NEW USES FOR RECEIPTS:
Much More Than Just Pieces of Paper
March 12, 2002
Japanese people have come up with several new, unique ways of using receipts: as a means of contributing money to charity, as prize-draw slips, and as media for weather predictions or publicity about new products. About 160 million receipts are issued by Japan's retail outlets each day, and until recently most of them have gone straight into the trash. But now it looks as if they are destined to become a new medium for communication.
Contributions Based on the Amount of the Purchase
Since October 2001 the major supermarket chain Aeon has set up boxes for charitable contributions next to the cash registers in the 400 stores it runs around the country. In this unique program, Aeon donates 1% of the amount on the receipts collected in the boxes to volunteer organizations. Each store selects volunteer organizations that meet the conditions and requirements established by the company, such as organizations that support children's sports, promote good health, or work for environmental protection. It then places a shelf of boxes labeled with the names of the organizations and the nature of their activities next to the cash register. On the eleventh day of each month, the usual white receipts are replaced by yellow ones, and customers may put these yellow receipts in the box of their choice. The company donates 1% of the amount shown on the receipt to the designated organization.
A forty-something homemaker who participates in this program laughed as she remarked, "I think it's wonderful that the receipts benefit volunteer activities. I used to just throw my receipts away, but now I actually look forward to getting them!" In October, the first month of the program, the company collected about ¥150 million ($1.15 million at ¥130 to the dollar) worth of receipts, and in November, it collected about ¥350 million ($2.69 million). According to the manager in charge of the program, the budget for the first year was ¥60 million ($462,000), but there are plans to increase it.
Meanwhile, the discount electronics retailer Bic Camera (site is Japanese only) has begun a promotion in which it prints "winner" on one out of every one hundred receipts. These "winners" can exchange their receipts for up to ¥100,000 ($770) worth of merchandise.
The convenience-store chain Daily Yamazaki (site is Japanese only) is an old hand at using receipts creatively. In 1995 it began printing the next day's weather forecast on the reverse side of the receipt, and the information printed now includes today's weather, the high and low temperatures, and the likelihood of rain. Furthermore, if asked, the employees will print a receipt that contains all sorts of information about the area around the store or seasonal information. For example, from the beginning of December until around February they print the depth of snow found at local ski resorts, the weather forecast, and whether the areas are open for skiing. In March and April the receipts tell customers where in Japan the cherry trees have started blooming. In May and June they provide information about the danger of sunburn that day by giving the UV index.
In the summer of 2001 Daily Yamazaki set up a commercial tie-in with the distributor of the film Planet of the Apes to place color stills from the film and descriptions of the plot on the backs of its receipts. These receipts were extremely popular, with some movie fans making a point of collecting as many as possible. Now the company is being approached by television stations and others who would like to use the receipts in their own promotions. Similarly, the fast-food hamburger chain Mos Burger (site is Japanese only) has begun publicizing its new products on its receipts.
One market researcher provides the following analysis: "Publicizing detailed information, such as the days when the store is closed, gives customers the feeling that the store is friendly and cares about them, and I think that these uses of receipts will become more widespread." With 160 million receipts being issued in Japan's retail outlets every day, it looks as if we will be seeing more and more examples of their use as a new advertising medium.