New Digital-Receipt Standard Envisions Cross-Channel and Even Cross-Chain Uses

A new digital-receipt standard released this week was designed to address retail complaints about an earlier version, with the new standard offering a single unified XML interface so that all data would be accessible and not have to be repeated. Version 2 comes from the National Retail Federation's Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) Council.

"Consideration was given to the possibility of providing separate XML interfaces. However, it was decided to provide a common XML interface embracing the requirements of all of the applications, because this was consistent with the historically common practice of integrating applications through POS transaction log files," the new standard said. "It is noted that audit, security, labor productivity and activity analysis applications are very demanding of detail content, [with] all driving the need for an all-encompassing XML schema."

Although there are many variations, the three basic forms of digital receipts are:

  • Receipts from an online purchase, which today are typically E-mailed.
  • An M-Commerce purchase.
  • A receipt from an in-person purchase, such as from an Apple store.

    The digital receipts will theoretically provide much stronger security, because it will be much easier to easily integrate with existing POS systems. There would be little point in fabricating a digital receipt, because the information referenced in the receipt's barcode would need to precisely match what the POS records show, said Birame Sock, the chair of the ARTS working group that produced the digital-receipt standard, who is also CEO of a vendor called Third Solutions.

    Sock said she expects the standard to be impacting most retailers in about two years, which is how long she said she expects many POS vendors to fully implement the standard in future products.

    This level of integration is intended to avoid problems like Wal-Mart recently experienced with its gift-receipt program. (What's a bad day? A lot of customers asking for their money back. What's a really bad day? A small number of federal politicians asking for an FTC investigation.) Ironically, Wal-Mart already had the type of system the ARTS standard is advocating, but the chain said poor employee training meant associates didn't know how to access it. Hello, federal investigation.

    Beyond keeping transactions and returns organized and trackable, the standard also anticipates merged-channel efforts, with lots of integrated and automated cross-marketing. "Indeed, one benefit of the Digital Receipt is its potential for channel integration: a common Digital Receipt can be provided in all channels, and a receipt from one channel can include links and promotions for all others," the standard said.

    The standard also pointed out areas the group chose to sidestep. "Secure infrastructures, supporting authentication and non-repudiation are beyond the scope of this specification but will be required to fully support proof-of-purchase and payment dispute resolution applications," the standard document said.

    The group also looked at CRM and other marketing issues, with an eye on the near-term future. The standard should "allow issuers to review customer purchase history and communicate with them through E-mail. Mass mailings can become target E-mail lists based on previous customer purchases and personal information. Forms for rebates, warranties and registrations often mailed separately with associated handling costs can be sent as attachments," the document said. "The Digital-Receipt document will be sent to a storage facility for later data mining in search of marketing and merchandising trends. The intent for this research is to be cross-merchant, so specific merchant storage models are not an issue."

    Cross-merchant? The vision here seems to anticipate silos where data from retail rivals can be collected and somehow shared—possibly in aggregate, possibly not. Unless the future looks a lot different than the present, somehow, that sounds like it may not go over that well. At the very least, it won't go over easily or quietly.