Email Receipts- Mailing List Builders, Lawsuit Risks“Would you like your receipt emailed to you?”

From pet shops to pastry shops, you hear that question at payment time.

Many shoppers like the convenience of paperless receipts: no more purses and wallets looking like shredder bins, no more losing receipts needed for returns.

For merchants, the emailed receipt is an easy-to-use, standard feature of point-of-sale systems, cuts down on thermal paper purchase and is an opportunity to collect that marketing treasure, a freely given email address from a known customer.

Sounds like a simple win-win, right?

Not so fast. At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have privacy laws restricting the personal information that merchants can collect about customers at the point of sale, if the customer pays with a credit card. California’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act is the toughest.

These laws restrict merchants from asking in-store for phone numbers, addresses or other “personal identification information” that could make consumers targets for marketing. A California federal judge held that an email address is personal identification information covered by the Song-Beverly Act, in the case of Capp v. Nordstrom.

Robert Capp bought some items at the Nordstrom store in Roseville, California, and paid with his credit card. The cashier then asked Capp if he wanted an email receipt. Capp claims that he thought he ­was required to give his email address in order to finish the purchase and get a receipt. Shortly after, Capp complained, Nordstrom began sending him daily promotional emails and, he suspected, shared his email address with other retailers.

Capp filed a class action suit, saying that Nordstrom violated the Song-Beverly Act. Nordstrom argued (among other points) that asking for an email address is no different than asking for a shipping address, which is allowed under the law. The judge didn’t agree and denied Nordstrom’s motion to dismiss the case.  (To be clear, the California law only covers in-person not online purchases.)

So bottom line, email receipts: an opportunity to build your mailing list or lawsuit-bait?

Legal laws aside, never violate the First Law of Email Marketing that says get the consent (or “opt-in”) of an email user for the specific type of message you want to send or take the punishment of unopened emails or worse, marked as spam or worst yet, an outraged customer like Mr. Capp.

In practical terms, that might mean (to borrow one of the ideas of attorney Alex Krylov writing in the Experian blog), instructing your staff to specifically ask customers if they want an email receipt and want to receive marketing messages, then follow up with an email message (besides the receipt) that confirms their subscription and gives the opportunity to unsubscribe. When it gets down to those details, be sure to consult an attorney regarding the privacy laws in your state.