Slam #1: Secure Digital Receipts

Needlessly thousands of pounds of paper is used to issue receipts. The majority of people who take them home will not bother to file them. Of those who do, their time and energy is spent to carefully perserve the information from that transaction and even fewer people will truely need that information agian.

I propose implementing a new standard. A small credit card sized computer with a large on screen display and simplistic button layout. When a purchase is made, your credit card will download from the retailer all of the transaction information normly found in a receipt onto your credit card. That information can be browsed any time on screen, downloaded to your personal computer or used to print a paper copy of your receipt.

By easily integrating a greater amout of information on to your personal computer, products like Microsoft Money (or other financial software) could be streamlined even more by not only keeping transaction records but having each individual purchase on file with contact information, warrenty information and more detailed data from the retalier.

No longer will people need to stack, sort and endlessly search for an old receipt. The product will please costumers by reducing the need for filing and ensure they always have access to import transaction infromation but also encourage businesses to switch by reducing the operating costs, increase the speed of each transaction and simplify training for sales clerks.

I will come up with a few concept sketches for cards, stations to transfer data and a basic interface for browsing stored data. If anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them. I will have the sketches up tonight or tomorrow morning.

Here is a quick rendering of what I am thinking about ergonomics. I anticipate the most comfertable way to hold it will be to palm it and use the thumb for control. The buttons needed will simply be ON / Select, LEFT and RIGHT. The navigation menu wont require more then that. I may move the thumb controls to the top of the car looking at my hand.

The housing would need to be metal to withstand the wheight and force of being sat on and abused in a persons wallet. It would allow for their signiture to be engraved into the metal housing and their card number embossed.

As for conectivity I see a small (1-2 mm) slot with a dust sheild on the bottom. When inserted into a debit machine the metal will fall back to expose the contacts. Also a USB connection will be built in as to reduce the inconveince of needing any cables. It can be reccessed into the card and extended by sliding down the last button on the card.

As for power source I think it could be a rechargable battery powered by the USB connection with an optional dock. The button idicators will have small leds to give a visual feedback that it has interpreted a button depression and also warm when the battery supply is low (perferably the card will be able to go months at a time without needing any external power) It would be possible to also allow a retailers transelect to charge it when the card it in breif contact.

Let me know what you think and how I can improve this quick design layout.

i too had thought of this…
but early bird catches the worm i guess!
will definitely give you my inputs though

i think micheal you are thinking only of b2c reciepts here.

i think you also need to think of b2b reciepts.
they could just have a different set of requirements.
another area that you could think of is the logistics sector. there is just a huge amount of paperwork that goes into tracking (and shipping) shipments. i should know coz my family need to transport a lot of things for their business and they just have a huge amount of reciepts that get generated.

i think you shud probably think of adding an RFID reader too. all the info will be transferred directly with out anyone having to key in much. the cashier could just ratify the info after you pay the cash.
there is a lot that is happening in this field in terms of tracking devices and chips for the retail markets. you could try researching other technologies so that you can incorporate it into your hand held.
try the siemens’ website. they are doing a lotta research in this. i do think that you have to find a way of foolproofing the software and the device. corporations would not want people to make false claims on them after fudging the data.
all the best to you mate!
keep up the good work

This is a great idea… I’d propose keeping the receipts online instead. Actually, I pretty much do this already with my online banking–there’s little reason to keep records if they automatically show up on my bank statement (frequently within minutes.)

Retailers keep electronic records of the receipts and will frequently call them up for you if you’ve lost yours for returns. This is typically done by using the credit card number you used in the purchase as a record locator.

What really annoys me is restaurant transactions–they take too long and they’re in the hands of the waitstaff. It gets worse when you’re with a group and the bill and gratuity needs splitting. Inevitably everyone pulls out their ATM-issued 20’s (Wired magazine’s jargon watch once called these ‘yuppie food coupons’) and one or two pull out their card. This whole thing sucks, but doesn’t need to with the right transaction technology in place.

Cool Idea!

I might suggest simplifying it though. Try eliminating the screen and user interface on the card, which wuould likely be too small and clumsy to be really user friendly to a large audience, and would only add to the amount of disposal when the cards are eventually disposed, as well as add to the cost of the cards to the consumer. I’m not trying to be negative, because I think your idea has some great merrit.

Perhaps you could incorporate your idea into existing credit/debit/atm cards by way of flash memory which could be written to or read from by way of magnetic stripe, rfid, or a modified USB or Flash memory interface. The card reader interface could become a standard feature on new computers and sold as a USB compatible card reader cable for older systems. The data could then be imported into standard accounting software and systems. The memory could then be wiped when it has been appropriately archived, and the card would be ready for continued use.

Using flexible circuits and and the standard plastic credit card format would actually result in a more robust and long lasting solution than metal would, in my opinion.

