What do you see? 

The title of this blog series may confuse people. It may sound rather ambiguous – and hopefully at least a little bit intriguing. But why have I titled my blog as such?  

Every day, something frustrates us. You try to use an app and it doesn’t work as expected. Or you try to buy a train ticket in a foreign country and simply can’t figure out how to operate the machine. We get more and more agitated, yet we do nothing about it except complain or give up. We consistently let these things frustrate us without actually taking a step back to reflect on the problem, understand it and brainstorm potential solutions. 

“What do you see?” is a question I ask myself when trying to recognise the problems that people face. Being able to accurately identify user’s problems and pain points is one of the most important skills that Product Managers and entrepreneurs can have. 

Paperless Receipts 

One problem that I kept noticing is the fact that brick and mortar stores still print off massive paper receipts every time you pay for something. In this blog post, I will document how I approached this problem. 

What’s the problem? 

Firstly, I thought about the potential problems for both the business and their customers: 

Business: 

  • Cost of printing receipts 
  • Environmental impact (affects their ‘green’ image) 
  • Customer dissatisfaction if they lose their receipt and can’t get a refund 

Customer: 

  • Paper is easy to lose 
  • Inconvenient – people tend to just throw away receipts 
  • Conscious about environmental impact 

How do I know that this is a problem worth solving? 

I don’t. I’m one individual consumer that finds receipts to be mildly frustrating and inconvenient.  How do I know that others feel the same way? I don’t. Above, I made assumptions about potential problems. I have no validation that this is actually a real problem.  

How would I find out? 

Ask. Talk to people. I’ve listed a number of questions that you could ask consumers and businesses to better understand their needs here. 

What is a receipt? 

I’d summarise a receipt as an itemised record of your purchases that gives a detailed breakdown of the total amount paid. It informs the consumer exactly how much they paid for a given item and also functions as proof of purchase. 

What’s on a receipt? 

We get hundreds of these every year – but do you actually know what’s on a receipt? I didn’t. So I looked at a few of the receipts I had lying around my room: 

Amongst other details, each of the receipts tended to have the following components: 

  • Date & Time of Transaction 
  • Transaction ID 
  • Store Number 
  • Till Number 
  • Items paid for 
  • Total Price paid 
  • Last 4 digits of card number 
  • Authorisation Code 

User Journey: 

I then mapped out the user’s journey which I’ll show graphically here:

How does it work? 

Then I thought about how the ‘Purchase’ flow might work from a technical perspective: 

  • When the user initiates a new session at checkout, presumably a unique transaction ID is generated 
  • Each time an item is scanned, a row is likely added to a table in the retailer’s database detailing: item name, item barcode, item price and unique transaction ID 
  • When the user clicks ‘Finish & Pay’ the amount is presumably totalledpopulating another table with a row detailing: unique transaction ID and amount due 
  • When the user pays, other columns in this table likely update with payment method, amount paid, change due, time of transaction and card payment details  

As we move towards a cashless society, it’s hard not to focus on card payments. I discovered a useful guide by Monzo on how card payments work and the different parties involved. 

Going through the above process enabled me to reflect on the key steps from a user’s perspective, but also going through a high-level technical process enabled me to identify the different parties involved: 

  • User 
  • Retailer 
  • P.O.S. technology 
  • Card network 
  • Bank 

Looking at the information on receipts, it’s clear that the retailers themselves store all the information that is surfaced on receipts. 

Solution space: 

Firstly, I started off by creating a user story: 

“As a user, I want a digital record of all my receipts, so that I can quickly and easily see how much I paid” 

There are some high-level requirements for solving this problem. The solution must be: 

  • Paperless 
  • Convenient 
  • Reliable – just as reliable as paper receipts coming out of the machine 
  • Instant – receive them just as quickly as paper receipts 

Receipts by email? 

Topman asked to send my receipt to my email address but still gave me a slip of paper to emphasise that they had done so as well. This solution involves the cashier asking for your email address at checkout which they then type into their system.  

Problems with this solution include: 

  • Reliability – room for human error due to misspelling 
  • Privacy – people may not feel comfortable spelling out their email address in a busy shop 
  • Trust – people may be wary about being targeted by email marketing 

Standalone app? 

As a user, would I really download an app just to get all my receipts into it? It’s not a hugely strong value proposition if this is the sole functionality of the app. 

Problems with this solution include: 

  • Chicken and egg – how do you persuade consumers to use the app without retailers and vice versa? 

Banking app? 

As a Revolut and Monzo user, I’m used to getting instant notifications about payments each time I use my debit card. From a user’s point of view, it would be ideal to see an itemised receipt when you click on a given transaction in the app.  

This would meet all the high-level requirements above: paperless, convenient, reliable and instant. The user also would not have to install or sign-up to any other service.  

Seeing what else is out there… 

It was only after I went through the above process that I Googled ‘Paperless Receipts’.  After reading a few articles, I came across FluxFlux’s tagline is “Receipts that live in your banking app”. They have already integrated with Monzo, Starling and Barclays and a few leading retailers. Flux seem to be solving this problem and executing really well. 

A pointless exercise? 

So I wasn’t the first to think about this problem and to come up with that particular solution. Does this mean I wasted my time? Absolutely not. Problem exploration follows a general process – it is not specific to a particular issue. To get good at it, it must be practiced. Had I simply Googled ‘Paperless Receipts’ at the start, I wouldn’t have challenged myself to think about the problem, the user, the technology and potential solutions. I would have just accepted what was currently out there. And current solutions won’t always meet or exceed expectations. 

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to have my next blog post sent straight to your mailbox, please subscribe to my mailing list below. As always, feel free to reach out to me at simon@simoncurran.com.