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E-receipts being used to break GDPR rules?

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An investigation by consumer watchdog Which? has discovered that retailers may be breaking data protection rules with their e-receipts.

Major retailers are offering customers the option to have their receipts emailed to them as electronic receipts, and are then including unwanted marketing material with the email, sometimes even when specifically requested not to. This goes against data protection rules that came into force under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May.

Which?’s e-receipt investigation

In Which?’s investigation, mystery shoppers visited 11 of the biggest names on the high street on three separate occasions, each time requesting an e-receipt, while telling the retailer that they didn’t want to receive any further marketing.

Under the data protection laws relating to electronic marketing, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR), retailers can send electronic marketing to customers without consent; however, they must have given the customer an option not to receive marketing messages.

If a retailer requests a customer’s email address at the point of sale and intends to send them marketing info, it must give them the option of opting out. In practice, retailers may find it easier to obtain consent, rather than give the option to opt out. This rule also covers any messages which include some form of marketing information, such as promotions of other products and services, even if it’s not their main purpose – such as an electronic receipt.

It was discovered that four of the companies visited included promotional material with their e-receipts. This was despite the mystery shopper specifically telling the retailers they didn’t want to receive any further marketing, “indicating that the retailers may be breaking data protection rules”, Which? said.

One shop sent a marketing email, with the receipt attached, and others included invitations to sign up for the store’s newsletter or to complete a survey in return for money off a future purchase.

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Which? have said they are concerned with customers becoming ‘bombarded’ with unwanted marketing messages. Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said: “More and more shops are offering e-receipts, which can be convenient for shoppers, but our investigation suggests not all shops are aware of the law.”

Following the results of the enquiry, two of the four companies including promotional material with their e-receipts announced that they had taken steps to investigate the matter, while one had already updated their communications in order to resolve the issue. Only one company insisted that their e-receipts conformed to GDPR regulations and were compliant with the UK’s data protection law, saying that “our e-receipts do not contain any active promotion of products or services.”

This investigation highlights that high street retailers have a harder job to create an email marketing database than on-line retailers. It is far easier for on-line retailers to provide written information at the point of sale.  Ironically, these rules may be another barrier to high street retailers competing with on-line retailers, something that otherwise the government is keen to promote. Nevertheless, this law is easy to comply with and retailers should be able to manage their electronic receipt systems to meet the requirements of PECR.

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