Just another thought reagarding the display of reciepts. The only reason I can see for needing a display would be to review your reciept to ensure your purchase was entered correctly. This could be resolved with a display at the chech out counter that displayed your reciept, and that you could perhaps sign electronically, depending on the type of transaction.

The customer service desk could provide a reader for you to display your transactions, if you felt you needed to review them.

One issue that comes to mind is, how would this work in the event you needed to return some merchandise?

One possibility is that the merchant has a merchant code that is encoded on the reciept. This would allow merchants to know that the reciept you are presenting is valid. It would perhaps help in the event of an IRS audit as well.

If you had already archived rour reciepts, you could reload the reciept back onto your card when you need to return something. The merchant code would remain connected with the reciept. This type of system might also be used to simplify processing of warranties and rebates. Perhaps Warranty and rebate informatoin could also be encoded onto the reciept. Any modifications to the reciept would be appended to the orriginal when re-archived.

Your accounting software could allow you to print a reciept in the event you needed a printed copy.

I wonder what it would take for a retailer to take the plunge and abolish paper receipts? (ie. Offer them only at customer request.)

As a consumer, I’d be happy to be rid of them.
I’d also be happy to eliminate signatures… I like the debit-card transaction which requests your PIN at the point of purchase. Even my gas station requires my PIN (or sometimes zip code) when using my debit card at the pump (I always say ‘no’ to the inevitable ‘would you like a printed receipt’ question.)

The major hurdle to paperless is the legality of non-paper documents.

For instance, there was a huge debate over the legality of a faxed signature when fax machines started to become commonplace. Imagine if it had been ruled that the fax or the photocopy is not a legal document.

Even now, different types of ATM transactions have different rules applying to them. A deposit made while the bank is “closed” does not get confirmed until the next business day, while a withdrawal is considered to be effective immediately.

Luckily, in Canada, the chartered bank system makes this easier. I can only imagine the difficulty in the USA with the highly unstructured financial systems. The unification of systems on a global scale is still being worked out. The traveller’s cheque is interesting in this regard.

Even now, an email is considered legitimate without being completely legal from a notarial viewpoint. Adobe has attempted to solve these issues, as has Microsoft, but until these digital details are sorted out, electronic documents will continue to remain in limbo.


Great idea, I despise receipts. Instead of designing another handheld for all of us to carry around though, it might be nice to focus on designing the user experience surrounding making a purchase and having the receipt viewable by cellphone or pda and stored online. This project is screaming for a slick app with a nice UI, for example, being able to sort your receipts into categories, search for all the dvds you bought from November 1st-December 24th, etc. And this cellphone/pda app, syncs with your account on (or something). (check out apple’s new search technology). Cellphone shopping seems to have failed, but paying with your cellphone at the register could catch on with, RFID, IR or bluetooth short-range wireless. So you pay by bluetooth, and you receive your receipt back, wirelessly.

Thank you for your replies and ideas. I will incorporate some of them into the final renderings.

I can see your point but by removing the screen and user interface you would be limiting the wide spread use of the device. Although me and the majority of the public does have access to a personal computer, not everyone may at their home. I would like to see this system integrated to replace all current creditcards / debit / atm in circulation. It will be standalone and maintenance free.

I forsee that the card could contain enough flash memory to hold thousands of transactions. Warrenty information will be saved to the device allowing the retailer to search through your receipts using their SKU to recall the documented transaction. I have a few quick designs of a handheld and desktop machine that could intergrate credit transactions and point of sale technology into one work station.

I like your idea about flexabile circuits to extend the durability.


You have some great ideas. Certainly with redesigning retail technology the sky is the limit. A problem right now with the multiple devices we carry is cross compatablity and synchronization between all of them. Laptop, Cellphone, Camera, Webserver, Automobile, PDA, Digital Keys, Mp3 player… ect. I have read quite a few possible solutions but it is way beyond this project to try and solve this issue (that is far more of a challenge in itself). I plan to design the credit card with a built in USB connectivity to allow for synchronization with your own financial software.

I could see with blue tooth range extending the ability to have a host computer set and anytime any of your multiple devices come in range they will be synchronized. I imagine we will see far more conveint solutions emerge in the future to allow immediate access to the plathora of information we each collect.

No paper receipts - great idea! I suppose that I have unknowingly moved towards that direction myself as I use checks and even cash quite infrequently these days, preferring to use a debit card whenever possible, and check my balance online.

As for suggestions, I would want to see some device that is small enough to fit in a wallet with my debit card, cash, drivers liscense, etc. Having a wallet/case designed around the device would be acceptable as well, provided it is relatively thin and can fit in a pocket. The UI would need to be as simple as possible, or maybe even offered in various formats or “skins” depending on personal tastes, to appeal to the widest audience. As a consumer, I’d also like for the information contained on the device to be downloadable to my PC for input into any accounting software or personal budget database.

