The new generation of “would you like paper or plastic?”
I can vividly remember the first time I heard the question “would you like paper or plastic” and wondering what that was all about. Until that day, a trip to the grocery store always ended the same way; a clerk popping open paper bags, gauchely doubling up bags for our milk and detergent and then wrestling these clunky brown sacks into my home. The idea that there was a better way to get groceries into our kitchen never crossed my mind, however once my mom said those magic words, “I’ll try plastic” there was no going back. Now I had handles. The condensation from the cold items did not compromise the bag and as a result I could carry more than two bags at time. Talk about the proverbial win-win. Notwithstanding my enhanced experience, the grocery store was saving five cents for every plastic bag we opted for. In addition to the cost savings there was also the time savings for the staff since plastic bags were easier to load and more bags could be stored under the checkout counter saving restocking time. Despite the cost and operational efficiencies plastic bags provided, retailers remained true to the core value of providing customers with a choice.
Today there is a similar and perhaps even more valuable question being asked at the point of sale, “Would you like a paper or electronic receipt”. Sure this seems like it is an unabashed ploy by the retailer to cut into the costs of paper and toner, but think about the value this option has to you as the consumer. Have you ever tried to return something but lost the receipt? Perhaps even more frustrating is rifling through the hundreds of crumbled paper slips you have been hanging onto looking for the one that matters in the moment. Like my mom did many years ago, I too have gone out on a limb and uttered the transformational words, “I’ll try electronic”. Now most of my receipts are electronic and I never have to worry about losing one. I can search for a receipt on demand and perhaps best of all, my future shopping experiences are enhanced. An electronic receipt is an intelligent receipt. The store knows what I have purchased and provides me with coupons and product recommendations. The retailer has found a way to transform this historically analog exchange (i.e. put a piece of paper in my hand) to a robust and engaging communication strategy that reinforces their brand and strengthens my loyalty.
The decision of electronic or paper has the potential to greatly enhance other consumer experiences as well. Think about the outdated way pharmacies share important medication information with their patients. Despite significant data trends indicating comprehension challenges with the current consumer literature, the volume of Internet searches related to medications and the uptake of Smart phones, it has been business as usual for most pharmacies; i.e. stapling a piece of paper to a disposable bag. By providing patients with a choice, “electronic or paper medication information”, there is the potential to unlock an experience that will empower patients and their caregivers like never before. If we reflect on the simplest features, like those attributed to electronic receipts, patients could access trusted information on demand. This information would not be limited to simply what fits within the four corners of a sheet of paper. Written information could take on the form of easy to understand videos and preferred languages could be selected by the viewer. Pill descriptions suddenly take on the form of high resolution pictures and links to a wealth of supportive health information are just a click away. Just like with the earlier innovations, this too would provide a cost savings to the retailer in the form of time and money (five cents a prescription); all while driving the pharmacy brand and reinforcing trust.
The consumer choice to receive electronic information has been maturing for several years in other industries. Financial statements, airline tickets and even school report cards provide this option and all parties experience a benefit when it is selected. Healthcare has aggressively shifted to a patient centered model and there has never been a better time than now to provide patients with a choice regarding their medication information.