Receipt, please

Not to sound all Andy Rooney, but there’s something that really bugs me and it keeps coming up again and again and it’s just so stupid I can’t take it anymore:

I am sick of having to save receipts and I’m sick of having to present paper receipts as proof of anything anymore.

We live in a mechanized, computerized society. Every purchase from my debit/credit card is a sophisticated, multi-step electronic shuffling of digital cash from my bank to a store, and everything I buy in a store is recorded in a database, backed up redundantly, and analyzed, but in the end, I’m given a pointless piece of paper that stands as my only proof of our transaction, despite the deep data trail formed between me and a store.

The other day I borrowed some fabric swatches from a Lowes store, and it required a $25 deposit that would be returned when I brought it back. A couple days of color matching and I was done with the samples and took them with me into Lowes for the return. I didn’t have a receipt (they didn’t mention it was required), but they had my name, address, and phone number both written down on a sheet of checked out fabric books, and in their store’s database. I had my driver’s license with me and presented it as well. There’s virtually no chance I could have been posing as someone else given all those bits of identification, but no receipt, I could get no refund and I was given store credit instead of real money. It was stupid, but I figured I was there to spend a couple hundred dollars on tools and stuff so it didn’t really matter.

But recently while shopping at BestBuy, I purchased a washer and dryer and actually sprang for their cheesy extra warranty (first time in my life — I only gave into the scam because it was a new brand without a track record of reliability). I was told repeatedly that the warranty was null and void unless I kept a copy of a special extra receipt that printed out (and it was suggested I make copies if the first one happens to be destroyed or lost). Now obviously, BestBuy has my home address (they delivered the units days later), my purchase history, and my financial details in their customer database that allowed them to print out the receipt in the first place, but if I happen to lose this piece of paper in the next five years, my five year warranty doesn’t exist. The record of our transaction will likely be recorded in their databases for 7 to 10 years, but it’s up to me to prove that I bought something from them.

We’ve been moving to a paperless society for the past 20 years and increasingly I rely on programs on my computer or Google to store memories, details, and facts about my past. I take photographs that only exist as digital bits. Almost every important life detail is stored as a message somewhere in my 300Mb email archive. All these things help me externalize information but keep it at my fingertips until I need it. I suspect businesses and banks have much more robust data technology but it’s probably just as electronic as mine.

And yet, in 2003, I have to save a piece of paper for five years if I ever want my washer fixed under the purchased warranty. It’s as if all parties have agreed that despite our level of data sophistication, we’ll instead act as if it’s 75 years ago and everything that matters ends up in a big paper ledger somewhere, and unless it’s in the big paper book, it never happened. Dumb, isn’t it?