Yes, the design I have layed out keeps the device the same size although 3 or 4mm thicker then a credit card.

I am planning to incorporate USB connectivity to allow for connectivity to a personal computer for access / backup and filing purposes.

Simply by digitizing the reciepts, you are limiting the user base to those who work with digital media, ie. computer/pda users. Thos who do not use or are not familiar with computers will not likely be receptive to the idea of digital reciepts.

I was not suggesting eliminating the user interface, but rather changing the way it is accessed by making it an application that can run on computers , cell phones, pda’s, point of sale devices, etc, and perhaps even work as an add-in to your current accounting software. Those who don’t have computers could perhaps view and print their reciepts at the customer service desk, a library, or just give it to their accountant.

A Credit Card format is something that is already familiar to practically every consumer, and would therfore be an easier transition for the masses, as well as credit card companies.

By integrating the display and user interface, you are essentially creating another PDA, only this one stores and displays reciepts.


This is a great idea, but I don’t think the solution is another pda, I already have a huge metal key ring containing an ipod, cellphone, pda and digital camera. I’d take a few paper receipts over another plastic gadget. (I don’t really have a giant key ring)

I think a cool way to roll on this is to mock-up a UI that is suitable for small LCDs, such as cameraphones and pdas. Start by walking through the user’s experience. He walks into the store, grabs a print cartridge, pays with a credit card, his receipt is beamed directly to his cellphone and stored in an online account. Later he wants to see what he bought today, logs in to the site manages his checking account, etc, etc.

Once you understand the experience surrounding the product, which in this case is a service you can begin mocking up the actual UI in Illustrator or whatever layout program you feel comfortable with. Do it storyboard style, post it and see what people think.

I have to disagree with you. By providing digital receipts but insuring everyone has a medium to access them personaly (on their cards) you broden the appeal. Those who do not use or are not familiar with computers will be able to learn to use the device because the interface is simplistic, easy to read and requires no additional technology from the user.

By creating a device that requires another external computer or station to operate you complicate it beyond the grasp of people who may not be familiar with personal computers.

It is not another PDA. It is a device with a specific defined purpose, it is a tool.

I also must disagree with your definition of PDA, I do not consider my digital alarm clock, microwave or calculator to be PDA’s. I might be a little to bold and just use the definition of tools.

[quote=“MichaelVH”]Thank you for your replies and ideas. I will incorporate some of them into the final renderings.

I can see your point but by removing the screen and user interface you would be limiting the wide spread use of the device. Although me and the majority of the public does have access to a personal computer, not everyone may at their home. I would like to see this system integrated to replace all current creditcards / debit / atm in circulation. It will be standalone and maintenance free.

i agree with you here. one thing i want all you people over there is to notice that you probably are thinking about only the most tech savvy nations. but what about other places? an average indian is not likely to carry more than a cell phone. thats why i agree that this device should be able to be stand alone. however recognising that fact that most urbanites (in the tech savvy countries as well as the not so developed nations) carry around a lot of gadgets it might be wise to make it a sorta ‘completely knock down (CKD) unit’. like you could have the storage and processing unit as separate from the screen unit. those who wish to buy the whole product can do so. the same storage device can have the other facilities such as bluetooth, rfid etc as essential the screen by itself is useless and cannot be attached to anything else. but what you can do is make the storage and processing chip along with the other paraphernalia as a detachable thingie compatible with the rest of the electronic gadgets. it could be a plug in unit. also as the ui is loaded onto this unit you can view your transactions on whatever device you choose. this way the device could be more far reaching as you really are not excluding any niche of consumers.

oh and i forgot to add that then it can be sold as either the complete package (screen+storage+precessor) or just the storage+processor which can be plugged into an existing electronic device.

Again, I have to ask: Why do you need a receipt at all? Most stores keep an electronic copy of it in case you need to return something. The only reason I keep receipts is for expense reports. (Even then I frequently just attach my credit card statement, or even better, a printout of my statement from my cards website.)

I’ve heard way to much talk about a solution without hearing enough about the problem.

Most stores issue receipts to document transactions, security purposes and to show proof of purchase.

This solution is to reduce the consumption of paper. I think I stated clearly in the previous posts that I feel that remote access to receipts may be acceptable for most people but would isolate the widespread use to those who have access to the technology. Although your statement may pertain to all the relevant information and it could be adopted to include all the information found on a receipt, having an indepandant copy of the information can be used to verify agianst errors. I think most of all people do not want to be inconveniced by technology, you can explain to people to no end the benifit but in the end if they are fustrated or inconveinced by it’s use why would they choose to change.

The added benifit to the customer will be to easily manage receipt filing via their financial software, to have access to all credit financial information at all times (charges this month, credit limit … etc) and increased security. The retailer can increase the speed in takes to complete transactions, reduce operating costs and increase security. The world benifits by reducing the consumption of paper used to issue receipts.