gamification built into their receipt app.

Digital Receipts for All Purchases Made Everywhere

I’m an advocate and enthusiast of the WordPress publishing platform precisely because the content management system makes possible unlimited plug-ins for added functionality, eye pleasing design templates, and literally tens of thousands of possible integrations. You see where this is headed, don’t you? What about an open source receipt platform which allows customizations, plug-ins, integrations and design templates – with exportable, encrypted data backups? Now that would be beautiful – and useful.

And that open-source platform could be made available from any financial institution with their own templated, branded look and business specific integrations. The spending data is transportable and could be exported and re-imported into another template if you change banks – or not – but remains yours. The bank has no access to the stored data and the app is not tied to their services. We simply detach from their business integrations once our account is closed. The new bank may provide their own branded template and you install the new banking integration plugin. Banks or credit unions feed data in, but have no access to stored data on the receipt app.

Now, Who Owns Your Spending Data?

Marketers, advertisers, payment processors, financial institutions and data aggregators all want to access and track your spending habits data so they can profit from your future behavior. I’d like to propose that none of those should have access to, or be able to profit from your spending unless you explicitly choose to allow it for some exchange of value. Templates for this receipt app might be provided by literally any company and they could offer integrations with this proposed open-source receipt platform.

Integrations might be plugin functions such as banking, couponing, shopping, discounts, budgeting, extended warranties, cash back offers, freebies or other benefits. Those plug-ins would carry the weight of privacy and terms of use with explicitly stated data sharing restrictions determined entirely by the consumer and remaining under their ongoing control. Those with the most popular tools and service integrations would gain access and loyalty of consumers using their tools.

Banks and payment processors have broad access to your spending data now and most of them sell it to data aggregators without your permission or knowledge. No more should be ceded to them via proprietary banking or limited receipt apps with financial data leaks via third-party partnerships or sale to aggregators.

There is the unfinished receipt masterpiece. Credit to Michael Moccia for the receipt art – assemblage and framing by Mike Valentine

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