Can Walmart, Best Buy and Shell finally kill paper receipts?

Can Walmart, Best Buy and Shell finally kill paper receipts?

The latest salvo has been fired against the ubiquitous paper receipts, which are clogging up utility drawers everywhere.

Thanks to a massive push by a plethora of corporations hoping to move retail and food transactions through our electronic devices, paper is beginning to seem passé.

Recently a collection of big-gun corporations came together to form a for-profit company designed to capture the consumer's mobile wallet. Merchant Customer Exchange is hoping to move to the center stage in creating a standard form of electronic smartphone payment.

Besides Wal-Mart, Shell and Target, there's a host of others retailers that make up the company, including Lowe's, CVS, 7-11 and Best Buy. MCX said in a press release that it expects many more to join the bandwagon.

Merchant Customer Exchange’s retail giants are keen on offering consumers a commerce experience via smart phones that will supersede the convenience of paying at the register or via other systems.

Then primary goal: Grab a huge share of the mobile wallet market and move consumers to a default digital payment system for purchases.

But, as a bonus, the digital payment system could potentially lead to a fade out of those (sometimes) long receipts and coupons that always seem to clog your pockets after you conduct a transaction at a brick and mortar site.

"This is going to profoundly change things because there will be far less paper, dealing with mobile devices," said retail expert Bob Phibbs, "It has huge implications."

For years now, there have been serious talks about the end of the paper receipt era, but no one seems to have quite mastered a universal platform that’s accepted by most consumers. This time, the storm may be just right to create to create a paperless dream. With more services and products making their way online, companies are rising to the occasion.

"We're seeing everyone moving to take on this challenge," Phibbs said. "It's like going from Betamax to VHS."

But sustainability isn’t the primary reason corporations want to see more online transactions.

"What’s driving (payment systems for mobile devices) is consumer information,” Phibbs said. “These companies want the ability to have everything moving through their system.'"

The digital payment space has heated up in the last few years, with upstart Square making inroads into the brick-and-mortar retail territory that had previously been owned by credit card companies, and Google introducing Google Wallet to go with Google Checkout. In June, Apple let the world know it plans to join the party when it releases the Passbook app with the next version of its mobile operating system.

In addition, many retailers are offering to skip paper and email shoppers a receipt.

So far, the MCX folks are being tight-lipped about the details of the rollout plan, but they do expect to impact paper receipt waste.

"We do not have specific figures yet," said Jeremy Mullman, a spokesman for the newly formed company. "But clearly there is a paper savings related to electronic receipts and coupons."

Mullman said while paper reduction isn’t the main goal of the company, "MCX’s stakeholder companies (do) have strong commitments to sustainability that have been well documented."

What impact this may have on our large the paper pile of receipts is still unclear -- though some are optimistic. "Everyone hates receipts," Bibbs said. "It doesn't serve a purpose now with everything going digital."

According to the American Forest and Paper Association, the average American uses more than 748 pounds of paper per year. In addition, the United States uses 25 percent of the world's paper products.

We don't know exactly how much of that paper is used to print receipts. But even if MCX is successful, it’ll probably take a few years before it makes more than a small dent in the pile.

Image of receipt by Jirsak, courtesy of Shutterstock