Twitter Inc’s (NYSE:TWTR) co-founder and chairman, Jack Dorsey, likes receipts.
The young entrepreneur and millionaire praised those little scraps of paper at a Wednesday morning keynote speech, telling retailers in New York that receipts were variously “communication channels," a “publishing medium” and a “product unto itself.”
Receipts, which merchants produce and consumers crumple and throw away by the millions each day, helped provide the inspiration for Dorsey’s other business, payments provider Square.
By asking shoppers for a phone number or email in lieu of the small sheets of paper, merchants can snag key contact details and send receipts electronically, but also push promotions onto shoppers just as they're exiting a store.
That’s part of the transformation of a receipt into a full-blown app, he said. Ideally, with Square, shoppers walk into a store and have their phone’s geo-location signal connect with store tills and systems. Then, stored information on their prior Square payments is pulled up, and shoppers pay for their latte without even having to whip out their wallets, he said.
Square is only available to businesses in the U.S., Canada and Japan. Dorsey declined to say when they’d roll out the product in more countries, citing local banking relationships and regulatory know-how as obstacles to broader availability, but said they were “working extremely hard” to make a dent in global reach.
If receipts are thrown away carelessly, “the end of the day, the merchant doesn’t have any information about the customer, and they have very little information about the sale,” said Dorsey. “The whole goal of a receipt … is to bring people back.”
There are now more than 1 billion visits to merchants accepting Square annually, excluding those benefiting from Square’s high-profile partnership with Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ:SBUX), according to Dorsey. He has also toured the U.S. in recent months, ending up, particularly, in financially hard-hit cities like Detroit and marketing his system to small businesses, who represent the bulk of Square’s customers.
Dorsey’s thoughtful talk could be seen as a genuine reflection on receipts, or merely a clever angle through which to market Square to the hundreds of small retailers present at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual trade show. At one point there, he encouraged the audience to sign up to Square with an exercise on their mobile phones, by sending emails to firstname.lastname@example.org to potentially enlist debit cards.
It’s hard to tell whether the talk was a marketing play or a thoughtful keynote, said Vivek Jayapal, a Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) supply chain specialist, to IBTimes.
In any case, the Square product seems more suitable to small businesses, and it’s hard to see how it could fit as-is into the workings of retail giants like Costco and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), he added.
Receipts are not an especially unusual keynote topic, as retail industry conferences go, according to Jayapal.
But merchants recognizing customers automatically via their Square wallet and accepting payment by merely looking at someone’s face represents “a little extreme thinking,” continued Jayapal.
In any case, it's an interesting topic for retailers. “I think everyone in this room is going to be obsessed with their receipts over the next few weeks and years,” said co-host HSNi CEO Mindy Grossman, at the talk’s end.
Square could be valued at $5 billion, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, as the company prepares a limited equity offering.