June 27, 2002, 12:00 AM

Digital receipts reduce labor and increase sales, says Smart & Final

Large customers like having online access to their receipts from California grocer Smart & Final, reducing the demand on the accounting department to provide sales documentation.

Converting receipts to a digital format and offering them online to customers has reduced accounting department labor and moved market share for California warehouse grocery chain Smart & Final Inc., Bob Graham, vice president of store technology, told attendees to the Retail Systems 2002 Store Innovations session on Wednesday.

Last month, Smart & Final began a chainwide rollout of a digital receipts to 189 stores. It had installed a beta system in a store in January. Smart & Final gets a trickle feed of data from POS terminals to headquarters. It converts that data to a digital format and posts it to a web server, where customers can log on and view receipts. Once they are in the receipt, they can click on marketing-oriented links within the receipt for special offers.

Digital receipts have been particularly helpful in dealing with large customers who have questions about purchases or want to review purchases. Smart & Final does business with such large customers as government bodies, school districts and caterers. Large organizations that make multiple purchases often need receipt information to review spending or to charge expenses to correct divisions. And it’s not always easy to keep track of large purchases of small items, he said. “We have some caterers who serve the movie studios,” Graham said. “They’ll come in in the morning and spend $2,000, then come back twice more the same day and buy more.”

The cost reduction comes in not having to retrieve receipts for customers. “We reduce our costs by empowering our best customers to get that information about what they bought from us and when,” he said.

While Graham would not provide specifics about market share, he said Smart & Final will not undertake technology initiatives without a payback. And he added: “We’ve had pretty strong same-store sales for the last few months.”

Digital receipts were part of a Smart & Final initiative to build a corporate data repository that centralized transaction information in real time.

“Anyone with a mix of business and consumer customers should have an interest in digital receipts,” he said.

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