April 22, 2014, 2:31 PM

Wal-Mart will turn the electronic receipt into a sales tool

The world’s largest retailer plans a national rollout of electronic receipts that it will text to shoppers. That will allow Wal-Mart to collect data about consumer purchases and send shoppers offers for products they like.

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A new e-receipts program will produce a "fire hose of transactional data," Wal-Mart says.

The humble receipt is about to become a data collection and marketing tool for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer.

Wal-Mart plans a national rollout starting this week of electronic receipts that the retailer will text to customers. That will enable the big retail chain to accumulate large quantities of data about what a shopper buys and send personalized offers to shoppers who opt into the program, Gibu Thomas, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of mobile and digital media, told attendees today at the Source14 conference organized by mobile analytics technology provider Flurry Inc. in San Francisco.

Wal-Mart will mine the data to provide new services for shoppers, Thomas says. For example, it could analyze the items a Wal-Mart shopper buys each week and provide her with a shopping list of items she may want on her next trip to a Wal-Mart store. Or, if a consumer regularly buys cereal, Wal-Mart can send her a coupon for her favorite brand.

“We view this as a platform,” Thomas says. “It will produce a fire hose of transactional data.”

Wal-Mart is No. 4 in the newly released 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

The retailer will identify the consumer by asking her to type in her mobile phone number on the debit card reader at checkout. If she chooses the e-receipt option and opts in, the e-receipt will be delivered by free text message after the transaction is complete. If she has an account, the phone number will link her purchases that day to her account. Wal-Mart will launch a national marketing campaign to introduce the e-receipt program and encourage consumers to create Wal-Mart accounts.

Thomas says the e-receipt initiative is somewhat similar to the Savings Catcher program Wal-Mart rolled out last month. A consumer who signs up is alerted when an item she bought is offered at a lower price by a Wal-Mart competitor in the same market. When that happens, Wal-Mart refunds the consumer the difference in the form of a mobile gift card she can use on her next shopping trip.

Thomas says “hundreds of thousands” of consumers have signed up for Savings Catcher in the seven markets where Wal-Mart has introduced it. Marketing has mainly been through signs in Wal-Mart stores. He says a national rollout is planned.

“It’s like a loyalty program,” Thomas says, “without the loyalty card.”

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